I did not have the same problems other folks did with Ni No Kuni, apparently. In fact, when I got to the battle on the ship, mid game, I had to pause and figure out if I was supposed to lose because I sat there for 20 minutes just continually fighting. The difficulty spike did not exist for me.
I wasn't slowed down by the collecting or side quests, either. They were a joy and I really enjoyed every bit of it. I like the art style, story, etc. I just ate it all up.
While I can understand why some folks did not like it, it is far from a bad game. The problems it had, for me, were overshadowed by everything I liked. I'm stoked to see I'm not the only one who liked it so much. :)