As you know, I wasn't very impressed of Final Fantasy XIII when I first played it. Twenty hours in and things have improved somewhat. I still had to plough through about 15 hours of utter boredom as the story is blighted by petty talk, in-fighting and the lack of cohesive directions, but at least the game is slowly coming together.
The new Role system is similar to the old Job system. This allows the player to somewhat customise the characters through six roles: Commando, Ravager, Sentinel, Synergist, Saboteur and Medic. The actions the characters perform during battle will depend on the roles currently assigned to them, for example a Medic will heal where as a Synergists will buff and a Ravager will focus on using elemental offenses. The role of each character can be switched on the fly via the Paradigm Shifts system.
While the Paradigm System is a dumbed down version of Final Fantasy XII gambits, I am finding myself enjoying the new battle system, which works half way between the fantastic Active Dimension Battle of Final Fantasy XII and the old ATB series staple. Switching A.I. on the fly is still good fun but I do find the battles as a whole much much easier than the previous title - and I haven't even started grinding yet. Crystarium is a rejigged Final Fantasy XII Sphere Grid but in 3D. It is a clusterfuck system and it gives me a headache everytime I use it. It is a pathetic replacement to the more intuitive License Board.
Weapons and accessories can be upgraded using loot (spoils) gained during the course of the game. These can be sold or dismantled to gain new materials to be used as further upgrades. Because there is no traditional levelling up system in place, it is generally more important to spend more time levelling up the weapons and accessories.
Both me and my partner agree. We love the art direction, character design etc. of Final Fantasy XII more. If you are a Final Fantasy X fanboy/girl you will be happy with the art direction here. Visually, the game is disappointing. Frame rate is very consistent during the most important bits - the combat, so nothing to complain about here. But while it does contain more polygons and better textures, it just kinda looks like a 720p Final Fantasy X game, but with the added advantage of a free camera. The pre-rendered cutscenes are stunning, but then so were the ones in the previous titles.
The linearity isn't bothering me as much as I thought it would be. There are some nook and crannies to look for treasures, but that's about it. I like towns, but do not mind the lack of towns in here either. In any case the lack of exploration do annoy me somewhat, but then again the architecture design here is so awful I didn't feel like doing much exploration anyway even if given the chance...
Bar Lighting, all the main playable characters have really forgettable design and are annoying to boot. There are three kind of voice acting in this game: brilliant (Lightning), competent (Fang) and awful (the rest). Shame that Lightning only ever speaks once every millennium. The plot is convoluted mess, especially in the beginning. But the story is slowly and beginning to get a little bit more interesting as my party (spoilers!) found themself ditched on an ancient arc after getting their arse kicked by a pope who I can't even bother remembering his name (end spoilers!).
The composer is the same guy who composed the score for Final Fantasy X and Dirge of Cerberus. That pretty much tells you all you need to know (that the soundtrack is shit). I play mainly with the volume turn all the way down just not to disturb my partner and never miss it. In fact I was seriously tempted to play the soundtrack of Final Fantasy XII (scored by Hitoshi Sakimoto - the same composer to the excellent Valkyria Chronicles and Vagrant Story) whilst playing this. A Jpop mix - seriously? It works for Persona 3 because the tracks fits the game style and location, but not here.
I am beginning to feel that Final Fantasy XIII is last-gen game moonlighting as a current-gen game in that shiny Bluray disc. It just plays and feels like one (just like Final Fantasy X felt like a PSone game), albeit with upgraded graphics. Well historically it is, as development started out as one but it has been more than three years since the PS3 was released (we have had two sublime Uncharted games for goodness sake!).