Well I'm pretty much finished now on a first play through so thought I'd write about one of the most anticipated titles for a while... if you're a fan of the series / JRPG genre. A lot of the crap about this game floating about since the Japanese release is true - doesn't necessarily affect the experience though. Yes there are only two character stats (attack and magic def) though you can boost others (that aren't listed) through equipment upgrades. Yes, realistically, there are no towns, no world map, and it IS very linear. So was Crash Bandicoot. Having played all FFs on every format, it certainly is different. Especially if you're new to the series - only played FFXII? You may be very disappointed if you enjoeyed that.
In my opinion, they are the best out there on the PS3. The difference between the movie bits and in-game bits is hardly noticeable, except some of the movies are obviouldy that. What I mean is the character-driven movie bits are pretty much indistinguishable from their in-game counterparts. Action scenes and clips, you just 'know' they aren't 'game' but overall, very little slowdown (only in really big battles), virtually no load time, crisp textures, perfectly (Japanese) lip-synched audio and great attention to detail. However, the vast majority of graphical touches which could differentiate the game are very similar. Lots of neon, industrialised looks to most areas (although three or four chapters do stray from the norm) gets repetitive. 9/10
Fantastic in parts (the battle theme especially, if you take too long you get to hear the good part), liking the Jpop influenced chapters, although they do get repetitive too, but overall it fits FF well and despite some quiet bits, holds the 'quieter bits' together. Nothing anthemic though like Aeris' theme, but not offensive. 8/10
I don't speak Japanese.
The battle system is phenomenal. Imagine playing SFIV against a poor player - you can button mash and win, and indeed in this for a lot of the time it will seem you can just hit 'X' (auto-battle) and win most fights. But then you won't get the best drops, fast battle times (which are all scored), and will no doubt waste a lot of purchasable items (and believe, Gil is damned rare in XIII - you certainly won't be pissing it up the wall). The option to replay a failed battle (or indeed start again half-way through) with no penalty may come as a shock. But this FF is HARD (yet nowhere near as tough as Demon's Souls), much harder than any FF before it in my opinion. You will die - lots. IN many ways the battle restart and the fact that your health is replenished, negative status effects removed after every battle make this as playable as it is. Skill and good (best choice ) in battle, is rewarded. However, the optima system (you can pick roles for each character in your party and swap these on the fly, albeit between pre-selected 'optima sets', is nothing like as adaptable as the AI of gambits in XII. That said, prudent use of libra does cause your other party members (that aside from optima choice) you have absolutely no control over to try and do the right thing once they 'know' the enemies' weakness's.
The linearity though causes some issues. On its own, you would happily plod through the 'corridor, battle, cut-scene' structure, level up and kick ass. Except, the levels are capped. So even if you max out the Chrystarium (very similar but more restrictive than X's Sphere Grid system), you're, for most of the game, never too strong that the challenge diminishes. Which is probably a good idea if you're on your first playthrough but in my opinion this severely limits the replay value. Add to that that the first ten chapters are literally a straight line with only 'involving' battles to save the monotony and it's a big turn off other than to fans of the series. Then you get to Chapter 11.
Gran Pulse is what lovers of FFXII will remember. Monsters automatically respawn and some of them there are the strongest in the game - especially considering the fist time you get there no matter what upgrades you have you aren't beating (easily). This chapter was what I personally was hoping for for the whole game. Completely open, loads of opportunities to grind, get good equipment, complete side quests in an absolutely huge free-roaming environment. Even this though is gimped by the enforced level cap - although, you can progress the story to the end of the chapter (about 3 hours play time there AND three hours back) to unlock the next level of the Chrystarium which means all the exp you can earn doesn't go to waste.
Obviously relying on translations makes the game harder but the weapon and equipment upgrade system seems good. Although there appears to be no rhyme or reason to the loot you get and what effect it might have on your kit, theres fun to be had experimenting. Maxing your equipment out does make you stronger of course, but due to the lack of available Gil in the game coupled with the linearity and lack of respawning monsters in earlier chapters (although there is a good grinding spot in ch7) it is hard work. Some Japanese players have reported HP of 5000+ by the boss in chapter 10 - the grinding to get to that is obscene as the max HP you can have through the Chrystarium alone is probably around 2.5k.
Shops. Well, all shops are handled at save points. You get access to more as the story (and your game) progresses. With regards to upgrade materials they seem to do OK, but off-the-shelf weapons and accessories are broadly no better than what you can find in the one-time-only, fixed-content treasure chests. Don't get me wrong - I got very frustrated with the Zodiac Spear Henne Mines chest in XII - but sadistically, it was actually fun trying (before the RNG was figured out).
Summons are useful in XIII. They are a bit lame to get (most can be acquired very easily though I did struggle on the initial Shiva battle), but they save your bacon many times. Especially as once they are dismissed your party gets full health. Which brings this to 'your party'
If you like deciding who your fave character is, how to mould them and shape them, then it is very limited. Until I think ch9 or 10, you cannot change party leader - you can VERY rarely decide on your party. The game switches them at various points throughout leaving you short of equipment in many of the earlier areas as you have no warning or OPPORTUNITY to unequip stuff on whoever you were using last and no access to them while in a different party.
However, the battle system, its addictive 'must get 5 stars' nature and the pyrotechnics on the screen do go a good way to banishing these gripes.
It's not perfect though. 7.5/10
Overall 'I' would play this again but I am a fan of the series, probably pumped 2000 hours into FFXII and am willing to forgive its complete linearity, limited mission / side quest availability in favour of its compelling battle dynamics (albeit driven by a scoring system that if it wasn't there, you'd just mash 'x' and occasionally L1 to switch optima set) and frankly fantastic visuals.
It is more movie than game though. But the movie bits are very well done.
Overall: 8/10 as a fan, 5/10 if you don't like the series.