Western RPGs vs JRPGs: My Opinion

Skyrim, Mass Effect, and Fable are all modern day RPGs that are loved by millions and millions of people. Another thing to keep in mind is where they are made: the United States, Canada and England, respectively. These are what would be defined as “Western” RPGs and in each of these games, the point is immersion. These all have various commonalities between them such as being able to make your character’s appearance customizable and being more action game than RPG. However they are what they are which are great games, but, at least for me, I have hit a saturation point.

I recently finished a game much different from any of these, Final Fantasy XIII. Final Fantasy games have been on my game resumé for quite some time now, and FFXIII is an interesting one. The game has been mercilessly bashed for its extreme linearity and, at times, its story as well. Unlike Final Fantasy XII which was very open ended, Square Enix went in the complete opposite direction here. Story was key for FFXIII which is why so much of it was going from point A to B with little deviation in where the player could go. While the enemies were underdeveloped and there was no memorable major evil in the game, the relationships between the characters in your party are what counted.

These are trappings of a traditional Japanese RPG. The player has a party of characters that they take into battles that are (usually) turn-based in which commands given to characters are carried out. This is a much different style than the games mentioned earlier. Sure in Skyrim you can have a companion and in Mass Effect you can decide two characters to come with you but even with that, the characters just feel like they never truly bond with each other.

Also, especially with the Final Fantasy, their main characters are iconic. Cloud, Tidus, Terra, Cecil, Squall; all of these characters are who the player controlled and were integral to the story. Western RPGs with their blank slate protagonists never feel like they’re in the story, but just bystanders.

JRPGs used to be the quintessential RPG experience. Final Fantasy VII is always among discussions not only for best RPG but for best game ever, so why is it that JRPGs have gone from being commonplace on the last generation to almost non-existent now?

Western RPGs are the answer. This console generation has seen the dramatic rise of Western RPG development, something that might not necessarily have been expected. This was only compounded by the weak offerings that were available for the current generation of systems early in their life cycle. Examples like Blue Dragon, Enchanted Arms, and Infinite Undiscovery jump to my mind and, the even more confusing part is how they turned out how they did with who their developers are. Infinite Undiscovery was developed by tri-Ace Inc. who is responsible for the Star Ocean and Valkyrie Profile franchises. Enchanted Arms was developed by From Software who developed Chromehounds and the critically acclaimed Souls series (Demon Souls and Dark Souls). Lastly is Blue Dragon who was developed by Mistwalker Corporation who was founded by the creator of the Final Fantasy series! What is going on?

JRPGs had been sitting above the rest for so long that the developers who were making them became complacent. After such games as Final Fantasy X, Final Fantasy XII, the Persona series and the Kingdom Hearts series, it seemed like Japan could do no wrong. Unfortunately for them, Bioware and Bethesda, who had already made some great RPGs for the PC, entered the console market and took over. JRPG developers have seemed confused as to how to catch up.

There is an easy solution of what not to do: do not try to mimic Western RPGs. Was there JRPG fatigue toward the end of the last console genre? Possibly, but I’m quickly becoming tired of Western RPGs. I forced myself to play my character in Skyrim for three more hours the other day over break because I know that it is a game that I’m supposed to like, but I could only handle two hours. The thing is is that I could not get enough of Oblivion. I put so many hours into that and it never got old.

The combat system in Oblivion was first person melee/ranged/magic combat. This real time action-oriented combat has caught on and now the majority of RPGs utilize that style. Traditionally JRPGs incorporate turn-based combat with each character waiting to perform the action that was input by the player until it is their turn. I’ve heard many gamers complain that this is a boring and tedious style. Well yes it is a boring and tedious style to the stereotypical preteen boy who yells profanities and racial slurs while shooting people in the face every few seconds in Call of Duty. It’s true, in order to play a JRPG one must have an attention span. There is no problem with turn-based combat, and at times it is more exciting than combat found in Mass Effect or Skyrim. Using FFXIII as an example, the strategy of layering buffs on the party, debuffs on the enemy, changing one character to a class that will distract the enemy while the rest of the party heals up, all while constantly having to switch the roles of your party members is much more fun than any combat I’ve experienced in Western RPGs. Don’t even get me started on my love for the Legend of Dragoon combat system…and everything else about that game.

