And one thing that I certainly overlooked and probably was pointed out by others and only got a cursory glance is what people value most in a story.
Is it a series of epic world spanning events that makes a story compelling to you? Is it a tightly knit tale of highly developed/well written characters that makes a story compelling to you? Is it the quality of the writing that makes a story compelling to you?
Very good points. I like an RPG that tries to do something different.
The first Shadow Hearts had an interesting story and is the only game I can think of besides SMT Nocturne that's set in the present day.
I like the Xenosaga series for its epic scifi "big concept" story.
I liked FFX because it felt like they genuinely felt like they tried to do something different from past FF games - and I thought the characters were compelling and interesting.
I like Suikoden (the series) because it's well written with interesting plots and generally good characterisation.
I liked Legend of Mana and Tsugunai because they took the RPG formula and gave it a twist - like a short story anthology rather than a full length novel, as most RPGs are.
There's good things about lots of RPGs - just have to look for them.