What the game does offer, perhaps, instead of choice in path, is a whole new perspective on battles. In our hands-on preview piece, we noted that the game offered a new battle system which focused heavily on the notion of the "Paradigm Shift." In battles, you only directly control the leader of the three member party, but you do indirectly control everyone else via the Paradigm Shift. Each party member takes one of a number of different roles – Commando (warrior), Ravager (magic to help Commandos deal damage), Sentinel (defender), Medic (healer), Saboteur (inflict status effect on enemies), Synergist (magic support against status effects on team). It is the combination of these roles creates different Paradigms. As with many latter day Final Fantasy battle systems, it is incredibly in-depth, but the game does start you off very slowly, adding to the battle system bit by bit with plenty of helpful tutorial battles to get you into the swing of things. Although as a player you won't be pushing a button to swing a sword, you can still time an attack to deal the most damage (and save yourself from getting hurt), and you will constantly be shifting Paradigms throughout a battle – you can set custom ones before battles begin – so as to utilize your team to the best of their ability. Eidolons are back in FFXIII as well, with each character getting one Eidolon that can be summoned and used in battle until they run out of Summons Points (similar to HP).
It maybe slightly disconcerting that you're timed in each battle and once you've won you'll get to see how quickly you made it through in comparison to how quickly the game thinks you ought to have; you'll even get a star rating based on your performance. However, it works, and even though you'll only be directly controlling one of your players, but the time you have the full battle system in front of you, that'll be as much as you can possibly handle.
Winning battles earns you Crystarium Points which are used to help the characters learn new skills and magic, and increase strength, hit points, attack points, magic points, etc. All of those increases are done in a fashion similar to the Sphere Grid from Final Fantasy X, and are really quite easy to figure out.
In fact, the tutorial system here for everything works excellently. It can awfully tough to figure out the exact balance in a huge game like this of letting the player figure things out on their own which can lead to stumbling and frustration and holding their hand too much which can lead to boredom and monotony. While other iterations of the franchise may have veered too far off in one direction or the other, the balance struck here is excellent.