Price: £49.99
Format: PS3 (tested), Xbox 360
Developer: Square Enix
Publisher: Square Enix

Cloud, Aeris, Cyan, Sabin, Kefka, Sephiroth, names which echo through the Final Fantasy universe and characters who even the most casual fan has a kinship for, like an old friend unseen for too many years. Alas, the same fate seems unlikely to befall FF XIII-2′s rather lacklustre cast – a critical misstep for a game so driven by its character’s emotion.

To briefly introduce the game, FF XIII-2 is the bona fide sequel to 2010′s FF XIII. I highlight the “bona fide” bit as it’s something of a rarity for Final Fantasy games to have true continuations; new entries usually being entirely new adventures, set upon new worlds and featuring all new combat nuances and character rosters.

FF XIII-2 does at least introduce fresh characters, chief protagonist Serah having had only a minor role in FF XIII, frozen as she was in crystal for the majority of that game. Serah’s companion, Noel Kreiss, is an entirely fresh face, a time traveller who soon bands together with Serah as they set out to save Lightning (Serah’s sister and hero of XIII) and determine exactly why it is that only Serah seems to be aware that the entire space-time continuum is unwinding.

So far, so intriguing, but just a few hours in and the game begins to grate, the storyline simply too convoluted to ever truly capture the imagination as its developers clearly think it ought to. Its constant barrage of admittedly gorgeous looking CGI cutscenes blighted by hammy dialogue and a saturation of entirely misplaced emotional outpouring.

Even within combat there are problems, the ‘Paradigm Shift’ system placing you in the role of sidelines coach rather than active participant; largely thanks to the fact that only one combatant is controllable at any one time and the addition of the auto-chain button which selects your best available moves to fell your current foe.

To take the sports coach analogy further, you also get to select line-ups and formations of your own team; your characters able to take on and learn new roles – ravager, sentinel, medic, synergist and more – but this indirect management of battles is, to coin a phrase, something you’ll either love or hate.

The game’s main combat addition over its predecessor sees captured monsters deployed into combat with up to three at your beck and call (though only one can be unleashed at any given moment). Again however, beyond the odd quick time event they fight on autopilot, with little user input required other than to change roles via the previously mentioned Paradigm Shifts.

By far the game’s best premise is the ‘Historia Crux’, the worlds of Pulse and Cocoon – those same planets explored during FF XIII – navigable via time portals which shift Noel and Serah to various locations and time periods. Indeed, seeing one area morphed into either distant past or far-flung future is the main reason for return visits.

That said, though beautiful to look at, there’s never much of interest to discover in terms of quests or NPC interaction. Most NPCs are content to send you on simple fetch and carry requests witch require little detective work to complete. Indeed Mog, your moogle comrade, will lead you straight to the item in question in most cases.

Overall, despite its amazing looks and a huge array of customisable options in terms of character development and battle line-ups, there’s just not enough of interest to capture the imagination in FF XIII-2.

Its as if Square Enix simply wasn’t willing to properly introduce the characters, instead thrusting Serah and Noel’s plight down our throats as, once again, Serah’s unfeasibly large eyes well up with tears, silently screaming “care about me!” while she spouts yet more clichéd diatribe. A shame as, given the right setting, the time-hopping premise could have led to something special.