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Games of 2012: Final Fantasy XIII-2

Lush new locations, a cast of great characters, and some much- needed combat improvements...

Developers never find it easy to admit they got something wrong, especially when the game in question is arguably the biggest title in their studio's roster.

Final Fantasy XIII may have packed a startling visual punch, with its baroque architecture and candyfloss coiffures, but it suffered from a stifling linearity that killed any sense of the drama, pace and wonder usually associated with the series.

It's a flaw that director of upcoming sequel FFXIII-2, Motomu Toriyama, has accepted. "We took the criticism on board. So, in FFXIII-2, every single part of the game will develop as a result of the player making his or her choices along the way."

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That's good to hear - but just how does this influence FFXIII-2's design? As soon as you step into new starlet Serah's pint-sized shoes, you're introduced to the key feature that demonstrates Toriyama's new player-driven mantra: time travel.

In the three years since FFXIII's finale, the world of Gran Pulse has become plagued with time rifts, causing things that shouldn't be happening to happen. Things such as previous hero Lightning's disappearance. Now, it's up to younger sister Serah (and her new, strictly platonic friend Noel) to locate these time paradoxes and sort them out.

In gameplay terms, this means you're free to explore different areas, searching for giant crystals that act as portals to further levels set in separate time zones - all of which can be unlocked in an order entirely dependent on how you discover the gates. During a recent hands-on event, we experienced for ourselves what it was like to be let off the leash.

We rode snow-covered chocobos around the frozen architecture of Bresha Ruins. We brought supplies to villagers stranded in grassy, wind-swept plains. We ran into a de-hatted Snow, who was exchanging fisticuffs with a humongous blob in the middle of a deliciously autumnal forest. It genuinely was exhilarating to explore at our own pace, especially as we were free to enjoy the simply beautiful world Square Enix has created.

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