Hard to recommend
Final Fantasy 13 doesn't leave a great first impression. It then actually gets fun for quite a while, but the aftertaste isn't really that sweet. The game tells its story in a completely linear fashion, which I actually prefer in most cases if the story is interesting. There's a decent story here but it's clumsily told. Terms are thrown about that you have no connection to until you go into the datalogs to read up on the universe, and that's some classic bad storytelling right there. If you need an appendix that explains all the confusing parts, you have basically failed as a storyteller. It also jars in a very bad way with the incredible high-quality visuals and decent music. It's frustrating.
The first impression that this game leaves, therefore, is not satisfactory. Certainly not compared to its predecessor which managed to put a far more fleshed-out universe at your feet right off the bat, not to mention interesting characters with good voice acting. 13 has a couple of characters you can tolerate, but none you care about. I wish I could excuse the developers for making "just a game" but I won't, not when a higher standard has been set by other games such as the Persona series or Mass Effect 2.
Luckily there is a frantic, addictive game in here. The combat system is a throwback to the Active Time Battles of old, but it's sped up to such a degree that the game offers to select your moves automatically - a wise decision in most cases. There is a lot to keep track of, as you switch your party's formation and job classes on the fly. At the 25 hour mark you're treated to a giant explorable world as well, and the battle system really starts to shine. Character progression also feels fun, once again adopting a board-game influence instead of traditional RPG leveling. And yet how much better would it be if I actually cared about what was going on?
I wouldn't have played this game for 51 hours if I hated how it played. I had a ton of fun wrangling the giant beast that is this game's combat system, and that took up the majority of my playtime. I'm not going to lie to myself about Final Fantasy 13's many faults, however. You could argue that Final Fantasy was never really about storytelling but about fun combat, and if that is the case then this game would maybe deserve another star. But maybe we should start expecting more. We certainly expect more of other games.