I've been playing the hell out of my PS3 lately, and I've already bought several games for it. My games include Final Fantasy XIII, Metal Gear Solid 4, Bayonetta, and Super Street Fighter 4. All of these games are excellent, but I've spent the most time with FFXIII so far.
My first impression of FFXIII was borderline negative, mostly because of the noted linearity of the game. It was running from point A to point B, fighting and fighting again. But as I advanced further into the game, the intricate mechanics of the battle system were unlocked and battles were made infinitely more fun. The paradigm shift system makes combat very strategic without complicating things, and access to Eidolons makes battles incredibly flashy. Accompanied by amazing visuals and a kickass soundtrack, I came to really enjoy the constant battles. Battles in Final Fantasy really have never been better.
Eventually, the story kicks in too, along with the unveiling of each character's story. The story takes it time, but I found myself really liking the characters as they developed through the crisis at hand. I particularly liked Sazh, who seemed the most real in terms of personality and behavior. Besides all that, I love Lightning's design. She's a lot of fun to look at (why can't real girls be that pretty), and her "I'm a woman and I take shit from nobody" attitude is sexy as hell.
Epic battles, engaging story, likable characters, amazing visuals, and a great soundtrack give this the Final Fantasy feel any fan would crave. Believe it or not, I came to love the game for its linearity. Let me explain before you prepare to e-stab me. Final Fantasy has always been linear, since the only way to advance through the story was to get from point A to point B. I've always hated exploring large areas crawling with random encounters while looking for where the next point is, and FFXIII totally simplified it for me. All I really want as a JRPG fan is to watch the story unfold, so what better way to do it than make it streamlined.
There was also complaint about the lack of towns or NPC's. Well, these towns have never really had anything important in them besides shops, which are all easily accessible in every save point in FFXIII. NPC's have also been notorious for having pointless things to say, so what's so bad about doing away with that. Instead of talking to people, you can hear what characters have to say just by walk by them. This is a faster, more convenient way of doing it. XIII just took away all the tedious aspects of the series and made it a smoother experience. That's why I like it.
I've just entered the world of Gran Pulse, which is the point where the game becomes more open ended and you get to take up sidequests. It isn't a huge addition to the gameplay, but its welcome. Its actually more annoying now because of all the tedious running around again. I want my linear paths again. When I finish the game, I might do a full review. I don't know if its necessary now, but I'll try anyway.
All images belong to IGN.