To cap it all off, this journey ultimately leads to an utterly unsatisfying conclusion that left me soured on the entire experience. The last few hours are easily the dullest and weakest of the game. The final area is frustrating and visually unappealing, the last few bosses undermine the strengths of the otherwise excellent combat system, and the story fizzles to a non-ending that feels like Square can't wait to milk me for more.
It would all end in tragedy if not for the likable characters. I actually enjoyed Noel as the optimistic protagonist, a refreshing departure from stoic anti-heroes. His voice acting is some of the best I've heard in recent JRPGs, managing to sound charming and occasionally funny, even when he's handed a clunker of a line. Serah (previously a minor character as Lightning's shy younger sister and bizarrely young-looking bride to Snow) holds her own as a determined woman with her own hopes and dreams. It's just too bad they weren’t given anything more interesting to do.
While playing Final Fantasy XIII-2, I could almost sense Square Enix trying to make up for the last game. It's a Greatest Hits compilation of popular elements from other titles: time travel, monster breeding, Chocobo races, a Coliseum, and more. It even includes a mini-game casino eerily reminiscent of the Golden Saucer from Final Fantasy VII.
The game wants so badly to be liked, and Final Fantasy XIII-2 almost won me over, but only almost. It's difficult to care for the nostalgic touches when they serve only as window dressing to a story that implodes on itself. Fantastic though its combat system may be, Final Fantasy XIII-2 cannot break free from the shadow cast by the inability of its storytellers to understand the difference between convolution and complexity.
Combat remains the best aspect of FF XIII-2