Also it seems as if Western RPG developers are hesitant about how to incorporate the classic RPG aspects into a game. The immediate example that comes to mind is the changes from Mass Effect to Mass Effect 2. Gone was the massive inventory with armor, weapon and tech modifications and in was several set upgrades and no loot. The amount of bionic powers was significantly cut down and were distributed to specific characters. Just as an example, the soldier class in ME had 12 different skills that could be leveled up with talent points. In ME2 it has half as many. Western RPGs are becoming more and more about action and less about the traditional aspects of RPGs. While I can easily acknowledge that ME2 is a smoother and better developed game, I’ve always enjoyed the original more and have been called crazy for it! Fallout 3 is another example. The thing everyone loved about developer Bethesda’s post-apocalyptic game was the snarky and dark humor of characters that the player came across. So naturally what is the first piece of DLC? Operation Anchorage holds that honor, an honor which was several hours of almost pure combat and sparse dialogue. Sure the VATS system was a fun gimmick for a while, but the game was not fun as a shooter. Yes there is under the hood dice rolling that is going on behind the scenes to determine whether or not your hits land harkening back to tabletop RPG days, but those are not what this is about. This combat heavy focus is now commonplace in RPGs which, for better or worse, seems to be here to stay for a while.

However Square Enix seems to be going back to their roots with Final Fantasy XIII-2. Being able to talk to NPCs and much more openness to the environments are a couple things that they are employing to try and fix the issues that gamers had with the original. This game is the key to the future of JRPGs. FFXIII-2 marks the first time that Square Enix has listened to its consumers and employed changes in a game. This is what needs to happen and what Japan has lacked for a long time. They may have felt like they knew how to easily make a game that their fans wanted, but times have changed and listening to feedback is going to be the crux as to whether or not JRPGs return to their place upon the RPG throne or slowly fade into the background.

44 Comments
45 Comments
Posted by Ross

Skyrim, Mass Effect, and Fable are all modern day RPGs that are loved by millions and millions of people. Another thing to keep in mind is where they are made: the United States, Canada and England, respectively. These are what would be defined as “Western” RPGs and in each of these games, the point is immersion. These all have various commonalities between them such as being able to make your character’s appearance customizable and being more action game than RPG. However they are what they are which are great games, but, at least for me, I have hit a saturation point.

I recently finished a game much different from any of these, Final Fantasy XIII. Final Fantasy games have been on my game resumé for quite some time now, and FFXIII is an interesting one. The game has been mercilessly bashed for its extreme linearity and, at times, its story as well. Unlike Final Fantasy XII which was very open ended, Square Enix went in the complete opposite direction here. Story was key for FFXIII which is why so much of it was going from point A to B with little deviation in where the player could go. While the enemies were underdeveloped and there was no memorable major evil in the game, the relationships between the characters in your party are what counted.

These are trappings of a traditional Japanese RPG. The player has a party of characters that they take into battles that are (usually) turn-based in which commands given to characters are carried out. This is a much different style than the games mentioned earlier. Sure in Skyrim you can have a companion and in Mass Effect you can decide two characters to come with you but even with that, the characters just feel like they never truly bond with each other.

Also, especially with the Final Fantasy, their main characters are iconic. Cloud, Tidus, Terra, Cecil, Squall; all of these characters are who the player controlled and were integral to the story. Western RPGs with their blank slate protagonists never feel like they’re in the story, but just bystanders.

JRPGs used to be the quintessential RPG experience. Final Fantasy VII is always among discussions not only for best RPG but for best game ever, so why is it that JRPGs have gone from being commonplace on the last generation to almost non-existent now?

Western RPGs are the answer. This console generation has seen the dramatic rise of Western RPG development, something that might not necessarily have been expected. This was only compounded by the weak offerings that were available for the current generation of systems early in their life cycle. Examples like Blue Dragon, Enchanted Arms, and Infinite Undiscovery jump to my mind and, the even more confusing part is how they turned out how they did with who their developers are. Infinite Undiscovery was developed by tri-Ace Inc. who is responsible for the Star Ocean and Valkyrie Profile franchises. Enchanted Arms was developed by From Software who developed Chromehounds and the critically acclaimed Souls series (Demon Souls and Dark Souls). Lastly is Blue Dragon who was developed by Mistwalker Corporation who was founded by the creator of the Final Fantasy series! What is going on?

