The opening sequence of Final Fantasy XIII-2 features the main protagonist of Final Fantasy XIII fighting what appears to be an eternal battle against a champion of chaos in a realm of paradox beyond the edge of time. If it had stopped there, the story, the game, and its players would have been fine, having by turns depicted and witnessed an appropriately hellish comeuppance for the crime that was Final Fantasy XIII.
Some people can't just leave well enough alone. Instead, the world is treated to Final Fantasy XIII-2 as a game that apologizes for the sins of its predecessor—and commits a fresh new set of sins all its own.
Final Fantasy XIII-2 wants desperately to be to Final Fantasy XIII what Chrono Trigger was to Final Fantasy VI: An innovative, time-twisting adventure that makes the player completely forget about the previous game. Of course, while Chrono Trigger had a swagger, Final Fantasy XIII-2 wants nothing more than to make up for past indiscretions.
After the events of FFXIII (and also before, since time-hopping plots do that kind of thing), paradox-mania takes hold of the timeline, scattering world-shattering events to and fro and forcing the last survivor of a postcataclysmic society to snatch up one of FFXIII's background characters and whisk her away on a journey to repair causality and prevent his future from happening.
What better way is there to get away from it all than to skip ahead to a time in which all your misdeeds are long forgotten, right? Unfortunately for FFXII-2, FFVI and Chrono Trigger were both great games, while XIII-2 is merely a half-step up from its mediocre predecessor.
Before we go any further, I cannot in good conscience avoid giving credit where it's due. Final Fantasy XIII-2 is by no means as bad as its prequel. Many of the most glaring issues in FFXIII are at least addressed in XIII-2, if not fixed altogether. XIII's tunnel vision is greatly broadened here, with actual environments replacing an endless series of repeating corridors. Combat and character-advancement have been somewhat streamlined, taking some of the sting out of the earlier version's sometimes painful character-advancement.
But don't let that fool you: Final Fantasy XIII-2 comes complete with several problems of its own. The storyline sometimes makes less than a minimal prerequisite amount of sense, and the interaction between characters sweeps from stiff to stilted to embarrassingly awkward. It's hard to watch these characters move through time, and harder still not to hope that the next jump doesn't skip continuity altogether and drop them in the middle of a few dozen Terminators.
And then there's the pokémon. Oh, the pokémon. Final Fantasy XIII-2 makes extensive use of conscripting the native creatures of various eras to work in your sword-and-sorcery children's crusade, which means that, at some point, on some level, any given person's enjoyment of FFXIII-2 will be directly influenced by said person's interest in beating the stuffing out of weaker creatures and then bending their meager wills to an alien purpose.
The mechanics of it were built with an appropriate amount of complexity in mind and were implemented fairly seamlessly, but monster-battling never has been a Final Fantasy thing, at least not to this extent. It's almost as though the Enix half of Square Enix and its monster-subjugation-riddled Dragon Quest games finally started to exert some influence over the company's other venerable series. It feels a bit out of place, as though in the rush to erase an unpopular game with a newer, "fixed" sequel, someone down the line somewhere realized that filling one slot in a three-person party with a thematically altered Pikachu meant that voice-acting could be cut by a third.
But look at the bright side. A monster that doesn't talk, doesn't have annoying plot devices, and only follows orders like a good soldier is infinitely preferable to a "hero" who is both loud and bland, simplistic and convoluted, demanding and contrived. It's easier to deal with the monsters since you don't actually have to deal with them; just point, click, kill, and move on.
Come to think of it, now I'm downright excited. If this is what we can expect from future installments, I'm looking forward to Final Fantasy XIIII-3: Goblin, Other Goblin, Third Goblin, and Steve the Chocobo's Journey.