So I managed to get Final Fantasy 13 a little early, and now have got a few hours in on it. So far, I see what the developers were trying to do with the title and all the things some folks have been saying about it.
First off, lets talk about what people have been saying about it. Yes, it is very linear in the beginning. It's generally one path with a few branches, lots of fighting and great graphics. Incredible graphics actually. You have no control over who is in the party, you can develop each character very "basically". The story is confusing starting off. Lot's of talk about Pulse, the purge, Cocoon, l'cie, Fal'cie, etc. Where none of them relate well to real world things, it's very easy to get lost in the talking. Here it is in a nutshell. There is one planet. It has a moon. People live on the moon. Things on the planet are bad in the people's minds. The things on the planet make people into magic users, which eventually turn into weird things or crystal. If you get tainted by one of these bad things, you are to be sent to the planet (purged) and you are hence left there to die or do whatever so long as you do not bother the people on the moon.
This leads into what I think the developers were doing. I don't know if many of you have played Final Fantasy in it's iterations, but it can get REALLY overwhelming in the start because of an overload of information and story. So what they've done with this game is they've streamlined it, and made it more user friendly. The battles are easier to control with an "auto fight" option. It still has the "do what you want to" options as well, should you want to. You can't get lost in the first parts either. The linear game style is there for that, so new players won't get lost and in turn, put the game down. They've made it engaging enough to keep the player interested, and keeps baiting you with more and more as you go. Information, character modification, and weapon and armor upgrades are done slowly, bit by bit, so you an absorb each bit individually. Very well done. I enjoy it quite a bit because I feel I can follow it. In Final Fantasy 12, I was lost and eventually gave up on the game. It was very Star Wars like too, which I didn't take to like I think the developers would hope their audience would. The story on this one, while not completely original (save the world, yada yada) it's done far better. There are also no playboy bunnies in this one compared to FF12. :P
I'll have more as I progress through the game. I can't recommend it yet, as I haven't played enough yet.