I feel the exact opposite about XI. The first half is traditional DQ fare. If it had stopped after the first half ti would have been an ordinary DQ game. The second and third acts were more interesting I think. Dragon Quest XI has pacing similar to that of Final Fantasy VI, even to a point where the game references a FFVI soundtrack "Searching for friends".
I don't see how so many people are saying XI is grindy, I never had to sit in an area and grind to progress the plot. It sucks that DQXI takes long to get interesting, but I don't think the first half was better than the second by any stretch of the imagination. DQXI has also been spoken highly of...it has an 89 MC. I'm genuinely curious as to what players suggest the series needs. More Waifus? More Freind Trees, Tea time, dating?
If DQ XI really has a third act, then I'll have to revise my projected judgment to "it's getting really bad."
There are two definitions for grind:
1. Having to spend a long time in the same spot to rack up EXP and/or gold to be properly prepared for what comes next.
2. A game feeling repetitive and tedious, and that's what Dragon Quest is regularly guilty of, already outlined in my previous post. The number of battles needed to gain a level up sharply increases in Dragon Quest past level 20, so the lack of progress makes the games feel like a grind. When you are in the current story area and do the maths that you have to fight 30 battles for a single level up, then the fun gets soaked out of the game.
XI's skill system doesn't help matters. Early on in the game it's already clear that you don't need to look at skill trees every time you get a level up, because you have to collect points of three or more level ups to get something done on the tree. Once the pace of level ups slows down, you have stretches of 5+ hours where you never open the skill menu because it's pointless to do so.
An EXP and skill progression that keeps the motivation high is what Dragon Quest needs, otherwise the series does just one Bravely Default after another, meaning players like what they play for the first half, but then end up never finishing the game because it sucks too much. Likewise, the metascore doesn't mean anything because many reviewers aren't above projecting a score for long games.
Other things that would help DQ are quality of life improvements. It's not necessary that every action in battle gets commented with text that slows the pace down. It's not necessary to use comments when healing outside of battle. You also get comments on every item/equipment transfer in the menu, plus the separate bags are such a dated element that they should be done away with. I mean, what's the point of them? "It's unrealistic for a character to carry such a huge amount of items with them." - Well, sure; but then you have the unlimited general bag where everything is stored. The cumbersome traditions of DQ won't be missed if they are gone; I can't imagine that they are features that people like about the games.