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Guys, you do realize that you don't have to do all the mini games and side quests, if they don't appeal to you? It's like complaining about a burger joint having too many fries in their meal, or something.
Locking the party for certain story beats is fine by me. Sometimes the story calls for that, and besides, otherwise people would just play their favorites and never even bother to learn what the other characters are about. I know I did that a lot in the OG back in the day.
For me, Remake was pretty much perfection but Rebirth manages to top even that. The openness of the world really lets the game breathe and you simply get more of everything you loved in Remake. Yes, there are many bells and whistles not essential to the main story, but most of them are not mandatory. On the other hand, if you enjoy them, you really get bang for your buck here. I even feel like there should be more side quests, I don't want to be leaving this world and these characters.
Gongaga can be a mess navigation-wise, I'll give you that. I actually thought a part of the map was locked off on purpose and went on the next region, later to realize there was a way to access that area all along.