JRPGs had been sitting above the rest for so long that the developers who were making them became complacent. After such games as Final Fantasy X, Final Fantasy XII, the Persona series and the Kingdom Hearts series, it seemed like Japan could do no wrong. Unfortunately for them, Bioware and Bethesda, who had already made some great RPGs for the PC, entered the console market and took over. JRPG developers have seemed confused as to how to catch up.

There is an easy solution of what not to do: do not try to mimic Western RPGs. Was there JRPG fatigue toward the end of the last console genre? Possibly, but I’m quickly becoming tired of Western RPGs. I forced myself to play my character in Skyrim for three more hours the other day over break because I know that it is a game that I’m supposed to like, but I could only handle two hours. The thing is is that I could not get enough of Oblivion. I put so many hours into that and it never got old.

The combat system in Oblivion was first person melee/ranged/magic combat. This real time action-oriented combat has caught on and now the majority of RPGs utilize that style. Traditionally JRPGs incorporate turn-based combat with each character waiting to perform the action that was input by the player until it is their turn. I’ve heard many gamers complain that this is a boring and tedious style. Well yes it is a boring and tedious style to the stereotypical preteen boy who yells profanities and racial slurs while shooting people in the face every few seconds in Call of Duty. It’s true, in order to play a JRPG one must have an attention span. There is no problem with turn-based combat, and at times it is more exciting than combat found in Mass Effect or Skyrim. Using FFXIII as an example, the strategy of layering buffs on the party, debuffs on the enemy, changing one character to a class that will distract the enemy while the rest of the party heals up, all while constantly having to switch the roles of your party members is much more fun than any combat I’ve experienced in Western RPGs. Don’t even get me started on my love for the Legend of Dragoon combat system…and everything else about that game.

Also it seems as if Western RPG developers are hesitant about how to incorporate the classic RPG aspects into a game. The immediate example that comes to mind is the changes from Mass Effect to Mass Effect 2. Gone was the massive inventory with armor, weapon and tech modifications and in was several set upgrades and no loot. The amount of bionic powers was significantly cut down and were distributed to specific characters. Just as an example, the soldier class in ME had 12 different skills that could be leveled up with talent points. In ME2 it has half as many. Western RPGs are becoming more and more about action and less about the traditional aspects of RPGs. While I can easily acknowledge that ME2 is a smoother and better developed game, I’ve always enjoyed the original more and have been called crazy for it! Fallout 3 is another example. The thing everyone loved about developer Bethesda’s post-apocalyptic game was the snarky and dark humor of characters that the player came across. So naturally what is the first piece of DLC? Operation Anchorage holds that honor, an honor which was several hours of almost pure combat and sparse dialogue. Sure the VATS system was a fun gimmick for a while, but the game was not fun as a shooter. Yes there is under the hood dice rolling that is going on behind the scenes to determine whether or not your hits land harkening back to tabletop RPG days, but those are not what this is about. This combat heavy focus is now commonplace in RPGs which, for better or worse, seems to be here to stay for a while.

However Square Enix seems to be going back to their roots with Final Fantasy XIII-2. Being able to talk to NPCs and much more openness to the environments are a couple things that they are employing to try and fix the issues that gamers had with the original. This game is the key to the future of JRPGs. FFXIII-2 marks the first time that Square Enix has listened to its consumers and employed changes in a game. This is what needs to happen and what Japan has lacked for a long time. They may have felt like they knew how to easily make a game that their fans wanted, but times have changed and listening to feedback is going to be the crux as to whether or not JRPGs return to their place upon the RPG throne or slowly fade into the background.

Posted by sungahymn

...I think you're right.

I feel like I'm insulting someone when they write something so long and I say something so short.

Edited by Seppli

@Ross:

Western RPGs are much more open. Either they got a 'chose your own story' aspect or they're set in an open 'go anywhere, do anything' world or both. JRPGs are usually strictly predetermined. Choice matters little.

Personally, I loved JRPGs during the 16-bit era and fell increasingly out of love to the point where I rarely give the genre a chance anymore. For a couple of reasons.

