SPOILERS up through Chapter 4.
-The battle system is surprisingly fun, fast-paced, and just challenging enough to warrant paying complete attention. It takes the gambit system from FFXII and mixes it with the job system from the series overall, and mixes those ideas with the mid-battle changing and quick, exciting speed from FFX-2. It's discouraging to once again not be in full direct control of all your characters, but the system is fresh and interesting enough to make me forget that I'm really only inputing one set of character commands at a time. The only downside is that it can be a little TOO fast-paced when you're trying to get the feel for new formations or abilities, but that's a minor complaint.
-Pretty graphics, but that's a given. I care very little about graphics but they do look neat on our new HD television, so I guess it deserves a mention here.
-I like the idea of using loot to upgrade weapons/accessories, although the loot itself is scarce so far (see below.)
-Lightning is actually a pretty cool lead. I dread the inevitable outpouring of emotion and motivation that comes with advancing further into the game, but her frosty "shut the fuck up, I don't have time for this bullshit" demeanor is fairly appealing right now. I could do with a lot less flashy action crap, and less Advent Children-era Cloud facial expressions, but overall she's a much more likeable character than I expected. She's also just manly enough to count as eye candy for me given my penchant for ladies that look like dudes.
-Hope. Oh my FUCKING god I hate this whiny bitch with an aching fucking fiery passion. His entire characterization is based on irrationally hating Snow, being in deep denial about the circumstances of his mom's death, and being a whining, complaining, cowardly little prick. His regular stupid facial expressions are bad enough, but the thing that really makes me rage - and I mean RAGE REAL FUCKIN' HARD - is that insufferably twee "who, me?" face he pulls when you go to his Status page. I swear to god if he doesn't undergo some serious character development then he will be on my list of top 5 least favorite Final Fantasy characters ever.
-Snow. Like Hope, I find him extremely annoying not just in a few scenes, but in literally every single scene he's in. No, not even just that, but every single second he's speaking or existing onscreen he irritates the shit out of me. He's not a hero, his delusions about Serah are pathetic, and that hat... holy shit, that hat. What a goddamn douche.
-The overall biggest problem: the almost complete lack of plot progression. Literally nothing has happened since the gang became l'Cie aside from them meeting up and splitting up and meeting up again and splitting up again, ad nauseam. To make matters worse you have the Datalog synopses, which I swear to god say the same exact fucking thing in every single entry, just worded a little differently. Which brings us to Overall (Second) Biggest Problem...
-Ceaseless recycled exposition. I'm 10+ hours in and the game has been 95% filler. It was established that Serah was Snow's fiancee - I don't need a boring, cheesy, flow-interrupting flashback showing him proposing to her, and I don't need the onscreen text to mention the fact that they were engaged fifty more times. It was established that Hope and his mother were just visiting Bodhum when the Purge happened - fine. So why devote an entire flashback to showing that they were vacationing in Bodhum when that flashback is literally useless as it adds nothing to the plot or characterization, and only serves to mention things we already know. What takes 5 seconds of mentioning in dialogue has to be underscored with a much more tedious minutes-long cutscene, and so far they have all been nearly entirely irrelevant because it's old news. Exposit via dialogue or flashbacks - players really do not need both. I can remember important plot points from three minutes ago, REALLY I can. Good fucking LORD. If I have to hear one more time about how l'Cie are feared and hated and how that lead to the Purge and blah blah FUCKING blah I'm going to take a hammer to my own skull and smile while I do it.
-It really bears repeating - the constant Scooby Doo LET'S SPLIT UP, GANG! contrivances, either voluntary or circumstancial, that bust my party up into two/three pieces and make me have to re-micromanage my Paradigms all over again. It's a rather poor method of forcing me to switch up my tactics and explore how different party members work together. There's only so many times I can bring myself to give a rat's ass when Sazh gets left in Lightning's dust, or Hope falls on his ass and gets lost because he can't climb a rock that's three feet high. That being said, I DO like that I get to use different party leaders, even if I can't choose any one I want a la FFXII... :|
And The Ugly:
-Vanille really, really needs to stop moaning, panting, sighing, and generally sounding like she's getting off when she performs any action more physically involved than blinking. Some voice actors just can't do "winded" or "injured" or "breathing like a human being" without making it sound like throes of ecstasy, and Vanille's VA falls squarely in that category. Yuck. Also, I kind of can't unsee her as a slutty tease, what with the way she keeps touching everyone, snuggling, making suggestive comments... yyyyeah. I'll be glad when the lesyay begins just so I can stop seeing shiphints with EVERYONE ELSE.
-"Barfire," "aquastrike," "debrave"? Oh for fuck's sake, why can't we use the way less fucking stupid names for spells/abilities? Who the hell actually thought "barfire" sounded even halfway usable?
