The anticipated installment in the ironically named franchise.
The long-anticipated installment in the Final Fantasy franchise lets go of some of the more trusty aspects of the franchise in favor of more linear storytelling, and a more fastpaced combat system.
Most of the problems people seem to have with the game is the fact that its about as linear as a straight line tetris block. Whereas the old Final Fantasy had at least an open world filled with cities to go to, and hidden locations to explore, Final Fantasy XIII favors a set route for your characters to follow. When you enter a new area you can look at your map and see that it's practically a straight path to your next cutscene trigger or bossfight, with the occasional sidepath that leads to a treasure chest or two.
The aforementioned linearity serves the storyline however, as your characters need to constantly keep moving in search of their goal and can't really risk being in the cities for extended periods of time. However it takes away some of the personality and feel of this grand world that Final Fantasy XIII is taking place in. The graphics are excellent and just beautiful to behold, and it's a shame that there arent any big cities to simply run around in, hopping from shop to shop and talking to NPC's just to hear their dialogue. The story itself however takes pretty long to effectively get going, it only went anywhere at around the 10 hour mark for me which is about as long as some full-length games, and that's saying something.
Now onto the other part of a Final Fantasy game: the combat. Combat happens in real time and is rather fastpaced and the tide of battle can quickly turn around if you're not careful. On the bottom of the screen the Active Time Bar will fill up and segments of it will become filled up, your most basic attacks and spells will cost one segment while the more advanced spells and skills will take up several or all of your segments. The little twist in this series is the Stagger Gauge: keeping on the offense and working to get it full will make the enemy ... well, stagger. This has the effect that your attacks do alot more damage, and in some fights it's required that you stagger the enemy before you can effectively damage them.
Other then the spells and skills there are other special skills called Techniques. These techniques are skills which dont take up an ATB segment which means they can be used at any point in an emergency situation, some examples being the Libra spell which details some info on your enemies, or summoning your character's Eidolon to aid him in battle. Do not use these skills lightly however as they consume TP which only recovers by preforming well in fights, or using rare and expensive items.
The leveling in the game is done in the form of the Crystarium: a large grid filled with various Hit Points, Strength, Magic and Ability orbs which each needs a set amount of Crystarium Points to reach, which are gained in the form of experience after an encounter. Later you get access to Roles, which are basically this game's version of the Job System. Roles can be set up in 6 different sets of three called Paradigms, which you can shift between during combat, and its up to you to use the setup you feel the situation requires.
Roles are split up into:
Commando: A melee focused combatant who focusses on starting up the Stagger Gauge, and dealing damage.
Ravager: An attacker utilizing mostly Elemental attacks who fills up the Stagger Gauge rapidly when working together with a Commando.
Sentinel: A defensive class whose main focus is drawing the enemies' attention to keep their allies safe from harm, with the help of their various Guard abilities
Medic: The medic is the class which has access to the healing spells: Hit point restoration, curing negative Status Ailments and even reviving incapacitated teammates.
Synergist: This support class is focussed upon helping their allies with various spells that increase their speed, strength, defensive or magic attributes and even increase elemental resistances or imbue these elemental properties into the weapons of allies.
Saboteur: The counter-part to the synergist focusses on weakening the enemies' defenses by slowing them down or lowering their attributes or inflicting status ailments, and also helps to keep the Stagger gauge going.
Despite the fact that there is no real, big open world to explore like in other FF games, the rather stereotypical characters and that the story takes its sweet time to get going, I enjoyed my playthrough of Final Fantasy XIII. Its length may put off some people, but if you like a good RPG with a great storyline (eventually), then you can't be missing out on Final Fantasy XIII. However if you're new to the JRPG genre, then you may want to take another game in the genre before you dive into this one.
Editor's Note: First time I ever wrote anything resembling a review, and the time of writing is 1 A.M. due to inability to sleep, but I'm open to constructive criticism.