  • Pacing went straight out of the window with the dawn of speech in videogames. JRPG VOs are longwinded and feel off. Guess that's a cultural thing. They lack the Western 'chose your own story' element, which turns conversations from staffage into worthwhile gameplay.
  • 16-bit JRPGs were heavily stylized. When I played Final Fantasy VI, I didn't imagine an androgynous cast of anime teens. They killed my Final Fantasy by becoming very specific about what they're imagining - and that's cutesy talky teeny anime. Videogames are for kids and teens in Japan, not for adults like in the West, and it shows.
  • Somewhere during the PS1 era, JRPGs stopped being 'games I need to play', regardless of their production quality. If there ever was a formulaic genre, JRPGs are it. At their core they're the same since their conception, with nothing but their shallow complexity changing from iteration to iteration - at best. Boring, boring, boring.
Posted by ZenaxPure
@Seppli said:

@Ross:

Western RPGs are much more open. Either they got a 'chose your own story' aspect or they're set in an open 'go anywhere, do anything' world or both. JRPGs are usually strictly predetermined. Choice matters little.

This is generally only true for story, though, which is what draws me into JRPGs far more than most WRPGs. Most JRPGs (think outside of Final Fantasy here for a second, though plenty of games in the series do this) the options for how you actually play it, such as customizing your character and battle style are very open ended in many games, while actually being fun, (just think of Pokemon, probably more choice about how you approach a battle than any other RPG out there) where as in a game like Mass Effect I am given a character class but 90% of the gameplay is me shooting a gun. It can get boring after a while where as in something like Pokemon if I get bored of a specific setup I can always completely rework how I play. Perhaps I want to be more defensive and stall-y, so I make a team around that, or I want all out melee aggression so I get people with high physical attack. It's something a lot of WRPGs don't handle as well. 
 
Obviously there is some generalizations here on both sides since not all JRPGs have strict linear stories nor do all WRPGs have very strict and boring combat over the course of a game, but that is certainly what draws me to many more JRPGs than WRPGs.
Posted by DeF

Games like Resonance of Fate (tri-ace), Xenoblade Chronicles (Monolith Software) and The Last Story (Mistwalker) already showed how truly modern JRPGs can hold their own against the tenth Lord of the RIngs or Star Wars inspired RPG from the west.

If people only looked beyond the games Square Enix puts out or were open to quality on all systems (Xenoblade and Last Story are going to be ignored because they're only on Wii and Wii is never taken seriously), they'd find that the good JRPG never really left.

Posted by Jimbo

JRPGs are interesting in that they rarely seem to have any actual roleplaying in them. The naming conventions we use are weird.

Edited by ZenaxPure
@DeF: The weird part about Xenoblade is most people say it draws inspiration from FF12 anyway, granted I can't speak to the truth of that since I've yet to play the game here in the states unfortunately :( 
 Though, my point is the real problem is people saying SE games (FF specifically) aren't cool because:
  • It's in style to say that
  • Never played one
  • Nostalgia goggles
  • Genuinely don't like them and give their intelligent opinions as to why (but lets be honest, like 2 people do this)
Instead of actually giving them a chance. 
  
 The fucking weird part is how square has only developed two console JRPGs this entire generation, but their past success still eclipses people in modern JRPG conversations when amazing games such as in your own words RoF, Last Story, and Xenoblade come out. 
 
 
@Jimbo said:

JRPGs are interesting in that they rarely seem to have any actual roleplaying in them. The naming conventions we use are weird.

It's not weird as much as it's a natural evolution of how video games have changed over the past 30 years. It's only weird if you don't understand the history, I suppose. Actually there is more to it than that, which I should probably do one of those blog things about since it bothers me, but it's an entirely different thing and extends much further than that.
Posted by Addfwyn

It's a good write up, and I agree in some points, especially that JRPGs should not try to mimic WRPGs. FFXIII-2 comes close at times, and those are the moments that it is weakest.

They are two genres really, which accomplish very different goals. WRPGs have typically been about open worlds, character development, and progression as core tenants. In short, they are often focused a lot on the gameplay mechanics around the 'roleplaying' experience, sacrificing characters (often the protagonist has no defined role in the story whatsoever) and story to do so. Here, the 'roleplaying' and supposed fun comes from crafting the kind of character you specifically want to play. You want to play an evil mage that destroys everything in Skyrim? Sure go ahead. If you want to play a virtuous knight who helps those in trouble, you can do that too. This can be very appealing to some, but it has its downsides as well. Character and narrative tend to suffer in depth and complexity, you can't really presume much of the main characters while writing in these games because they really have no idea WHO the main character actually is. Sure they can write some core elements into the story, such as you being Dragonborn, but they can't actually do a whole lot past that. Additionally, the open world nature just makes for sometimes downright broken games, which is something I personally have never been able to tolerate.

