Maybe each game determines its own balance, and in the end its up to different players to compare that with their preferred game balance.
When a game designer feel his game is not well-balanced, it's just that he think the potential is here but not efficiently exploited, or simply not visible enough.
That's probably very true. A game can only be as well-balanced as its engine allows. Also, even a perfect engine can be limited by the game concept. Some concepts may be unbalanced by definition, and the solution might be to make balance insignificant.
A lot of balancing comes into play when the player has several choices (between classes/&c.), that might be very different in terms of gameplay, but making them all rewarding choices, that people don't feel they've been conned. Starcraft is the chief example of this, I think.
Yes, I agree about Starcraft. Every time I've believed I had come up with a good Starcraft strategy, it would turn out there was a counter-strategy.
Also, beat'em up series like Virtua Fighter seem to have characters that're more well-balanced than characters in the Tekken series, statistically when playing a lot of fights. But then again, Virtua Fighter has always had that as a feature, while Tekken has heavy features like many diverse characters, which makes it well-balanced in its own sense/in its own features.
Lost Odyssey, for example, contained brilliant story, but required players to pause from their interactive battles and adventuring to trudge through long pages of text that didn't help them at all in terms of gameplay;
Japanese RPG's are often expected to be good story-wise and game play matters less, but I've read that Lost Odyssey disappointed in that aspect. Expectations on certain balance makes any flaws more apparent.
Considering the epic, cinema-like nature of the plot, however, I honestly can't see how they could ahve done it either way.
I agree, a perfect game would maybe have to be very generic and mainstreamed. So the best with a game is if its perfect in its own sphere of features, which MGS might be.
I sometimes find it sad when comparisons are made to templates, like if the best experiences are old ones. On the other hand, that's how human perception works most effectively.