I'm going to give my two cents worth on the game, if it's worth anything
I've only played about 8 hours of the game, so my viewpoint will be very limited since I've not played the game in its entirety (the whole game is 60 hours long apparently, even longer if you do all the side-quests). I'll address each aspect separately, starting with Characters, Gameplay, Exploration, Setting (Presentation), and Voice Acting. So just skip to the points you want to read because this will be very long, haha
If a story doesn't have characters that the player connects with in an (J)RPG, then the game has already failed. I'll address the main cast individually.
LIGHTNING: She is probably my favorite character so far. She is bad a**, cool, calm, and for the most part collected. Yet, even though I'm not very far into the game, the story has revealed there is a reason for her stoic "I don't need anyone" attitude, and it has a lot to do with her own insecurities. She reminds me a lot of Cloud in many ways; lightning comes from clouds after all (haha, bad joke I know). So yes, I won't ruin much more about her for anyone! I would also like to point out that Lightning isn't her real name, I don't know what it is yet, but apparently she changed her name to Lightning when she joined the military or something.
SAZH: There really isn't much to say about him, I like him, but so far he's more of a comic relief character. He's also the oldest party member, I think he's in his late thirties, but I'm not positive. Despite his comic nature, it's been revealed that he has a son, and that's one of the reasons he's been sticking around with the party. I don't know much about him, but he has a chocobo in his hair and that's pretty awesome
SNOW: He also comes from clouds, but doesn't really resemble a cloud at all (I know, I'm hilarious). He's a character that I hate and love. At times he's a beast, and brings some optimism to the group. However, other times he's downright obnoxious and gets on my nerves. He's engaged to Lightning's younger sister Serah, and Lightning doesn't like him for that reason. So both of them fight a lot, and Lightning throws a few punches, haha. I still haven't really figured out how I feel like him yet since he's been captured for 3 hours of my playing time, but I'll see
VANILLE: I really don't like her. One minute she's Miss Happy-go-lucky, then the next she's all dark and mysterious. I'm sure there is something a lot more to this character, but I just can't say much about her yet. She is a really good magic user though
HOPE: Another character I don't like. He's just a p***y. At the moment, his character IS starting to grow on me because he's starting to man up and take action. However, I still don't like him very much. I'm sure he'll grow as a character, as most Final Fantasy characters do, but he has yet to make an impression.
FANG: I know nothing about her since I've not had a chance to have her in my party. She has an accent and has captured Snow, that's all I know, haha. I do have a feeling I'm going to like her though
This is probably a VERY important part of the game, probably second to the characters and story since this is what you spend a majority of the game doing. I have to say, that this is probably the best Final Fantasy ATB mechanic I've ever played! It's fast paced, strategic and fun! I have to point out that the first hour of the game, your abilities, techniques, etc. are VERY limited. Your character's don't grow that much in the few hours because you're constantly changing back and forth between characters (Lightning/Sazh pair, Hope/Vanille pair, and Snow by himself). However, as the game progresses, you get to learn more about the battle system, and it is truly one of the best! The way you progress your characters is a mix of the License Point system from FFXII and the Sphere Grid system from X. You gain CP (basically license points) after every battle, and you in turn use those license points to progress your characters growth. Depending on what kind of class you would like to develop your character in, you select the class, and level up on a "sphere grid" for that specific class. For example, if you wanted to make Lightning an offensive unit, you would select "Commando" in the Crysalarium (that's what the "sphere grid" system is called) menu and select that class. If this all sounds very confusing, the game does an excellent job explaining everything to you, so if you have any questions, just ask
This is probably the most criticized part of FFXIII. From what I have played so far, I will confirm that the game is linear indeed, but a lot of the progressing reminds me A LOT of FFX. Just like in FFX, there are separate branches on your map you can branch off to, but they more than likely will only result in treasure, not a different way of progression. The linearity allows the story to progress at a rapid rate, but it alas gets rid of mini games and shopping in towns. As for the NO TOWNS aspect, there are indeed towns you get to visit. But you can't actually buy stuff in any shops, or go into houses and talk to random people (you can only talk to people you pass on your way to the next destination). I for one was never really into talking to everyone in towns just to figure out what to do next like in the traditional FFs, so i didn't mind this change. However, I do wish you were aloud more freedom to just walk around an enjoy the cities you visit. However, about 20 hours into the game, it is CONFIRMED that the world of FFXIII opens up and you get to explore the vast land of Pulse and perform side quests. However, this might be too little too late for a lot of people.
4)Setting (including presentation)
The setting in FFXIII is breathtaking! The amount of detail put into all the placed I've visited on Cocoon is amazing! Everything looks gorgeous, and the graphics are beautiful! Definitely the best looking FF to date! Yet as stated above, the short coming linearity takes away from the greatness of the worlds to an extent, but not entirely. The game still looks great and I'm loving every second of the places I've been to. As for the presentation aspect, the fact that Square took the time to go back and re-sync the mouth movement to the ENGLISH voice actors presentation of everything is something that must be applauded. Even the pre-rendered cut scenes were re-synced. That is something that Square has never bothered to do for a western release, and it helps greatly with the believability of the characters.
5) Voice Acting
I would like to say that FFXIIIs English voice acting as a whole is not bad. It is actually quite good, especially comparing it to FFXs voice acting (you REALLY had to grow accustomed to Tidus and Yuna's VA, they just had very irritating voices). I would say that Lightning, Hope, Sazh, and Snow's VAs are probably doing the best so far from what I've seen. And I would like to point out that Snow's VA is Troy Baker, who did FMA anime 1's Frank Archer in the English dub (you can't really look at Snow the same way after that, haha). So yeah, for some, I do agree it is a shame that there is not a duel audio option. But compared to just about every Japanese game released in the West, the voice acting is very good! Don't let the ONLY English audio turn you away from the game.
All in all, good game so far! It hasn't hooked me at the very beginning like some other Final Fantasy titles, but I'm enjoying. I can't say how I ultimately feel since I haven't beaten the game yet, but I'll post my final verdict once I beat the game! If you have any questions, I'm willing to tell anyone if they're on the fence about purchasing the game!
P.S. I skipped the story part of FFXIII because the story is quite complex, and in most honesty, I don't know much about it yet. However, at the pace that this story is moving forward, I can tell that there will be lots of twists and turns to come!