JRPGs on the other hand, are more focused around the characters and narrative, at the sacrifice of an open world or development system. Here, the fun is experiencing a good and well-crafted story, where most every element can be decided by the creators from beginning to end. You're playing a 'role' of a predefined character in an existing narrative. You're not going to be able to play an evil mage that destroys everything in FFXIII-2 because your character is already decided, you are Serah. The upsides is that they are able to make a much more complex narrative because they basically know everything that is going to happen already. A story as incredible as the one in Xenogears would never have been possible in the constraints of the WRPG genre anymore than crafting your own perfectly unique Skyrim character would be possible in most JRPGs. FFXIII got criticisms for being 'too linear' but in truth almost all JRPGs are extremely linear, FFXIII just did away with some of the illusions that the genre has typically featured. Another appealing thing to me about the genre is the innovation in some gameplay systems. I'm always eager to see the next Final Fantasy or SMT game, or what have you, in order to see how they approach systems like combat or character development. While it's often not the same open-ended development that popularizes WRPGs, there is usually something new and fresh to experience. Look at something like Resonance of Fate, which has an incredibly (sometimes excessively so) deep combat and development system. The other advantage of this format is that they are able to make a much more polished finished product, since it is orders of magnitude easier to playtest or just feature specific vistas and landscapes that really make something like a console Final Fantasy look and sound incredible.

Personally, I don't really like WRPGs, but that's my taste and nothing to do with flaws that may be contained. Skyrim was alright, and Mass Effect I actually sorta like, but for the most part it's not a genre that appeals to me. Interestingly, one of the reasons I actually liked Mass Effect was that it was (in my opinion) far closer to JRPGs in a lot of its story cues than WRPGs usually are. You have a pre-defined cast, and while you can make a variety of choices with Shepherd, there's still a core Shepherd concept there. Though in other ways, it's more of a shooter, so it's hard to really bring into this discussion. JRPGs remain to me my favourite genre, and some fantastic ones still come out. However, they are largely regulated to the handheld arena these days. This is likely because here in Japan, handhelds reign supreme (and JRPGs are of course more popular here) and also because the costs of development are simply lower. Making a sprawling narrative with the kind of production values that Final Fantasy has is something not many studios besides Square can pull off with any degree of success. I'd like to see more console JRPGs of course, but I'm not so sure that the genre really needs to change. It's still thriving, at least from my perspective (Look through the PSP library sometime). Though it makes a certain degree of sense that here in Japan JRPGs seem to be doing fine, and in the West that WRPGs are the preferred genre. It's almost to be expected really.

@Seppli said:

  • Videogames are for kids and teens in Japan, not for adults like in the West, and it shows.

The rest is your opinion, so I don't want to get into an argument, but just wanted to point out that this statement isn't even close to true. Games here are way more evenly spread out amongst both age and gender than from what I have experienced in the West. I'll see people my grandparents age with PSPs on the train playing non-trivial games. Same for middle-aged adults, all the way down to children. Games are far more widely accepted culturally here, so that's not really an accurate assertion.

Posted by Still_I_Cry

On Mass Effect..

I was disappointed in the gear change and tech change etc. in ME2

I liked the system in MAss Effect.

Edited by Commisar123

Why does it have to be a versus situation? Why can't we just pick the best of both worlds? I love both styles of RPGs and I play both quite often. I wish we could stop comparing them just appreciate them for their own merits.

Posted by Ross

@Commisar123: It's not that I am complaining, this is just my opinion about my both types. Like I said early on Skyrim and Mass Effect are great games. The sentiment I was trying to express was that I am hoping that JRPGs will return to their glory days so we can have great games in both genres. I just feel like JRPGs have been slowly declining in general quality since FFX and I want it to change that's all.

