I recently read this article touting the author's game and talking at length about game design. One interesting thing about that was the accusation that jRPGs have "more story than the gameplay can support". That is, they have some elaborate story, but then you can only play it by talking to people (meaning read monologues) and fighting (meaning hitting the Attack button till the enemies die). Actually I don't think much of the story in most of these, Suikoden being the main exception, but I agree with the idea that you're pretty limited in how you can experience the story. The Japanese have those "visual novels" that are really just stories where you press a button to read the next paragraph, and the "Ace Attorney" games aren't much more interactive -- but I bet we could do better. Better even than Bioware's somewhat better character interaction.
I've been reading a very long, bizarre fanfic based on the game "Fallout 3", and thought it was interesting partly because it has a lot more characterization and interaction between people. Also for its realistic attitude toward violence, making characters physically and emotionally traumatized and in need of more than a magic healing potion. The game (I only got to play it in the last month or so) would've been awesome if it had somehow tapped into that level of plot and character. Now that I've got a fast PC I've actually gotten to play "Skyrim", and while that's pretty good despite wonky controls, it's the same sort of loner quest. (Magic is handled such that a mage is pretty much expected to run around bare-handed in a bathrobe, but to balance that you get two-fisted Force lightning and a flamethrower at level 1.)
Oh, here is that Planar RPG experiment, as an EXE and Python source. The author of the above article thinks that a game ought to be designed by finding some fun mechanics, then building the story around that. Thoughts on this concept of whether any fun can be had by boiling a freeform RPG down to extreme basics?