I've been in the non-linear area of FFXIII for the last two weeks, playing fiendishly, gathering materials, and searching for rare items as if I were a World of Warcraft addict. In the player review section, you'll see a small army of complaints about linearity, lack of exploration or uselessness of exploration, and basically being ushered down a choiceless road. Here are some examples of what I've been doing that defy this way of thinking:
1. Treasure hunting on Chocobo. Chocobos, and their location, must be unlocked via a few missions, but once you get them, you can access new sections of the map and detect buried treasure. The challenge is to find the digging location based on proximity detection, which is done solely by observing the bouncing rate of the chocobo's exclamation mark. Doing this has netted me a silver trophy along with two rare accessories--neither of which can be store bought. Since cash is hard to come by in the game, I use Chocobo treasure hunting as the smaller part of building my funds.
2. Stumbling upon hidden cutscenes. I have probably run around the entire open-world map over twenty times before coincidentally frolicking into the right place to activate a new event. Recently, I just discovered the cactuar and unlocked their presence on the map. And they'll be damned if they ever drop their rare loot, which hasn't shown up for me despite the fact that my party is wearing accessories to increase the odds of rare drops.
3. Struggling to take down beasts the size of AT-AT walkers. I can't resist a good challenge. The larger of these creatures attacks simply by walking, trampling your entire party into a KO with a single step--two steps if you have top-notch physical resistance accessories on. You can take out its legs and disable it temporarily, but the legs have more hit points than most of the bosses. After plotting like a mad scientist, I finally figured out a way to take down one of the bigger varieties and have succeeded in killing two. Only one of them dropped loot, which was the common loot--a very nice common loot made of platinum, fetching a big price in the stores. The rare loot is a transformational catalyst (think upgrading weapons or accessories) that can be bought in-store for about 13x what the platinum ingot is worth. You really have to save your pennies to afford that thing.
Destroying the colossal beasts got me the limit-breaker trophy, which you have to deal 100,000+ damage in a single attack to obtain.
4. Exploring! Yes, there is a use for exploration! I just found another totally unnecessary cutscene/mission from which I am searching for parts to repair an old robot. What does the robot do, besides looking like a really cool robo-bunny on wheels? I don't know, because I don't like to use game guides. But I have three more parts to go before I find out.
5. Turning my characters into superheroes. I discovered in the last few days that each character has a special attack that can be obtained in one of their higher level roles. I've also been upgrading their weapons and accessories, which requires a considerable amount of work. Considering that I just bought Disgaea 3, can you blame me?
6. Conquering the missions. Currently I have about two missions left of the highest difficulty. I have done about four others that took a few days of thinking and scheming to overcome, but considering that my Eidolons (summons) get knocked out by the two recent bosses in about five seconds, it is going to take some work. That, and I am missing 15-20 missions inbetween the ones I know about. Do I have to leave the planet to find the rest? I don't know if it's a deal where you can't ever go back. That's what save games are for, I guess!
EDIT: Repairing the robot was undeniably worth it. It was an OMG moment. The robot totally hooked me up!