A great sequel to a terrible game!
As someone who has played and been a part of the video game industry since the early 90's its safe to say I have a long and storied history with the Final Fantasy franchise, my first experience of Final Fantasy VII was the tipping point which changed me from a casual player to a full time gamer after all.
However my love of the franchise has dwindled over time, as the rest of the worlds games became more advanced and interactive, Final Fantasy became almost stagnant before eventually taking a turn into just being downright boring in Final Fantasy XII and barely a video game in Final Fantasy XIII. Now I've already made my opinions on Final Fantasy XIII hugely clear through other blogs and reviews so its safe to say I came to Final Fantasy XIII-2 not expecting very much, in fact I bought it more out of a tradition for owning each major FF release rather than any excitement to play it, however I was pleasantly surprised.
The first and most obvious change to XIII-2 was the introduction to the game, which lasted a little over 20 minutes before I was running around an environment that was slightly more complex in layout than Final Fantasy XIII's corridors, leveling up my paradigms, earning skills, money and finishing small side quests.
The battle system as well, while not totally overhauled has had enough sensible changes made to it to stop some of the issues with random deaths that could happen in XIII. For example in XIII it wasn't very uncommon for me to have lightning attacked by an entire group of enemies and killed in one combo before having a chance to defend or heal her, causing her to die. Whats the issue you say? Why not just use a phoenix down like you would the rest of the party? Well for some reason the death of your controlled character always meant immediate game over, something which has thankfully been shown the door in XIII-2, if you die you simply switch from one character to the other, giving you a chance to heal or use a phoenix down before continuing the fight.
Another major change to the battle system is the leveling isn't capped to your progress through the story meaning that coming up against a boss that you personally found to be to difficult means that rather than being stuck and having to look up a solution online or simply bash your head against it until you randomly succeed you can now instead simply leave and grind.
Grinding isn't bad either as the new monster system that has been introduced gives you a good reason to want to fight battles to earn either new monsters or items that can increase their abilities.
Due to the use of a time travel structure throughout the game if grinding isn't your thing and monster collecting doesn't do anything for you the third option is to simply move to a different time period and advance a different section of the story, coming back later to stomp all over the boss that gave you trouble before.
On the subject of story the game contains the usual amount of Japanese quirkiness and incredibly cheesy dialogue that people either seem to love or hate but this time it's all wrapped around smaller stories and side quests for the most part broken up into different locations and periods of time while the over arcing story actually shows some incredible movement away from the usual love story interwoven with a mad man wanting to destroy the world.
OK it still has a mad man wanting to destroy the world and Sarah and Snow are still very much in love but the motivations of the bad guy actually make a fair amount of sense, making him more of a noble martyr rather than just a man wanting to destroy the world simply because he can and the love story is relegated so far from the main thread that it's only ever brought up occasionally in passing as the game decides to instead focus on the new friendship being created between Sarah and Noel as well as the search for lightning.
Pre-release there was a lot of stories surfacing about the music in the game, and while it doesn't quite meet the incredibly high standards of previous entries in the series it does still have some stand out tracks and is more than passable for the industry standard.
Overall Final Fantasy XIII-2 is a vast improvement over XIII in almost every way and while other reviewers have mentioned how a love for Final Fantasy XIII is required to gain any enjoyment out of this game, I can safely say as someone who has no fondness for Final Fantasy XIII outside of it's music at all, that it simply isn't the case.