This is somewhat of an abstract comment, not a finite solution, so take it with a grain of salt: I think that the "correct" way to make crafting interesting and fun (assuming that you even want to, after all, main stream MMOs have survived without interesting crafting for almost two decades) would be to analyze what it is that makes players enjoy exp grinds and try to reproduce that. It is true that many people see the exp grind to max level to just be the introduction to any MMO, but there are just as many people who find it to be an interesting and integral part of the game. If a developer could capture that same process for crafting, it would go a long way towards the mythical "interesting crafting".
Another way to say it is: Everyone calls the crafting in FFXIV a minigame - rightly so. Meanwhile, no one ever calls the repetitive activity of killing monsters over and over again a minigame - a grind yes, but a minigame no. What is the difference? It's not like solving the distinction will instantly make an interesting dynamic crafting system, but I believe that the distinction is at the core of why crafting is perpetually given second fiddle and most find it to be horrifyingly dull.
People enjoy EXP grinds for one of three reasons...
- They're doing it with other players and socializing
- They really want to get to the end goal
- They're actually enjoying the content
The third one is the least obvious as to how to accomplish this, but there are two primary ways. Lots of different things/options to do as you level. The actual gameplay creates so many variables and requires skill and mastery, such that it is actually fun on its own. See: Action MMOs a la Dragon Nest / TERA.
The reason combat is not seen as a mini-game, even in FFXIV when compared to crafting is manifold as well.
- Fighting different monsters can be fairly different, crafting different items never is
- You can't team up with other players to craft
- Player skill has very little to do with the outcome of a craft
- The type of actions you take during crafting largely remain the same 1-50
- Crafting pretty much always takes place in the same locations
- There are no crafting instances, bosses, and very few quests or leves
This list is by no means exhaustive, but it's a place to start.
I haven't played any DQ game more than 45 minutes (don't really know which one to start with), but from what I hear, they're decidedly NOT casual games - typically with a focus on extensive grinding. I could absolutely be wrong on that though, I don't have the firsthand experience to back it up.
Let me clarify this idea for you. Dragon Quest was originally successful because it took concepts from games like Ultima and Wizardry and simplified them, made objectives clear, and made the overall experience accessible to the average gamer of the time.
Years later, the games haven't changed drastically, thus, when compared to today's RPGs, they are very grind-y, because most RPGs these days, you needn't grind at all. Compared to contemporary games of the time, Dragon Quest was normal or less grind-y. Dragon Quest fans just don't like change, look what happened with DQ9.
My point is basically that, while it requires a lot of grinding, the Dragon Quest series is very simple, not complex. Hardcore as far as the west's standards on RPGs perhaps, but not complex. So the experience is more casual.
Anyway, I believe what DQX is trying to do, is do to the MMO genre (for Japan) what DQ1 did for the RPG genre of it's day, and thus, the idea is to be simple and accessible. Whether it's hardcore in the sense that a lot of grinding is required remains to be seen.