How do you follow up one of the most polarizing and drastic changes in a long standing franchise like Final Fantasy? You make a sequel with a better combat system but a more confusing story. Final Fantasy XIII-2 is probably not what most Final Fantasy fans were expecting. The only other game in the series to get a sequel was Final Fantasy X, so this was a surprise to those that are avid fans.
Final Fantasy XIII-2 follows almost immediately after the first game. Whereas the ending cutscene of the first game is the beginning cutscene of this game. If a player hasn't finished XIII, things might get a little confusing. Don't worry though, even if they have played the first game, the story still gets confusing. See, this story centers around time travel. Not to go into too much details for fear of spoilers but time got all messed up due to reasons that aren't really explained well. You play as the heroine's sister from the first game, Serah. What seemed like a minor character in the first game, turns into the main character in this game. Throughout the story, there are callbacks to events from the first game and each of the main characters makes an appearance of some kind.
Time travel makes everything really complicated. There are very few games that seem to get the concept right and this is definitely not one of them. All the plot holes aside, there is a story of redemption and sadness. If you pay close enough attention, the main villain's story is quite tragic and worthy. It saves the game from just being a slog. The ending, while cliched, does end on a cliffhanger. Which makes it seem weird knowing that there wasn't a third game in the works at the time.
The combat is the draw here. The team at Square Enix took the core system from XIII and revamped it to be a little more user friendly. The crystarium tree is changed and getting new skills different. The third party member is now a monster, which you collect throughout the game and fuse. Once you find a monster you really like though, they can be powered up and used for most of the game. While some are obviously better than others, each plays a role. It adds a little fun to the game, collecting and training monsters. It gets a little addictive.
The visuals are quite stunning at times. Especially in the open areas. As opposed to most of XIII, this game is mostly open world from the get go. There are towns to visit but this is drastically different from the first game. There are a multitude of side quests to keep a player busy and often having good rewards. Revisiting already cleared areas will sometimes net a new item or monster. It is often really easy to get lost. I do have to note, out of the three games in the XIII saga, this one has the best soundtrack, hands down. Every song in this game evokes an emotion and plays nicely with the theme of the game. The only one that sticks out is the random rap song for chocobo music. It is really out of place and a very sharp thorn in the great soundtrack. Although, I grew to tolerate the song, it really did seem out of place.
This game is for those that enjoyed Final Fantasy XIII. It really seems like an evolution of the first game and the player can see what Square Enix had in mind for the first game. It seems like this was what they originally wanted the first game to be. The combat system is solid, the controls much tighter, and visuals are much more polished. The game is much more open and there is always something to do. It is a shame the story gets as confusing as it does at times but if you can find the actual story arc the developers had in mind (i.e. anything involving Caius), there is a decent tale to be told here. If you haven't played this game and enjoy Final Fantasy games, pick this up. If not for the soundtrack alone.