RPGs have long been the hallmark of game writers, and today they get their very own rather epic feature on Gamasutra. If you believe gameplay sells games more than any other aspect of a game, think again. Just look at the Ultima series.
Early Ultima games benefitted from improvements in game design and gameplay. However, Ultima VII: The Black Gate, though with better graphics and realtime gameplay, didn’t reinvent its interface or go 3D. Its popularity instead seems to stem largely from its “gripping plot, well-developed characters, and painstakingly-detailed environments.” On the other end of the spectrum, Ultima IX: Ascension had all the gameplay fans loved, but without good dialog and characters, sales sagged.
Clearly, innovative gameplay only gets you so far. If you can’t afford to reinvent the wheel with your game engine or design, a few excellent writers might tip the scales… or, more accurately, tip the sales. But you knew that already.
Makes me think of a game I played. Shadow Hearts for PS2 was a pretty standard RPG in terms of gameplay, but I loved the story. I played it so fast I met the final boss about 5 levels too soon! Anyone played any game with just okay gameplay, but you loooooved the story?