They already bit off more than they could chew by trying to make choices matter all the way through 3. (Which led to the inevitable outcome of most choices funneling down a very nary path of possible outcomes.)
So you haven't played the game, is what you're saying.
ME3? Of course I played it, and I thought it was the best ME at that. But it definitely didn't live up to all the promises they made early on about the impact of your choices. (Which wasn't unexpected, but it was the cause of plenty of disappointment for people.)
I just want it to be a separate story from the trilogy (with hints and call outs to events, characters, etc) that doesn't hold me to decisions I have now made 4 years ago.
Connecting it directly to the last trilogy would be the biggest mistake they could make with the series going forward. They already bit off more than they could chew by trying to make choices matter all the way through 3. (Which led to the inevitable outcome of most choices funneling down a very nary path of possible outcomes.) If they pretend they can make the old trilogy's choices matter in the next game they're doomed before they even begin.
Yep, my favorite JRPG's are the ones where there's a particular focus on character interactions, even if the narrative itself isn't anything special. You said it, it's all about the small moments that make up the journey, and not necessarily the destination. Of course, Persona takes the cake because they do both categories right.
Honestly I think Persona is the epitome of "characters over plot". Even P2, which undeniably has the best plot in the series, still wouldn't be half as good if it was not for the characters. But I agree, good characters can prop up a mediocre story way more than a good story can prop up mediocre characters.