(This post contains spoilers for a couple jrpg's, old and new)
There are a lot of misconceptions about what rpg's/traditional rpg's are. There is also not a clear answer to that, a lot is based on your opinion what is what. I would say that rpg's originally have a text-based origin. Text-adventures with graphics that gave you four to eight options what to do. For instance, very basically: "There is a cave in front of you (with the picture of a cave). Will you a. go into the cave b. allow your dog to go in first c. use your rope to climb over the cave d. go into the forest left of you." The RPG-element in this is that you have choices to decide where to go and what to do and what impact it has on the world. In my opinion that is the "true" definition of an rpg. You have several options and what you decide to do has a considerable impact on the storyline and the world around you or what adventures (sidequests) might be available.
The Snes era had a lot of jrpg's released on it. Im not too familiar with pre-nes/snes rpg's, but i'm sure someone has something to say about this, so I'll start with Zelda: A Link to the Past. This is what they called an action-rpg, it's also an open world game. This is where it gets confusing. In my opinion, A Link to the Past is more an action-adventure then an jrpg. Yes it's developed by Nintendo, so you could say action-(j)rpg. You can slash your sword real time in a top-down kind of view, block projectiles with shields and use magic. However there's no level system, you gain more strength in fighting and health by collecting equipment, accessories and heart pieces. But since you have options where to go, what dungeon to do first (mostly) and you can gather heart pieces in any order you would like to, if you have the necessary equipment, it certainly has a certain rpg-element in it. Also using portals to travel around the world freely and to reach out of the way items and equipment certainly makes it an rpg. However Secret of Mana, a squaresoft jrpg, is more rpg than action-adventure. Yes you can slash your sword real-time like ALTTP, but it has a level system, magic-level system and equipment level system. There's also an open world an one of the first games with a way of travelling the world places quickly, in this case by flying a dragon.
These few distinctions is what to me makes an rpg: Level systems for every aspect, so you can improve certain traits or skills in whatever order you like and how you would like them to develop. The Open world factor is also a strong point to being a traditional rpg for me as well as the means to transport to every corner of that world quickly. Traditional rpgs, to me, are the jrpg's in the Snes era containing a level system and an open world. Yes that's also the Final Fantasies on the snes, even though the first ones didn't have as much options in terms of straying from the linear path. "Traditional rpg's" are mostly referring to the Turn-based jrpg's and some wrpg's that use the same system in some form. For instance Final Fantasy I-X, Legend of Dragoon and Valkyrie Profile (Lenneth). It's these kind of turn-based systems that were common during the nes, snes and playstation 1 + 2 era's.
What differentiates the wRPG's and jRPG's to me, is the way the world is presented. JRPG's are heavily based on the japanese culture and the way japanese stories are told and how they look at the world, with all their legends and stories. That's why I prefer jrpg's. Western rpg's just dont have that something that hooks me to their game. The atmosphere is different. I like the little bow's and gestures the characters make, I think that's it mainly. wRPG's dont have that in that way.
That said, there are plenty RPG's that either make you believe they have an open world, but are actually quite limited. A game has an open world as long as it offers a considerable amount of sidequests that are not related to the main story or in other words the path from the beginning to the final boss if you took all the proper turns without deviating from the path. Take FFX for example. Yes, it's quite linear for the most part, however, there are plenty minigames once you reach the "Gran Pulse" of FFX, the Calm Lands. There is the Underground Cavern with Yojimbo in it, the Remiem Temple, the Ultimate Weapons and after you went to the Zanarkand temple, you get an air ship with a couple more locations that are not part of the main story you can explore. In this way, FFX combined a lot of the options FFVII-IX had to offer in terms of sidequests, mini-games and places to go to that were out of the main route.
FFXIII lacked a lot of these gameplay elements unfortunately.
FFXIII marked a deviation from the path the series were going in such way, that they tried to make it more western, so it would sell more copies and would be easier to understand. This is what I really dislike. I'm not waiting for a Final Fantasy "easy game", which looks great, plays like an interactive movie and has little options besides the main story and a grinding fest. I want mini-games, I want sidequests, seperate storylines that have to do with area's, not characters, secrets that I usually wouldn't find on my own the first time I play the game. Things to collect, achieve and of course, secret bosses, that are **** hard to defeat, not through some kind of programming so you have to do it THAT way to beat it. SE totally missed the boat with, for instance, adding Titan in FFXIII and not being able to fight him. There was nothing secret, besides the Titan's Gauntlet or w/e you want to call it. Gran Pulse had only help-me-revenge-my-death-and-kill-a-beast type of sidequests. The same idea where levequests or sidequests in FFXIV are comprised off, if I'm properly informed.
I really miss the old school jrpg's, Ive been replaying them for so many years now, cause there aren't many titles that are interesting enough to play through in the recent years. The few exception were Star Ocean: the Last Hope, even tho it lacked the extensiveness of Star Ocean Till the end of Time, Lost Odyssey, which was brilliant, although the turn-based system was a little basic (the rest was perfect), and Valkyrie Profile 2, which is, for me, the best (j)rpg that has been released the last 5 years. For all the reasons I just named which makes a great rpg.
On a last note, I really miss FFXI, I wouldn't play it anymore cause I finished all the storylines and had most of the gear I had to get, but the cutscenes and storylines really brought the world alive and I had a lot of great times there with friends. Also "the less than an hour" battlegrounds were a lot of fun to do, and to lead. Looking back, I didn't really like the elitist striving for gear, although I found myself guilty of exactly that after I reached 75, but the events sure we're a **** of a lot of fun to do once in a while.
Even though I probably won't have time to immerse myself in FFXIV in the future, or rpg's in general, I **** sure want to have the opportunity to do so and have a blast playing it :) *crosses fingers*
FFXI - Ragnar - Whm75 - Kujata - Retired 2007
FFXI - Monarc - Smn76/Drg76/Whm75 - Kujata - Retired 2010
FFXI currently installing again?!? - July 2012