Final Fantasy XIII-2's box art features the indomitable Lightning, looking strong and feminine in her tough-as-nails armor and flowing skirt of feathers. You remember Lightning, of course: she spent the majority of Final Fantasy XIII trying to release her sister Serah from a crystalline prison. Don't let that gorgeous portrait of the daunting heroine fool you, however. She has a part to play in this direct sequel, but it's Serah's turn in the spotlight now. Serah's not the powerhouse personality her sister is, but that doesn't keep Final Fantasy XIII-2 from delivering a satisfying mix of poignant storytelling and exciting action. That isn't to say Final Fantasy XIII-2 is as epic an adventure as you may have expected. The story isn't long as far as Japanese role-playing games go--maybe 25 hours for a standard playthrough. There are reasons to linger or return if you're the completionist type, but the length is a consideration for series fans hoping for a Final Fantasy-sized adventure. If those 25 hours were jam-packed with challenging action and dramatic cutscenes, perhaps you wouldn't notice the story's brevity. Alas, a lengthy fetch quest makes the game drag considerably, as does a protracted platforming sequence that causes the pace to chug as you near the conclusion, right when you'd expect the tempo to take off. The cinematics and battles both burst with occasional thrills, but it's as if developer Square Enix decided that unnecessary padding was the proper solution to the problem of Final Fantasy XIII's overly linear progression.