Change is Good
Just like the last version released (Final Fantasy XII), I seem to be the only person I know who is completely satisfied with the latest version of Final Fantasy on the market. Both versions are departures from the "core" Final Fantasy experience. And yet, to me, they both managed to take things that I have enjoyed from Final Fantasy, and emphasize them, while diminishing things that I didn't enjoy or grew tired of.
Specifically, Final Fantasy XIII really fits MY playstyle when it comes to Final Fantasy. I'm the type of player who mainly focuses on the main story of the game. Oh, sure, I enjoy the various sidequests-but I always find it a bit weird to run off and play notes on a piano while while a meteor is hurtling towards the planet. Heading pretty much ever onward towards the end feels all right to me, and it is how I typically play Final Fantasy games unless the story gives me a "break" or I need to level up to continue.
I really enjoy the battle system as well. I do think people who complain about the handholding throughout most of the game are right, it's very annoying. But once you can start shifting paradigms, things are a lot of fun, and the challenge of getting five stars is interesting to me, and remained fun throughout the whole game .
The story wasn't perfect, and at times I felt a bit confused, but the relationships between the characters was really strong, and their emotional reactions logical, which isn't something you can always say for Final Fantasy. I particularly enjoyed Sazh; I was worried the character would be another unfortunate Final Fantasy mega stereotype, and at times it felt like he was Will Smith: The Anime, but they did a really good job of fleshing him out.
The music is great, and the graphics are really amazing to look at. I also liked how I was able to play the game both casually (college in) or for hours at a time (college out), without feeling like either way was the wrong way to play. I put a lot of hours into this game, and I feel like I got a lot for my money, considering how short games are getting these days, and yet I didn't pray for it to be over by the end like I did with Dragon Age.
All in all, I find Final Fantasy XIII to be not only a worthy chapter of this franchise, but one of the most enjoyable experiences overall.