After replaying FFV with its three worlds recently I realized what a lot of modern RPGs are missing: drastically changed worlds due to story events. I don't mean this in like the SMT way, but more the FFVI way. It has become more and more infrequent lately - even something like Breath of Fire III where the passage of time has changed the world would suffice.
I've thought about this, and also it leaves open another problem: by the end of the game, you're seeing EVERYTHING from the beginning of the game to the end, and there's little reason to replay the game, because you can just go back to the first section of the game (and do). Thing with games like FFV and FFVI is that there are large sections of the game that you can never return to, and by the end you're left feeling "wow, I began a long way off in a different place/era, I almost forget what that felt like, I want to go back and see it again" and you can enjoy replaying the game fairly soon afterwards. Now, it feels like players are insisting that the games simply grow, never giving up things that were there at the beginning, so that by the end, you're playing the beginning, middle and end of the game all at the same time.
I think the "point of no return" is only bad in theory. People dread it, but is it really bad? In many ways, it's a good thing, keeps us from constantly being OCD about things, because after a certain point you simply can't go back and do those initial sidequests... more reason to replay the game and do it then. And as I said, it changes things up. Sometimes taking something away keeps the game fresh and interesting: a character dies and the group dynamic changes, the world gets burnt to a crisp and you witness a new environment. You end up sucked into a timewarp to a different era and you've got a whole new setting.
When I think back on it, I think my fondest memories in games are for short lived sections that you can't return to ad-nauseam.