A beautiful presentation.
9.5 - Graphics in FFXIII are superb. There are many CGI cut-scenes, of course, but I am talking about the graphics display during gameplay. While exploring, I am often amazed at the visual quality of the characters and their surroundings. Beams of light shift in real time, the twinkling of crystal and the sheen of water both have elegant light effects, soft shadows play across characters and world objects with a gentle faded edge, and the over-all artistic style is appeallingly modern while maintaining the air of fantasy. There are great effects during enemy encounters too. Magical and technological abilities produce nice tertiary lighting and they cast shadows too. It is my opinion that graphics are important to a game, but not the ONLY thing important. That being said, I do have an issue with animation and battle realism:
There is something overly "peppy" about the battle animation, and it is most noticeable at the end of a fight. For example, the character named 'Suds' (aka "Sazh") pumps his legs as though he is doing aerobics, yet his face is expressionless. He bobs up and down so rapidly, but the one-liner he delivers is short, so the animation is cut off after just a second, allowing him to only bob two or three times, which makes it seem as though he has to use the washroom. Green apple quick-step, anyone?
With battle realism, I refer to how the scenes look during enemy encounters as well as CGI cut-scenes of gunplay conflict. Imagine twenty armoured soldiers with guns fighting twenty-five civilian revolutionaries with guns: whatever you just pictured in your mind looks better than what appears in several cut-scene gunfights. People just stand there and shoot continuously. Nobody seems to take cover and the whole scene just looks too candy-coated. Also, people have seemingly regular conversations in the middle of these fights. Melee offers a similar vanilla flavour: attack an enemy soldier with your metal blade, yet he won't bleed. No matter where your blow lands, he will grab his abdomen as he falls.
These are really minor things, but enough to take away a "0.5" from an otherwise perfect "10" in graphics.
9 - Sound effects and music are excellent. The opening track starts off with a sort of mysterious echo of light percussion, re-enforcing the "crystalline" theme and lending an air of faerie tale charm as well. Ambient music is great too, though quite mellow at times, which may seem odd during the frenzy of battle. Rather than finding it strange, I can feel less rushed in making decisions during combat. As far as voice acting goes, the casting is close to perfect. I will not touch on likeable characters and ones whom I dislike here, for that has little to do with the quality of the voice acting.
8 - Gameplay in FFXIII is very good, but could stand some improvement. I do not appreciate "invisible walls" nor do I have the ability to suspend disbelief with regard to violence. What do I mean by that? To put it simply, I think there ought to be no invisible barriers on a map. If the designers do not want my characters to go somewhere, they ought to make a more believable way of mapping the world. As far as violence goes, it is a bit ridiculous that a person is struck several times with a sword and killed, but then bear no marks on their body nor shed blood. While these two things take gameplay marks away, I give marks back to the gameplay department in that the enemy encounters are visible on the wilderness field. Previous installments (aside from FFXII) feature invisible enemy encounters and that is not something I like to have in an RPG.
I like the Crystallium character advancement, but it feels as though my choices are severely limited. While the Optima system of battle roles has good flexibility, the individual character advancement feels rigidly linear. This area could have used more attention, it seems.
7.5 - Story is what FFXIII lacks most. While not terrible, the story leaves much to be desired. Not all of the characters are likeable, either. I feel that the player should care about what happens to the protagonists in a story. I cannot reveal spoiler information, but I would personally like to kill "Hope" by slow-roasting him on a spit over an open fire. Also, the cheery and cute "Vanille" could use a punch in the teeth.
Jokes aside, Lightning is cool--very cool, and so is Yun Fang. I am not going to go into detail with regard to the story of FFXIII. I have subjected you to enough of my point of view for today and I would like you to experience the story for yourself. I can say that I was expecting more out of this game, story-wise.
9.5 - Graphics
9.0 - Sound
8.0 - Gameplay
7.5 - Story
8.5 - Review
Thank you for reading!