Final Fantasy XIII was a polarizing game; there are some that love the direction that the series took while there are some who deride it for changing the classic Final Fantasy formula too much. When it was announced, Final Fantasy XIII-2, available for both the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, was said to have made with changes that would bring classic fans back to the franchise. Does Final Fantasy XIII-2 retain enough of what made Final Fantasy great or does it repeat the same missteps as Final Fantasy XIII? As a direct sequel to Final Fantasy XIII, XIII-2 is set on the world of Pulse after the events that transpired in Cocoon in XIII. XIII-2 casts you in the role of Serah, Lightning’s sister, as she seeks to find out why Lightning has inexplicably vanished from the world and everyone’s memory. She is joined by Noel, a time traveler, as they adventure across the fabric of time itself to try and right the time stream. As a whole, the story works, and it’s fun to see how past Final Fantasy XIII characters have aged and the impacts they make across time. However, gamers who have not played Final Fantasy XIII will often feel lost; while XIII-2 recaps the first game’s story, many of the story’s nuances will only be appreciated by those who have played the first game. The time traveling gimmick works well, and it’s most akin to an older Square release, Chrono Trigger. Serah and Noel will travel through time gates to different periods of time, often finding branching paths allowing them to rewrite history itself. This gimmick also allows SquareEnix to add a large number of side quests to the game and a bit of non-linearity, both something the original XIII lacked. These time periods run the gamut from snowy wastelands, tropical paradises and dense, urban cityscapes. Luckily, the graphics in XIII-2 are top-notch, featuring no slowdown, impressive character models and detailed backgrounds that really bring the artist’s visions to life. Unfortunately, XIII-2 suffers from too much asset re-use; you’ll visit many of the same landscapes repeatedly in different time periods, with the layout being the same in each one. There is virtually no difference between the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 copies of the game, as well. Battle is inevitable in every time period, and XIII-2 uses the same battle system as in XIII. The Paradigm system returns, allowing you to switch combat roles to suit the needs of the battle; however, the Paradigm system has been sped up, allowing for quicker Paradigm switching making battles feel faster overall. The Crystarium system for leveling up has also returned, but is streamlined and easier to comprehend in XIII-2. For your third party member, Serah can capture monsters during a battle; these monsters specialize in one of the six combat roles and can be leveled up via the Crystarium, same as Serah and Noel. This works well and adds an extra level of replayability to the game, as you’ll often be fighting the urge to catch all the monsters you can. In addition, the battles have been made easier, and if you are still struggling an Easy difficulty option is available for those just in it for the story. The music, much like the game itself, is polarizing; rather than the whimsical, fantasy-styled ballads Final Fantasy is known for, XIII-2’s music runs across multiple genres. Slow jazz, light-hearted pop songs and a rather absurd death metal variation of the Chocobo theme are just some of the musical choices you’ll run across. Some music choices work, some don’t, and how you enjoy them will vary from player to player. All in all, Final Fantasy XIII-2 isn’t the game XIII haters were hoping for; it builds on the basics XIII laid down and, while it does improve on some of XIII’s shortcomings, if you hated XIII you’ll hate XIII-2. However, fans of XIII, and those seeking a new role-playing game experience, will likely enjoy XIII-2. It still doesn’t quite manage to be a game that lives up to the Final Fantasy name, but is an improvement over XIII and a good game and its own right. Recommendation: Definitely worth a purchase for those who didn’t totally hate FFXIII. For those who found nothing redeemable in XIII, you might as well avoid XIII-2.