Being a huge Final Fantasy fan I felt obligated to grab this as soon as I picked up my ps3 from my local super-awesome Gamestop. I'm not too sure what I was expecting when I started playing, but I am sure that it is not what I got. I was hoping for endless hours of exploring, grinding, and traditional turn-based from with another great installment in the series. I'm not too sure I got any of that. I'm not saying that's really a bad thing either, just definitely not what I got.
First thing noticed was the incredible look of the game. Beautifully rendered environments and characters really made me glad I got this for the PS3. For anyone even somewhat familiar with Final Fantasy, you will be expecting the famous awe-inspiring CG cutscenes. There are plenty of those here (don't get me wrong, they were amazing), it's just I'm not too actually sure they were completely necessary seeing as how I found it almost hard sometimes to tell the difference between the normal and CG cutscenes. That's just how great the graphics are in this game. I sometimes found myself scooting the recliner uncomfortably close to my television screen just so I could get a closer look at this gorgeous looking work of art.
The characters are somewhat cliche JRPG with cheesy names like "Lightning" and "Snow". The voice-acting was a really good and I think they did a fantastic job with the casting, the writing however is a different tale. The dialogue had me cringing at points with corny one-liners and emotional 13-year-olds. But it doesn't take away from the story I felt and still delivers all the same.
A really big difference with XIII is the battle system. Pardon me for butchering this explanation but I don't really want to go too far into detail explaining it. Basically you control 1/3 of your party members at a time, while the other two are controlled by A.I. You chose a different role for each member to play at a time which are leveled up through a talent system reminiscent of X's sphere grid. Different combinations of these roles per character make up a paradigm (i.e. dps, tank healer = this paradigm, while dps, dps, healer = another paradigm, etc.). At first I found switching back and forth between paradigms just to heal my party highly frustrating, but as the game progressed I found it to be a very pleasant/interesting way to fight. One of the only complaints I had with the battle system here was the reliance on party A.I. for such an important role as keeping you alive. For the most part my medic, Hope, did a pretty decent job but had some trouble prioritizing tossing me a heal over removing a debuff or even sometimes deciding which one of my party members needed heals the most.
Now for the big issue here for me. Any part of the game where you are progressing through the main story is extremely linear. This game brings a whole new meaning to the term "story line". There is very little to explore in these areas with the exception of the occasional small nook you can step off to the side into to grab a treasure sphere or two. The game does eventually open up about halfway through and allows you to go to a whole new planet and start on a fairly large chain of optional sidequests but doesn't really, in my opinion, justify it being so close-ended for the rest of the game. I know some may argue that this isn't a flaw and could very well just be my inner fan boy raging, but I truly believe this is straying a bit too far from what is "Final Fantasy". I reckon I should just go play IX and do some 'splorin. While walking in a straight line had me a tad butt-hurt, the story still does deliver and keeps you attached.
I thought the weapon upgrade system was fairly neat, however didn't seemed almost trivial after realizing I beat the last boss still using level one weapons on all my party members. It just didn't really seem that important to the game and I wish they would have integrated it in a way that would have been more useful/necessary to progress through the main story line.
Over all I had a lot of fun playing this game (once I stopped being depressed that it wasn't a traditional FF game) and found it reasonably enjoyable. The fusion of mech/future and lush organic nature was a feast for the eyes, and the fast-paced combat system kept me coming back for more. After the final cut scene, I felt like had just completed a completely epic journey and had overcome a lot. It was pretty lenghty as well, with me finishing in at just over 36 hours and there still being tons more to do. I'm only about halfway done with the side-quests and not even 50% through all of the trophies.
If you aren't into the whole Final Fantasy/JRPG scene I'm not quite sure I would recommend this to you, but if you are then it is a must.