How long it takes to get to a level isn't what makes something a grind.
Grinding is a feedback created by repetitive game play that loses a player that cannot just be ignored. There should never be any grind in a game.
PSO2/NGS is a grind because it badly designed in several areas. I mentioned this in another thread... BP and Level restrictions are asinine and don't work right. BP is a measure of ability that character is supposed to have, as is level... These 2 measures are not in sync and further they put in another system that counters the idea of Battle Power where your xp/damage output/damage resistance are all altered so that even though I have say 1500BP at lvl 15 and a lvl 20 has 1000 I do less damage, even though the restrictions and and the inherent understandings of those words indicate that I should be more powerful than the lvl 20 character. Its irritating and it's not even well balanced when you gain access...
The intent of all that is to create an open world that all players can feel like they can fight in but be warded away from, but that's not what happens. It's an incredibly bad and frustrating system that looks very much like there is a power struggle behind the scenes of two leads that want different things in the game... but if this was fixed it would fix grinding a little
Another issue is that none of the equipment is special or unique... and those that even approach it are so gimped by an obvious glass cannon build in a game where everyone if a glass cannon already. PSO/PSU alleviates the grinding feel by having collecting at its core. No one complained about 200 level of doing the same 4 levels in PSO... (technically 100). We all just enjoyed it because working together and searching for the rares and heck, competing to run and get those rares, and trading were all so addicting and took away the feel of doing the same thing over and over again. NGS has literally taken out every aspect that made PSO good.
Let's talk about another issue... there's no progress. There is, but there isn't. Any competent player can easily conquer the Trainia (that's what they're called) within 2 days. You've now unlocked all progress you're ever going to make in terms of abilities... Gear? Those are maxed out pretty easily too for everything other than augments. You can get higher BP/ATK weapons but they make little difference because of they've made it so stats are basically a flat line.
Story? First problem is there basically isn't any. There's no world to explore. There is, but we don't get any of it. Even the PSO had more content than this does when launched in terms of story and PSO2 did as well... ON JP SERVERS. 1 contact has more contact than an entire "city" of people does on PSO2 vs NGS. But then... the story is gated too behind the horrible lvl/BP thing. This would be ok, if it were handled better and gave a few more missions. The game literally relies on you going off and killing stuff in one of 2 spots for hours on end and if you don't do that you make very slow progress. If you're at all efficient with tasks and skilled you will be forced to grind. So in the end, what happens is, that if you're skilled you get slapped in the face rather than rewarded because you have to go do mindless repetitions with no real reward. That's not a good design.
On top of all this, the game relies heaving on BS MOB and Skill design. Every skill under performs what it should do which makes every enemy frustrating, whether it be timing, aggro, buffing, healing, etc. There is a skill level up system that is not being used in the game. The question is why. That should already be in the game and be balanced against. Every boss' pattern is on a beat of lets say 7 and you're super damaging attack is on a beat of 8 to make you think you're the one messing up or if you do a little bit better you can get it, but no, perfectly executed every skill ends up like this... and you don't even get to have the experience of finding and mastering skills any more v.v why would you take this out of the game? or leave it out of the initial release?
What I'm saying is that there are plethora of bad choices in design that is causing the feeling of grinding in a game that was so excellently designed initially with things that alleviated that feeling that the core "grind" which would have been worse than any grind ever created since or before that grind that was hidden is now being felt because there is nothing there to stop the grind, to lubricate as it was. It's all just "go fight mobs... to fight mobs... to fight mobs... to fight mobs" There's no "woah cool" moment that anything creates, no tension, no looks at this cool thing i found, because they took it all out, are holding it all back, or didn't care to make it for this game...
But hey, Sega is Sega, and they always do things that could be great, but someone or something messes it up. Right now... I love the engine. 9/10 getting to 10/10. Art Team 7/10... everything else pretty much ehhh well 2 or 3/10. I've seen worse, but those are pretty low hurdles to surpass.
Also no hate on the animators and voice actors, not talking about them...