Posted by LordXavierBritish

I think it's pretty stupid that most Japanese developers focus entirely on creating engaging turn-based battle systems similar to tabletop RPGs with linear stories and most Western developers focus on creating variable experiences like tabletop RPGs with action-oriented combat but only rarely does either side realize they are holding the piece the other one lacks.

That's my perspective on it anyway.

Posted by Commisar123

@Ross: Even looking at things like the Atlus games? Square has seemingly struggled to recapture the success of their earlier titles, but it seems like plenty of good JRPGs have been coming out, just not from the sources we in the west are used to.

Posted by mfpantst
@Commisar123: Until literally 2 weeks ago I would have told you you're an idiot.  i've been playing DQ VI on the DS for the past couple weeks (see my blog for a post about it) and all of the sudden I agree with you.
Posted by Commisar123

@mfpantst said:

@Commisar123: Until literally 2 weeks ago I would have told you you're an idiot. i've been playing DQ VI on the DS for the past couple weeks (see my blog for a post about it) and all of the sudden I agree with you.

Yeah, go back in time and ask me a year ago I would have told you that JRPGs were the deadest thing on the planet Earth, then I actually started playing them and I've changed my tune pretty significantly.

Posted by Veektarius

@Commisar123: They are compared because many of the people who were into JRPGs as kids are now playing WRPGs as adults and they look back on JRPGs and don't enjoy them and wish they did. I don't think there's anything wrong with that.

I think that 90% of the problem with Japanese RPGs is what said - the improvement of graphics and addition of voice has made it so that the anime sensibilities that have always been present in the art style and the writing style of these games has been pronounced. This a Western audience that is more interested in playing as adults than as teenagers, and is more interested in gritty moral dilemmas than in relationship melodrama. I do not own a Wii so I cannot remark on the quality of entries on that system. I do think that one place that WRPGs can be improved is through improving intraparty interactions. The best example of an attempt to do this so far are the conversations your party members had in DA2 - and DA2's greatest strength was its character development, in my opinion.

Edited by believer258

@LordXavierBritish said:

I think it's pretty stupid that most Japanese developers focus entirely on creating engaging turn-based battle systems similar to tabletop RPGs with linear stories and most Western developers focus on creating variable experiences like tabletop RPGs with action-oriented combat but only rarely does either side realize they are holding the piece the other one lacks.

That's my perspective on it anyway.

I can't put the difference down any better than this.

EDIT: Fucking GIF isn't working. Ah, I'm not finding another one.

Online
Posted by Berserker976

@Ross said:

Traditionally JRPGs incorporate turn-based combat with each character waiting to perform the action that was input by the player until it is their turn. I’ve heard many gamers complain that this is a boring and tedious style. Well yes it is a boring and tedious style to the stereotypical preteen boy who yells profanities and racial slurs while shooting people in the face every few seconds in Call of Duty. It’s true, in order to play a JRPG one must have an attention span.

Here's where you sort of lost me. Not only is a comment like that not conducive to creating a productive discussion, it writes off a legitimate issue that is worth exploring.

Liking or not liking turn-based combat isn't necessarily about attention span. I'd argue it's a conceit game makers made a long time ago due to the limits of what they could accomplish, and evolved from that into a legitimate gameplay style that, as games progress, is getting harder and harder to justify. As the worlds and characters improve, and the immersion increases, it becomes harder to reconcile it all with a battle system that logically doesn't make any sense.

I'm not saying all games should strive for realism, just that turn based combat breaks the illusion more than is now necessary in most cases.

Take Valkyria Chronicles as an example of how a traditionally turn based system can be improved. In that game you still had "turns" but they also mixed in real time elements to keep things engaging. Moving was done in real time, and aiming required manual input. It created a system that kept the strategy and thoughtfulness of a turn-based game and added enough real time elements to make you feel like you were still part of the action.

Posted by CaptainCody

@LordXavierBritish said:

I think it's pretty stupid that most Japanese developers focus entirely on creating engaging turn-based battle systems similar to tabletop RPGs with linear stories and most Western developers focus on creating variable experiences like tabletop RPGs with action-oriented combat but only rarely does either side realize they are holding the piece the other one lacks.

That's my perspective on it anyway.

So we make Star Ocean style gameplay? Cause I'm pretty okay with that.

