Anyone who knows anything about video games knows that a Final Fantasy game is going to be good. However, the previous entry in the main series, Final Fantasy XIII, received a ton of criticism centering on the game’s linearity and lack of player choice in how to progress the story. Rather then move onto another entry in the series, Square Enix decided to give XIII its own direct sequel in the form of Final Fantasy XIII-2. This was a good decision since most of the problems that plagued its predecessor were fixed to bring a very enjoyable game to fans of the series.

Story has always been a big part of any Final Fantasy and XIII-2 picks up 3 years after the end of the previous game. Lightning has disappeared and its up to her sister Serah and new character Noel to find her. Apparently, Lightning vanishing is due to a time paradox which introduces the main mechanic of the game: time travel. You don’t travel from town to town via an overworld, but instead use gates to travel to locations in different time periods via the Historia Crux. The whole thing could have felt contrived but manages to work within the game world. A single gate can only take the player to a certain period and only after obtaining an ‘artefact’ or key to unlock it and it helps streamline the story progression. Normally changing history is a delicate matter but it’s the whole point of the game.

The choice to have a minor character from the previous game as the protagonist was a good one as it allowed the game world to be explored from a different perspective. Noel is a nice addition as a new character and he meshes well with Serah. The 6 former L’Cie all make appearances, but those never get in the way of Serah and Noel and do not hamper their character development. Lightning is of course the reason Serah is on her quest and Hope is perhaps the most surprising returnee. In XIII he was a kid who spent most of the game whining, feeling sorry for himself and generally being emo, but in XIII-2 has grown up and become a completely different person. The main antagonist is Caius, who despite his virtuous goals goes about them in the usual super villain way and also carries around a badass sword. He is perhaps the most intriguing antagonist in the series since Sephiroth.

Serah and Noel are the only two characters you take into battle. In XIII you could take three, but now the third slot is taken up by former enemies. The player can tame monsters to fight for them and each has their specified role such as Ravager or Medic. Now you can have that giant Behemoth destroy other enemies and not your party this time. Each monster has its own unique ‘Feral Link’ skill, similar to The battle system from XIII that got alot of priase is back with a few modifications. In some battles, there Cinematic Actions, which are basic quick time button press events. There is also the addition of the Mog Clock in which after monsters randomly generate on screen, the player can gain bonuses or penalties based on how quickly they engage the enemy. It is named after Mog, Serah’s companion who takes over the cute and furry companion role from the Chocobo chick that lived in Sazh’s afro. Mog also can turn into a sword or bow for Serah to use in battle. That’s not all as he can generate space/time fields to reveal hidden objects and through the Moogle Toss can be thrown by Serah to far off places to find treasure. Basically the equivalent of a Swiss Army Knife.

Final Fantasy XIII centered on the main characters’ struggles against their Focus that was forced on them against their will. The theme of free will vs fate was handled quite well in the game and the sequel has its own main theme. Throughout the game, Serah and Noel travel through time, fixing paradoxes and changing the course of history. Their actions often have unintended consequences and that helps make the story more believable instead of one where the choices they make always turn out for the best. The game does a good job of communicating the struggle Serah and Noel have with this monumental power and it becomes central to the plot and the game’s appeal.

Final Fantasy XIII-2 is a much needed update of its predecessor as it improves certain areas and overhauls others completely. The battle system is still enjoyable and retains the frantic paradigm shifting in boss battles. Whereas some of the dialogue in XIII was campy and groan-inducing, XII-2 for the most part avoids this and makes you care about Serah and Noel as people. The main quest only takes about 25 hours, but of course doesn’t unlock all the gates, so all the extra side quests and collectibles should keep you busy for a long time. From the epic opening sequence to the end, Final Fantasy XIII-2  will keep fans of the series and gamers in general hooked in.