The battle system is real-time, which I always hated in the old ATB systems (that's why X was my favorite) but they addressed my problems... adequately. In two ways:
(1) You can enter your commands before it's time for them to get executed, so you don't have to literally enter them instantaneously to avoid losing time. Except for items and 'techniques', those are still annoying.
(2) You *really* enter your commands for the whole party at once using the paradigm shift functionality. Each of the classes has a *very narrow* purpose -- COMs and RAVs attack, MEDs heal, SYNs buff, SABs debuff, SENs... um... presumably taunt or something? I don't really have one yet.
This lets the AI for each class appear intelligent within its function, since its parameters are well-constrained. Which means (a) it's not such a horrible thing that the non-leader party members are AI-controlled and (b) you can usually pick auto-whatever and do okay, if you set your paradigms correctly, since it just calls the AI routine for your current class. Including targetting.
Exception: Sazh's 'offensive' SYN AI is *awful*. It piles up redundant or irrelevant buffs on the leader before buffing anyone else. Hope's defensive SYN AI is a lot better.
The inventory system is a little disappointing so far, though -- you've only got a couple slots (although you get more slowly) and most of the items only do one specific thing, which doesn't leave a lot of room for customization. You can upgrade items, but most monster loot doesn't give much 'XP' -- we're talking 8 to 10 for a piece of loot that you'll get one of every two fights, and it takes 2000 xp to get an item to the next level. So you can really only level up items when you find 'spark plugs' or whatever in a treasure... orb. There's a shop that sells them, but you hardly ever get more money, so the existance or shops is almost irrelevant.
Then, there's the characters. These are spoilers of course.
Hope: aka 'Hopeless', according to some friends. He's a normal kid who's dragged into the whole mess and reacts by staggering around in a useless funk until he finds his purpose -- killing Snow.
Snow: This guy *has* to be a parody of Naruto and other previous FF characters who act like making promises and being determined will make everything work out all right. They can't possibly be playing this straight. Especially since no one else buys his bullshit, except for his fan club (who don't join your party) and Hope's mom (who DIES almost immediately after he swears to protect her). Oh, and Sarah, who turns into a crystal while he's in the middle of swearing to protect her.
Sazh: He has a chocobo. In his hair. And he spouts dogmatic crap like 'pulse l'Cie are the enemies of cocoon' over and over and over. Including after he gets turned into a pulse l'cie -- 'our focus is obviously to destroy cocoon -- if we don't, we're ceith'. I just got to the part where he explains what he was doing on the train -- his son was turned into a sanctum l'cie because SOMEONE (*cough* Vanille) tried to blow up a power plant he was visiting. He doesn't buy any of the crap he was saying, and the whole 'we're evil now' speech was him trying to work up the courage to *commit suicide*. "But the bird says no."
Lightning: She starts out being a grumpy but likable soldier, until she becomes a l'cie. She doesn't handle stress well. You know how Sazh talked about how their mission was probably to destroy cocoon? She told him to shut up... and then, as soon as she's on her own, she goes about plotting to do just that. She *really means it*. ...she's scary. Protect me. ,,,'O.O',,,
Vanille: "Hi, I'm a traitor!" Lazar was boggled by an early scene where she leads Hope, kicking and screaming, into a den of evil, obstensibly so he can confront Snow about the whole 'mom dying' thing. "She didn't have any reason to be there, but she's the leader -- her whole motive is 'let's look around!'" Yeah, that isn't actually her motive. Officially I haven't discovered that she was already a l'cie, but they aren't being very subtle about it. I mean, for fuck's sake -- all your characters start with 2 ATB bars until they become l'cie, at which point they get a third... except for Vanille, who starts with 3 from the get-go. PROOF!
Anyway, I'm about 12 hours in (out of 60 or so, according to reports) and the characters are actually mostly... well, not *likable* exactly, but interesting. Except Snow. And Lightning. Who need to die in a fire. But not until after the game's over, since they're the most powerful. >:)