When Final Fantasy XIII was first revealed, fans of the series were hoping it would correct many of the problems they saw in Final Fantasy XII.  Many complained that Final Fantasy XII was too complex and its large world was unnecessarily big.  Well, Final Fantasy XIII does aim to fix these complaints, and in doing so, delivers a great, but disappointing RPG.

                Final Fantasy XIII is extremely linear.  Unlike XII, you move from area to area without the options of side quests or deviating from the straight line on your map.  Side quests do open up very late in the game (Chapter 11 of 13), but to me, felt more like a chore than a fun change of pace.  You’re party is determined by in game events until about the same time side quests open up, and not all abilities are available until  Chapter 11 as well.  What drives the game from the very beginning is the story.  Sadly, the story just isn’t paced well enough or makes enough sense to make me want to keep moving forward at times.  I felt like the climax of the game happened about halfway through, and then you were left with little to no story for majority of the rest of the game.  The characters are also shallow and melodramatic, making it hard to fall in love with what makes up most of this game.

                However, there are many redeeming qualities of this game that make it more than worthwhile.  The battle system, utilizing Paradigms, or combinations of different jobs, is both easy to understand and program, but deep enough to allow for a lot of strategy.  It makes you feel less like you’re inputting commands, and more like you’re affecting the flow of battle.  When it fully opens up near the end of the game, it truly clicks and feels great.  It is by far the best battle system of the series.  Boss battles are also a high point, and make great use of the Paradigm system.  They require an insane amount of strategy.  You have to analyze their weaknesses and move set in order to determine an effective tactic.  Although difficult, they were the highlight of the experience. 

                The Crystarium is also an interesting new addition.  Instead of your standard leveling up, you gain CP points that can be used to open up new abilities in a system similar to Final Fantasy X’s Sphere Grid.  This is far more interesting than your standard leveling up, as you decide what abilities and jobs can be available for your character.  The only down side is you don’t have access to the entire thing until very late in the game.

                Final Fantasy XIII is not perfect.  Its streamlined feel and dependence on a weak story and shallow characters leave a lot to be had in this game, but its incredibly deep and engaging battle system keep the game fresh and moving.  It doesn’t live up to the expectations of fans of the series, but it does offer one of the best RPG experiences on the Playstation 3.