I believe the problem here is too many people misuse the word "quality" when they are trying to talk about their own personal preference, which is not covered under the term "quality". Your first paragraph is spot on, but your second is more like personal taste and perspective than quality.
Example one of my favorite games is Chrono Cross. I love the story and themes used in the game, and understand what the game is trying to convey perfectly. However that does not change the fact that the pacing is objectively bad, despite my personal taste. Certain key parts of the plot are missable, leaving plot holes if you don't follow a specific path or talk to a specific optional NPC. There are giant info dumps at the end of the game that tie everything together, then rip itself apart, and put it back together again with yet another info dump BY OPTIONAL CONVOS right before the final boss. It is a very good plot with a lot to offer, but the delivery of said plot lacks objective quality.
The same applies the other way around as well. Just because I do not like the narrative or what the game is trying to convey, that does not mean it is not objectively well written.
So in summation, quality =/= personal preference in any sense. People just incorrectly use the word "quality" as a blanket term when it is not meant to be used that way. At least that is how I have always seen it.
Your whole essay about CC plot and pacing is highly debatable. I don't find the passing bad, I only find the story confusing (and it's very confusing, I've only fully understand it many years later after reading internet articles) and I agree it's objectively unclear and can end being full of plot wholes for an average gamer
But still, we can't just ignore all the subjective elements that compose a piece of media like games, because the subjective side is exactly where are the most important key elements of any game. If we start studying about game design, you will see there are very few guidelines of how to make a good game design
Instead that are exemples of why people think games X or Y have a good design and then essays explaining why the author think the game design is good or why such game design worked with a specific demographic of players. This is the subjective nature of video games in making, because the answer will fall into the personal preferences of people who enjoyed the said "well defined" games
My biggest problem with the pacing of CC is the part where the story basically stops completely for a glorified fetch quest (getting the Dragon's blessings), that does nothing to advance the plot at all. And mind you this is right after the Dead Sea, which was fantastic, so the wind is almost completely taken out of its sails halfway through the game.
This would have been better handled if they used that chunk of gameplay to flesh out the info dumps we recieved at the end of the game. The reason Chrono Cross is so confusing is because the big reveal just throws too much info at the player at once, and then follows up with immediate plot twists that contradict what was just revealed before the player can even process what was given to them prior.
There was also good potential right after Terra Tower is raised, as this is where the endgame side quests come into play. There were a few that were well done, such as the Orphanage of Flame or the whole Karsh and Dario sequence, but most of them were rather small.
Then the whole solution on how to even get to Terra Tower was just kind of random too. Like it literally felt like a random thing that had no real plot relevance at all (Starky).
And don't even get me started on how little the Chrono Cross itself was explained. Had I not looked it up, I would have never known how to properly use it to get the true ending. The little hints were awesome, the problem is that there was nothing given to the player to suggest that there was even anything to look for in the first place.
Sorry for all that, I really hate tearing into one of my favorite games of all time, but I felt the need to clarify what I meant about the pacing. It started off well up till after the Dead Sea, then comes to a complete stop, then bombards the player with too much stuff to process. It is bad pacing at its finest. It is almost like they got to the end of the game and realized, "shit we forgot to put all this important stuff...lets just shove it all onto disk 2 and call it a day!"
Last edited by Shiken - on 06 March 2021