Three years have passed since the events of Final Fantasy XIII. One clear night, a meteorite strikes Gran Pulse and shatters the peace of the new era. Space time becomes distorted and terrible monsters attack through the rifts in the fabric of time. In the chaos that ensues, Serah is saved from death by a young stranger called Noel. He says he is a hunter who has crossed time and space to find her. He also asks Serah to go with him and travel the timeline to find her sister. Serah questions whether or not her sister is alive, fighting to save a dying goddess in a world of chaos and death.
Unlike the first game, the sequel isn't linear and players get a choice of several places to go to most of the time. Using a Historian Crux as a map, players must collect artifacts to open new locations on it. Some artifacts are designed for specific locations and some give you freedom to open all other gates. The game also features a few towns or town-like locations which was something that was missing before. The environment design is more thought out and not just a straight corridor anymore from start to finish. There are usually a couple routes that you can take to reach your destination with some secret areas along the way. Most of the areas are not too large, and unlike the Pulse in the first game, all areas are more similar to levels that are not directly connected by routes. This makes it difficult for those who never played the first game to imagine how spacious the world is and how everything is related to each other.
Music is once again composed by Masashi Hamauzu and it is one of the highlights in Final Fantasy XIII-2. There is plenty of variety throughout the game and most of it is pleasant to the ear. Many of the pieces feature vocal tracks and it was nice to have Origa singing a couple of them. For those who enjoy music similar to the one in Persona games would feel right at home, but those who expect music similar to more old school Final Fantasy games might find some of it as out of place.
After you finish the game there are still plenty of things left for you to do if you want to keep playing and it is not as monotone as the post-game of the first game. There are fragments that require you to do a variety of tasks. If you meet the right conditions you can go and try to get some of the paradox endings or a secret ending. Serendipity is also open if you enjoy slot machines and chocobo racing. For those who like trophy hunting there is nothing as difficult as Treasure Hunter was as everything has reasonable requirements.
The story of Final Fantasy XIII-2 takes a dramatic turn from the first game and explores themes of time traveling. Most of it has little to do with the plot that was going on before, even though eventually it tries to find some connections. Overall writing for it feels mediocre at best. Most of the events feel to occur out of the blue and the explanations for them are too convoluted. Characters just happen to think up explanations of what is happening on the go as if they became time and space experts in a few days that they spend together. There is not much variety to the events either as everything is always explained to be a result of a paradox to the point that some of the quests become laughable. At times it felt like perhaps they were aware of it and put in those quests there on purpose. It is not all completely bad, though. Caius is a cool villain and unlike the original game Final Fantasy XIII-2 does try to incorporate the Fabula Nova Crystallis mythos into its plot.
As a whole product, Final Fantasy XIII-2 is a an improvement over the first game. Many of the complains such as the environment design have been addressed and made better, but at the same time some of the other things have been ignored and made worse. The story's poor writing has been the biggest disappointment. The game also feels much easier than its predecessor as hardly any monsters or bosses were troublesome to beat. It is still a fun experience with the fragment collecting set up being a highlight of the game and it makes it feel more like a complete RPG with lots of things to do and collect on a side.