Square Enix's announcement of a direct sequel to Final Fantasy XIII was surprising, but not nearly as shocking as the ending of Final Fantasy XIII-2. Ending with the phrase "To be continued," the game practically promises a new installment to gamers who had no idea they were dealing with a trilogy. Of course, Square Enix hasn't announced Final Fantasy XIII-3, and is being cagey about the possibility. Even so, the odds of it happening are good – especially since the company registered finalfantasyxiii-3.com (which is currently blank) last fall. Assuming a third Final Fantasy XIII game is on the horizon, these are the lessons that we hope Square Enix will learn from the previous entries.

Improved Storytelling

Betrayals, deaths, and other plots twists have no impact on players if they don't understand what is happening or why. I like the fact that the world of FF XIII has a mythology, but the team at Square Enix needs to emphasize the relevant pieces of information and clear away some of the clutter. Or maybe the writing just needs to be straight-up better. Either way, players want to feel excited about the characters and plot development, not confused. Neither FF XIII game has even come close to getting this right.

Less Linearity Is Good

Many fans criticized Final Fantasy XIII for its linear progression. Even if linearity doesn't bother you, the open structure of Final Fantasy XIII-2 is still a vast improvement. Being able to take a break from the main story to explore other areas, hunt down fragments, and level up allows players to set their own pace. Plus, then no one feels like they're just being pulled forward through a series of tunnels with no control.

The Battle System Is Still Fun

Hopefully Square Enix realizes that the battle system in the two FF XIII titles is the best the series has had in ages. It could still use some small tweaks (maybe a seventh role could shake things up?), but it's pretty awesome as-is. Battles are gorgeous, fast, fun, and don't leave players bogged down in the second-to-second actions of the party. This part of the equation should remain largely unchanged going forward.

Better DLC Strategy

The fact that Final Fantasy XIII-2 has significant DLC is a big step for the series, but Square Enix doesn't seem to have a good handle on how to roll this stuff out. Why are in-game casino attendants telling me to look forward to future DLC card games? Why do players have to grind Lightning over and over again to get her as an ally, despite the fact that they've already paid real money for the content? Who wants more bad casino mingames? Swimsuits!? It isn't enough to just have DLC - games need quality content rolled out strategically to enhance the experience and keep them playing. No clear plan for this DLC was outlined for North American gamers beforehand, so it's probably not doing much to keep gamers from trading in their copies of the game once they beat it.

Ditch Time Travel

As a central plot device, time travel is dangerous. If not handled carefully, it can turn any story into a huge chorus of "who cares?" This happened with Final Fantasy XIII-2, where the answer to every mystery is "Because a time paradox did it" (except the one time where the answer is "Because a robot did it"). Square Enix, if you want to make another Chrono Trigger so badly, then do it. Time travel and Chrono Trigger go together. Time travel and Final Fantasy apparently do not. Also, stop having characters say "If you change the future, you change the past." That's not how it works!

Up next: Characters, monsters, and the ending.