The first half of the game is quite linear - you get access to the traditional world map quite early on, but you're guided where to go quite well. Basically it's just moving from village to dungeon to village performing mini-quests; recruiting people to your party and advancing the plot. You can do the usual Final Fantasy things like ride on chocobos to get around quicker and eventually an airship that opens up the whole world to you, but you pretty much do it all in the set order.
Then, at what must roughly be that half-way point, there's an event that changes the world map and the whole setup for the game. Minor spoiler: Basically your party gets split up and you have to go and find them - all over the world. After a few story-driven sections it then opens up the whole world to you again and basically gives you the choice of side questing (which is only really semi-optional because you probably wouldn't beat the game unless you explore most of the new world and (same minor spoiler as above) re-recruit all your characters) or heading off to the final dungeon of the game.
Basically, if you liked the way FFVII was structured, then you'll like this.
Edit: It's definitely worth saying that there's really no need to spend ages levelling up if you just want to complete the game. Yes, the optional uber-hard dungeons are there if you want to (and you can go and play them post-completion if you want), but I beat the game without too many difficulties just by playing through normally.
#3534580, By Killerbee Recently Completed Games
Killerbee 5,016 posts
Seen 43 minutes ago
Registered 16 years ago