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I just wanted a general consensus if finishing 13 is integral to understanding 13-2.
Helpful? Yes, certainly. An absolute life or death prerequisite? No.
...I get pulled away long enough that I feel the urge to play something else. It's kinda weird it only happens when I try to stick in ff13
Not weird at all. I'd take it as a good sign; your subconcious has standards and it's tacitly (almost surreptitiously) reminding you of the fact that it has drawn a line in the sand and that it'll brook no nonsense when it comes to Filler Fantasy XIII et al.
Besides, if you feel this way regarding what is allegedly the more cohesive out of the two games
(...I use the word 'games' in the loosest and broadest possible terms)
then those feelings will go double for XIII-2. The absurdity of that 'expansion pack' reaches new levels and it will bore you s******s. - --