That's cause you started playing in '04 Cat. I had quit before then, when a copy of Phalanx would run you 200ish tops, and the concept of "jp onry" hadn't even been invented yet (most of my parties as WAR were with JP players, since they didn't have the same anti-WAR stigma most NA players did. Also I was polite, and not a dick, despite my lack of Japanese language).
Soon as the console crowd came in, things took a downward turn, and by the time I left in fall of '03 things were well on their way to being good and truly borked. But before then, things were pretty good. Yeah, the beastmen thing was more or less spot on, with Qufim and Valkurm being the biggest offenders, but the negative attitude that pervaded most NA players wasn't there on Bahamut following the initial PC release and for several months after. Even the console crowd didn't kill it totally, at least not the initial influx. It wasn't until the summer of '03 that things started to really take a negative turn.
Look, not to be an ass here but either you not telling the full story or I call BS. NA PC release was like end of Oct 03 if I remember correctly, need to find my box and receipt. NA PS2 dropped around Apr 04. Unless you were playing on the JP client on a JP PS2 or had an import JP PC copy and were playing since the end of '02, either you didn't play at all or only 2 months tops. At that point, that was hardly enough time to give the game a chance.
I started on RDM and wished I hadn't at times. Every few levels I'd have to stop and farm for spells and gear. It wasn't fun at times and felt like a job, but I just worked through it. Maybe coming up from the UO/EQ days prepped me for endless farming as part of the game and I was used to going on "SLOWWW" mode to the point of not seeing anything wrong with it. Do I want to go back to those days? Hell no, but in the same breath I don't want sh*t handed to me cause I killed 3 bees and rabbit. Quest hubs (ala WoW/Rift) make the game Single-player-mode in my mind...destroying any chance of meeting with people. Just grouping for instanced raids/events seems so impersonal, more so when you have part of the game do it for you.
I don't see anything wrong with having content that takes time to complete, aka weapons/gear. But here's the point, it must be the type of items that the player base doesn't use for it's yardstick on picking players. Using FFXI as an example, relic weapons used to be the "Oh damn, dude has a <insert relic>! We going to rock this sh*t!" rarity. But at no point was it expected that every <insert random DD job> have one, minus some top tier LSs. It hasn't been until recently that almost every swinging dick has a relic/mythic/empy weapon because SE caved and made them stupidly easy to obtain. To fix their errors, SE designed stupidly gimicky fights to counter the fact the small groups can destroy anything placed infront of them. Did it make the game fun to be steam-rolling content? Sure, but everything became too easy and peeps started quitting again since they were finishing content faster than SE could add anything worthwhile. The content they did add was so heaving on time limits and gimmicks, that you were almost forced to use 3rd party apps just to complete it.
As for FFXIV, I believe you'll be forced to do group XP parties at some point. Given that the quests won't reset if you change jobs, you'll have Guildleves or grind for XP. Unless you've saved up the max on Guildleves, it will either be solo grind or grouping. I think that should work out half-way decent enough. I guess it will be a 'watch and wait' thing in the end.