Ah, I forgot to mention: I beat FFXIII about three weeks ago.  Some quick thoughts:

Boss Fight: It took about 7 tries or so the first time. The boss fight has three stages. The second stage is filled with cheap attacks that will murder you until you learn to spot them or equip items that will prevent them from happening.

Quick point of interest: Before the last boss, the max level you can achieve is “Crystanium Level 9″ aka “Role Level 4″. After the boss battle (and game end), it unlocks Level 10/Role 5, and puts you back at the save point right before the boss fight.

From there, you can wander off and explore all of the side-quests you missed or skipped, do all the power levelling needed to kill the giant adamantoises (sp? Basically a cross between a mammoth, turtle and Star Wars AT-AT Walker) and the like. Or, you can power up a lot then go fight the last boss again for an easier/more relaxed win.

So, some final thoughts and the verdict:

* The combat system I still believe is the most involved/intense combat system of any game in the series (that I’ve played, anyway). They added a completely new level of depth with the implementation of Time and Combo/Breaks.

* The graphics and cut scenes are exciting and brilliant, but that could simply be the product of having millions and millions of dollars to throw at an otherwise ok script. I was VERY disappointed in the fact that there’s no “FMV Viewer” (like in FFX: A “theater” where you can purchase/view the FMVs that you have seen already, so you don’t have to play through again or pre-save to show your buddies the cooler game scenes), this made Chapter 12 (“the chapter with all the FMV action craziness”)… not as special somehow.

* Characters: I liked some characters a lot (Sahz, Vanille, Hope), others weren’t that interesting to me (Fang).

* Summons: Great design. Unfortunately, shitty implementation: Each character has their own summons. When the game “opens” and lets you set your party, at that point you’ve already grown accustomed to playing one or two characters as your Leader. This means that you could go the entirety of the game and only see/use Lightning’s summons (well, not true; there’s an event where Snow’s is automatically activated as well). In fact, aside from seeing Hope’s and Snow’s because I specifically wanted to, I never once in my playthrough activated Sahz’s, Vanille’s or Fang’s summons. Compare this to XII where you could control the summons of other party members (and each party member had one), or to the awesome but overpowered summons Yuna had in FFX, where one character can activate one after the other.

Considering that I never found them all that particularly useful or powerful, I think summons are a total bust in FFXIII. Their design is cool, and I love the “ride mode”/”Transformers” aspect, but totally underutilized and marginalized. They wasted time implementing them to have them marginalized so.

* Story-wise, it’s good. However, I still think FFX wins the Epic Story award. No spoilers or anything, but in FFX they put your main character in the center of the love story and world drama. In FFXIII, there is an “already done” love story between two of the characters and a third character who is prominent in cut-scenes but isn’t an actual party member. Also, every character gets their own focus and in-depth storylines, at the expense of having one massive emo storyline focused on one character. Don’t get me wrong, it’s good, but if folks who like FFX the most are wondering if FFXIII’s story has it beat: It doesn’t. Still better than 12, though.

* Does it deserve to bear the name “Final Fantasy”? I couldn’t care less, I was never interested in the fanboy fights. It’s fun, dramatic and exciting. The combat and story are both good. Only a little frustrating, and only boring (for me) in maybe two places (1= an overly long level with just Lightning and Hope; 2= the last level before the final boss fight, a total unrepentent grind-fest of length and repetition).

Worth a play.