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Final Fantasy XIII-2: Remedying FF XIII's linearity?

We get a solid 14 hours hands-on time with Square Enix's next Final Fantasy

Love it or hate it, FFXIII had one glaring flaw - grinding linearity - a criticism director Motomu Toriyama acknowledged recently. But the disappointed dev has tackled this failing head on with upcoming sequel, FFXIII-2.

"In FFXIII-2," Toriyama explained, "every part of the game will develop as a result of the player's choices." And, having had two days' precious hands-on time, we can confirm that he's not lying.

From the word go, you're flung into an epic clash between FFXIII's heroine, Lightning, and new baddie, Caius. This switches between using FFXIII's Paradigm Shift battle system (where you shift your character's tactics between offensive, defensive and support roles) to QTE-peppered cutscenes.

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Here, you can decide how Lightning lays into Caius, be it with her sword or gun, magic spells or physical kicks. Your choices affect how the fight pans out and, in later boss battles, deal advantage-granting harm to your foe.

After this epic opening, the focus switches to FFXIII-2's starlet, Serah (Lightning's younger sister), and the world opens up like a wonderful Christmas present. Environments are packed with talkative NPCs, many of whom offer side-quests - a simple change that makes FFXIII-2 feel far far more alive than its predecessor.

But it's introducing time travel that enforces FFXIII-2's departure from linearity. Y'see, Gran Pulse has become riddled with time rifts, causing events to happen that shouldn't be. So Serah and new fighting buddy Noel must explore each fractured timeline, resolve the paradox and find gates to the next broken rift.

Don't be fooled into thinking that this is just a tarted-up level select function. Each environment has several time gates that lead to story-advancing levels or side-quest laden landscapes (perfect for grinding).

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It may sound complicated, but the whole mechanic works seamlessly, and genuinely guarantees a different experience from gamer to gamer - our playthrough was totally unlike that of the French journalist next to us.

And for those who never finished FFXIII, fret not - the sequel fills in the gaps with handy flashbacks and nostalgic chats. But ploughing through the rest of XIII will, at least, highlight just how much stronger FFXIII-2 is by comparison: the sequel actually feels like a proper Final Fantasy instalment. We can't wait.

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