Three years after the events of Final Fantasy XIII, a meteorite strikes Gran Pulse, shattering the peace of the new era. As space-time distorts and monstrous attacks ensue, Serah is saved from death by a time-traveling hunter named Noel. He asks her to accompany him in search of her sister, leaving Serah questioning her sister's fate in a chaotic, dying world.
Final Fantasy XIII-2 departs from the linearity of its predecessor, allowing players to choose between several locations most of the time. With the Historian Crux serving as a map, players must collect artifacts to open new locations. The game features a few towns or town-like locations, improving upon the environment design with less linear paths and secret areas along the way. However, the separation of these areas makes it difficult for newcomers to grasp the world's vastness and interconnectedness.
Masashi Hamauzu's music composition is a highlight of Final Fantasy XIII-2, offering a diverse and enjoyable soundtrack. Featuring vocal tracks and contributions from Origa, the game's music will appeal to fans of the Persona series, though some may find it out of place compared to older Final Fantasy scores.
Upon completing the game, players can continue with various post-game activities, such as fragment collection, paradox endings, and a secret ending. Serendipity offers slot machines and chocobo racing, and trophy hunting is more accessible with reasonable requirements.
The story in Final Fantasy XIII-2 takes a dramatic turn, focusing on time travel but bearing little connection to the previous plot until later. The writing is mediocre at best, with convoluted explanations and events that occur seemingly at random. The repetitive use of paradoxes as explanations becomes tiresome, though villain Caius and the incorporation of the Fabula Nova Crystallis mythos are redeeming features.
Overall, Final Fantasy XIII-2 improves upon the original game, addressing issues like environment design, but neglecting others or exacerbating them. The story's weak writing is a major disappointment, and the game feels easier than its predecessor. Nonetheless, the fragment collecting system and variety of post-game activities make for a fun experience that feels more like a complete RPG with plenty of side content to explore.