Final Fantasy XIII had such a one-track mind it was practically a monorail. And because it was a mere shadow of the games that had come before it (minus XI, of course), Square Enix gracefully did what few other developers have been brave enough to do: they held up their hands and admitted their shortcomings.
The Final Fantasy studio never once tried to deflect the many criticisms squared at XIII and their entire run-up to sequel Final Fantasy XIII-2 has wisely been focused on nothing but rectifying the problems that dogged the last game. How tragic, then, that a significant portion of the drive to right XIII's many wrongs has been misplaced.
What compounded the first game's painfully linear environments more than anything was the small fact that almost every battle could be won without doing anything more than hitting 'Auto-battle' over and over again. Final Fantasy XIII played itself, and for all its improvements elsewhere, the same is true for Final Fantasy XIII-2.
For the most part you'll be in control of Serah and Noel, Serah being the sister of XIII's Lightning, and Noel - a newcomer suspiciously reminiscent of Sora from Kingdom Hearts - whose constant need to be told the backstory serves as a fine mechanic to help anyone who skipped Final Fantasy XIII to follow the undulating plot.
Joining the pair in the battles against XIII-2's wild beasts are the beasts themselves. Or, rather, creatures that have been captured Pokemon-style in previous battles. Up to three domesticated critters can be kept close by at any one time to be swapped in and out of battle with the returning Paradigm Shift system.
The other two characters are controlled by the computer, the idea being you can greatly influence these moves by swapping job roles at any point in time by 'Paradigm Shifting'. For example, you can turn Noel from a mage like Ranger who would typically hurl fire and thunder spells at the enemy, to a Medic ready to heal injured fighters in an instant.
Up to six of these set combinations can be saved at any one time, with captured monsters only able to adopt a single job class (hence the need to swap them in and out of the battle when activating different Paradigms).
The system wasn't good enough to carry a Final Fantasy game before - and the situation hasn't changed two years later. Sure, the ability to manually trigger a creature's super move lets you exercise greater management over your minions, but the sense of control is still just an illusion.
The computer-controlled characters still persistently ignore the optimal attacking strategies and haven't the brains to fire off quick healing spells or use items to pull a losing situation out of the bag (choosing instead to wait and let their ATB gauges fill to the brim, even though you, as Party Leader, have the ability to activate spells early if it'll help your cause).
Unfortunately, Square Enix's desperation to create a dynamic, flashy battle system has come at the expense of control and tactics, and half the time you feel like you're fighting the game systems as much as you are the enemies.