Well, now that E3 is officially done, now is as good a time as any to start gushing over established franchise news. I hope you enjoy lukewarm endorsements of Final Fantasy XIII, because that's what you're getting!
Okay, summation of how I felt about FFXIII: The story was hilariously juvenile, but tried to hide it by wearing ill-fitting adult clothing (DESTINY DESTINY DESTINY TRAGEDY!), the presentation - music, graphics, character design, etc. - was gorgeous, and I LIKED the battle system. I liked the strategy required in creating and balancing paradigms correctly and switching between them at the proper time; it managed to take a fairly cerebral turn-based (nominally) system that could be very slow and deliberate fast-paced and engaging. My only complaint was the complete lack of an AI-tweek feature like FFXII's gambits, so unless the player controlled certain classes you'd be stuck with, like, synergists casting worthless elemental-change spells. One character at a time. So annoying.
I have mixed feelings about the linearity. I don't think the lack of traditional exploration hurt FFXIII, per se - there are lots of RPGs that are incredibly linear, and made it work. FFX, Phantasy Star Online, Parasite Eve, Xenosaga...they're all hellishly linear. The problem with FFXIII's world is that it's presented in a way that doesn't give the player a sense of how the world works. There are massively populated areas in Cocoon that you travel through, but you only talk to like, five people who spout stupid canned whines at you. Pulse has no NPC interaction at all. One of the major themes of the game is saving the poor innocent 'sheep' of Cocoon, but there's never a concrete sense of people actually suffering or even existing beyond a vague concept. Linearity can work in RPGs and it could have worked in FFXIII but it wasn't implemented properly.
ANYWAY. I mention this because a lot of people who like FFXIII seem to love the story, and were irritated by the battle system and linearity. (...) The FFXIII-2 demo (I cannot believe this is going to be the actual title :| ) showed a tweaked battle system and a world map, towns and NPCs. Oh, and an adorable moogle. ♥ It came off as a half-hearted attempt at addressing the widely accepted problems of FFXIII - half-hearted because while the explorable world appears much larger, the Paradigm battle system is still firmly in place, and there wasn't, you know, a whole lot of NPC interaction. There was just more available than in the first game. :p
At the end of the demo there was some ~player choice~ involved, but it was pretty simple: fight an area boss ASAP, or wander around finding stuff to lower its strength and defenses. ~Thrill~ at the interactivity on display!!!1!!1
I like the battle changes shown so far, with the ability to use monsters in the party and stuff. One thing about the Paradigm system was the lack of strategy in the endgame stuff - once you unlocked the Crystarium fully, most battles went like this:
Saboteur/Syngerist/Commando for buffing & debuffing
Ravager x 3 to stagger quickly
Commando/Ravager until enemy dies
With only two characters + 1 monster character with wildly varying stats, hopefully there will be a need to use lots of different setups instead of the few obvious stand-outs.
Not sure how I feel about quick-time event-esque timed button presses thing. Sometimes, it looks like a decent way to add unique strategy to the battle system, like the timed counters/attacks in Phantasy Star Universe, but it also looks a lot like the Resident Evil 4/5 quick time events which are THE WORST THINGS IN THE WORLD. So...yeah. Let's hope that doesn't suck balls.
Also if this game doesn't have Sazh as a playable character I am going to punch everyone at Square Enix in the face. If Snow and/or Hope are playable but Sazh is not, I am going to stab everyone at Square Enix in the face. I'd like to see Vanille and Fang too, but for obvious reasons that probably won't happen.