-Yuj. Just... Yuj. It's one thing to include genuinely important characters that just happen to ping the good ol' gaydar. It's another to poke fun at the ever-growing subset of fans that enjoy m/m subtext by throwing in a few ridiculously over-the-top but loveable flamboyant queens. But the fun evaporates when they shove the homosexual stereotypes down our throats with all the vigor of an actual dicking, in the form of a worthless, obnoxious NPC whose character bio actually says - honest to fuck - that he has "an insatiable interest in fashion." While I find him pretty insufferable, I do highly enjoy the idea of him topping Gadot.
-I'm really goddamn sick of how anyone over the age of 22 gets called "old" in JRPG's. Sazh IS NOT OLD. How can the others go around treating him like a crusty, busted old fart when they haven't even asked him his age? He doesn't have wrinkles or liver spots for god's sake, in fact he's very much the picture of a healthy, handsome adult male, not a hunchbacked ojiisan who could keel over at any minute. Christ, this is even more ridiculous than Auron getting called old at every opportunity.
Also The Neutral/Ambivalent:
-Sure the scenery is pretty and all, but just like in FFXII I find that it's often wasted, either because you're constantly forced to keep moving, or the camera angles are completely inhospitable to looking around in wonder. Hell, can I just add the camera controls in general here? For a current gen game the camera controls are remarkably unintuitive.
-Lack of gil. FFXII had a similar problem, but at some point the influx of loot outweighed the lack of gil; here however I'm finding it's a real and growing problem. There also just isn't enough loot dropping for me, even when I attempt to grind.
-Star ratings after every battle. It seems to serve SOME purpose, but not nearly enough purpose to warrant having it after every. single. battle. even if said battle lasted about 10 seconds. Maybe just for boss battles or something, but for that intense rumble with 2 almost stationary frogs? Why.
-The save points. Yawn. Again, for a current gen game, both the style and function of the save points are painfully outdated.
-Baby chocobo living in Sazh's hair. It's absolutely ADORABLE and can be funny, but it's seriously ridiculous, and not in a good way. In a setting that's mostly srs bsns, something like that sticks out like a sore thumb. It'll probably get explained at some point (at least I hope to fuck it will be) but even then it's a bizarre choice in character design.
-The music is completely underwhelming. Just as in FFXII, it's hardly even noticeable, more like Generic Movie Score No. 348 than a Final Fantasy soundtrack. There have been a couple moderately interesting tracks, but neither are exactly arresting, and in a series that used to be renowned for its amazing, memorable music, to have no standout tracks this far into the game is a tragedy. I'm not asking for Nobuo Uematsu or for the music to even sound like his. I just want music that fits the game while also being unique and beautiful, that enhances the story rather than being thought of as "that vaguely annoying noise that plays on a loop in some random area." (example of what I want: FFX-2, in my opinion the last FF game to have a decent OST, even post-Uematsu.)
What Am I Doing Again, Exactly?:
^This is something I constantly wonder while playing, second only to "where the hell am I going, aside from 'yellow spot on map?'" I know trying to discover the group's Focus is important, and trying to help Serah/fulfill her 'dying' wish, but beyond that it gets really sketchy. I just now established the goal of getting to Eden, but fucked if I know how traveling through the current area I'm in is helping us get any closer to that goal. While the locations always have things in the Datalog describing them, it still doesn't really clear up where I AM or where I'm GOING in relation to the overall setting/plot. It almost always feels like I don't actually have a set destination or reason for getting to said destination; it's more like my goal is to run to checkpoint A, then run to checkpoint B with a different party, and so on. Compare that to FFX, which also had extreme linearity but much more firmly established goals and routes, and it seems especially egregious. I can't even wrap my head around Cocoon's geography the way I could Spira's, or even Ivalice's in FFXII, which was not linear but had a grand FFXIII-sized scale. I'm not sure if this is a problem with my perception or a problem with the way the game is set up. Either way, I feel lost more often than not both in terms of where I am physically in the ingame world and where I am emotionally in the plot. I just don't feel immersed or truly involved the way I did with other FF games. FFXII also gave me that cold impression at times, but not nearly so unrelentingly. I really think it's the lack of towns and more intimate settings that hurts FFXIII in this regard. The only time I get to glimpse the more up-close and personal aspects of this society is in flashbacks. Not having that closer examination makes me so acutely aware that I'm playing a game, and I'm the kind of player that needs to feel emotionally entrenched in a story and its setting and characters. If I can't immerse myself, it's far more difficult to form those emotional attachments, and to therefore give a fuck at all.
My dad thinks Fang is hot, but I told him he was barking up the wrong tree. He also thought Hope was a girl, but that's pretty much par for the course.
That's all for now. I've actually played more since writing that, so I should have my second round of thoughts ready in the next couple of days. Overall I seem to be developing the same kind of love/hate relationship with this game as I had with FFXII, where I don't exactly LIKE the game but have a strange obsessive-compulsive appreciation for it and I need the micromanagement-based gameplay like oxygen.
P.S.: It's officially December 23 - HAPPY FESTIVUS everyone, let the airing of grievances commence! I GOT A LOT OF PROBLEMS WITH YOU PEOPLE, NOW YOU'RE GONNA HEAR ABOUT IT!