When I was 10 years old (almost 28 now) and already somewhat influenced by games already, I laid my hands on something that changed my perception of games and ultimately got me into RPG's and opened my mind to wider horizons of beauty than many people ever notice - - Final Fantasy. In the year of 1991, this game more or less epitomized a new era of RPG's that had initially been ushered in by Richard "LB" Garriot and his Ultima line. You had 4 warriors that came from lands faraway and were to save the world from Chaos and despair. After picking the classes and names, you were into it, leveling, completing quests and moving the story along to its epic finale against an enemy that was both unnerving and difficult: Chaos itself.
Over time, there were more of these Final Fantasy games that gave the impression it would never really be final (although I severely hope I don’t ever see a final fantasy XXII or somesuch), and I grew more engrossed in them for various reasons. The epic stories they contained, the world catastrophes involved, the character development, the character interaction, the occasional romance…the all too often tragedies, the music, the different styles of visuals and the wide range of combat possibilities. All of these things kept me enthralled and at the same time introduced something of a standard in my life with games.
Of course, the Final Fantasy you will see coming out does a lot of fan-service, and the games are definitely in a bit of a different direction, but I think that like all series, this one needs to start winding down, instead of up. But that is neither here, nor now, as my focus is on one particular point of this series.
What this story is getting at, is there is a certain lack of the epic feel to MMO's we see today. Of course, when it comes down to it, there never was an epic appeal of any kind. When I first entered the game of Everquest back in 2000, I was awed, but it was the fact that I was part of an online world, and that world was new to the real world. But the stories, creatures, and environment were rather uninspired. Of course, back then, technology was to blame, as there was only so much you could do with an online world at the time.
Fast-forward almost a decade though, and the problem remains, while we see more of an amazing polish to single-player games as time goes on. Yet the market is swaying to MMO's, for when a single-player game is done, it is done, and people do not like to lose their time so easily.
I love a persistent world, but there has yet to be anything that amazes me like that first time that I rode a train through Midgar in FFVII, or first opened the door to the Esper world in FFVI, or came upon the floating isle of Bhujerba in FF12. (I realize that was laden with Final Fantasy references) And that is with fairly archaic graphics in the first 2 examples! Not to mention the stories themselves continue to amaze, mainly because so many earth-shattering events take place! But in today's MMO, we have a story that is immutable, and repeated by all. Not entirely so great in the slightest.
I really think it is time for MMO's to take cues from single-player games and give us stories and worlds that make us care what we are doing within it, and then maybe more people would consider them to be a second home, instead of that simple virtual world we waste time in.