Better then the original
I feel I was one of the few that actually enjoyed FFXIII. But by the end, I felt I had had my fill of the world and characters. So when I read that a direct squeal to FFXIII was going to be released, I kind of shrugged it off. And then I read that the shift was going to go to a more open world type game (which the linearity was one of the aspects I enjoyed of the original) made me less enthusiastic. But after sinking 50+ hours I feel that this was better then the original.
Game play: The major change in the game play is a more open world. There is no large over-world, instead there is a collection of different areas (or the same areas but in different time’s, see the story section for an elaboration) that the player opens up as he or she progresses through the game. These areas offer side objectives and not all of them are mandatory to beat the game, so there is plenty of reason to go back and explore.
I really enjoyed FFXIII’s combat system. I felt it was more of a strategy game, where careful selection of what roles your characters are playing is key to winning battles. FFXIII-2 is more of a refinement of this system. The basic paradigm system is still in place (with faster transitions between paradigm shifts). What has changed is the addition of monsters as part of the party. With only two main characters, the party is filled out by monsters that the player catches. Most monsters in the game can be caught (although there is no guarantee that after a fight the monster will join your party). Every monster has a specific role (commando, ravager, etc.), specific stats, abilities, etc. This gives players great flexibility on what they wanted their party to look like.
Random encounters make a semi-return. Unlike the previous game where all monsters where on the map, monsters will suddenly appear and the player has a clock to try to avoid the battle (although sometimes this is unavoidable). With few exceptions, this is a minor inconvenience. What this does allow is for grinding, especially if the player is after certain monsters for his or her party. Personally, my quest for a blue chocobo resulted in being extremely overpowered half way through the game.
Story: I had very mixed feelings about the story at the beginning but by the end I feel it was much better then the original. The games main protagonists Serah (a minor character in the original) and Noel feel thrust to the player. Add to the already complex world of FFXIII the element of time travel (a MAJOR element of the game), and I felt lost for stretches at a time. But the darker town kept me engaged. And by the end I felt an attachment to the characters that I did not feel in the original FFXIII. Somehow the writers are able to make the entire game click by the end. And the ending took me extremely by surprise (and puts the games antagonist, Caius, as one of the major villains in my book).
Graphics: I played the game on the 360, and the graphics seemed no different then the original, which I felt was already a great looking game. An added plus for me was that with few exceptions, most cut scenes are rendered with the game engine. This makes any pre-rendered CG scenes look out of place.
Music: This is the only part of the game that feels worse then the original. There was no real theme that stands out in my mind. Additionally, the choice to use metal music in certain battle just does not seem to go with the game.
Who is this game for: If you played FFXIII, you should check out FFXIII-2, but even if you did not, I would still recommend it. The battle system is engrossing and challenging. The story, although a bit rushed and confusing at the beginning ends up being captivating and rewarding. And with plenty of side quests, monster hunting, and collectible items, there is plenty to come back to.