Posted by Ross
@Berserker976 I apologize if I offended you, man. I just feel like the general gaming populace has changed in terms of the lengths of attention spans which is why the CODs and Battlefields are the top selling games today. I obviously did not find a great way to relay that message.
Posted by Sparky_Buzzsaw

@LordXavierBritish said:

I think it's pretty stupid that most Japanese developers focus entirely on creating engaging turn-based battle systems similar to tabletop RPGs with linear stories and most Western developers focus on creating variable experiences like tabletop RPGs with action-oriented combat but only rarely does either side realize they are holding the piece the other one lacks.

That's my perspective on it anyway.

That is fantastically well put and I agree 100%. Both have strengths and weaknesses, and although there are games in both subgenres that I love, they've yet to really hit a sweet spot between the two.

Moderator
Posted by SoldierG654342

It's cultural. Now that WRPGs are viable on consoles rather than just PC, Western gamers are naturally going to gravitate towards those games that are most aligned with their cultural sensibilities.

JPRGs were only so popular because they had no real competition on consoles.

Posted by Guided_By_Tigers

@believer258:

Use HTML to post gifs

Posted by upwarDBound

This is my take on the situation.

I'm a fan of games from both sides. Both have something unique to offer. There are broad generalizations you can apply to both subgenres and there are numerous outliers that don't conform to these loose rules. I've played numerous JRPGs that hardly have a story to speak of, and multiple WRPGs with a strong narrative for example. Some games are highly innovative while others just play it by the book. I've really only been playing RPGs for the last fifteen years or so but in that time I've played I've played many great games from both sensibilities and have formed an opinion on why I like them.

I like JRPGs for a number of reasons. I like them for the fanciful worlds that they create. The creators of these games are more likely to step outside the bounds of reality when it comes to designing scenarios. As an example one of my favorite JRPG series is the Atelier games by Gust. The worlds in these games are bright and vibrant and fun to explore. The stories are mostly cheesy and this is a series that egregiously relies on anime tropes but I like them all the same. I don't get the same feeling when playing a WRPG as I do in a game like that.

I also like JRPGs for the ability to acquire powerful new skills as the game progresses. Often times these attacks are downright silly in their execution, but they can be awesome to use. The music is also a positive. The Japanese tend to place more of an emphasis on game soundtracks and that is something I can appreciate. Enemy design can also be really top notch in some of these games. Some JRPG bosses are downright bizarre looking.

I mainly like WRPGs for their customizability and often times well realized worlds. I feel that some WRPGs are infinitely replayable due to all the different ways you can build your characters. Even in Diablo you can play one class multiple different ways. I probably started a half dozen or so characters in Morrowind just to see what different character builds would look and play like. I played through Diablo multiple times. And when you factor in games like Dragon Age: Origins, things get really interesting.

Probably an equal draw for me is the depth of world design. I can lose myself in many WRPGs just talking to everybody or reading all the lore scattered around the world. Changing weather in some games also adds to this sense of immersion. You get a feeling that the world seems actually lived in. It seems like a place that could really exist in spite of the existence of magic and mythical beings. It's entirely on the opposite side of the coin from why I like JRPGs but there you go.

In response to the original post's conclusion, I guess I'm not as sad that JRPG development has allegedly fallen off a cliff as some people though. I can adapt to changes and there is an incredible wealth of older games to satisfy any nostalgic itches. I also really don't think JRPGs will ever "rule the roost" again as the OP desires. Those games really only entice certain folks. They are not really mainstream now and to be honest never really have been. Final Fantasy was the genre's poster child, and now that it has declined the genre as a whole is seen in less esteem. Actiony WRPGs may have most of the attention now, but JRPGs are still coming out in one way or another for the fans who crave them.

Posted by Tim_the_Corsair

You talk about Western RPGs and two of the three examples you use are Mass Effect and freaking Fable? Mass Effect is a hybrid action game, while Fable is as much an RPG as Zelda is. This is like me turning around and saying 'you know, JRPGS like Final Fantasy, Dark Souls, and Devil May Cry'

Many of the points you raise as being benefits of JRPGs are present in many WRPGs like Dragon Age, The Witcher, and several classic luminaries of the genre like Baldur's Gate, etc.

I'm not saying I take issue with your opinion, but it does come across as though you are pushing an agenda when you tilt what is otherwise a good analysis in this manner.

Posted by Beluga

I haven’t played a JRPG in a while, but I appreciate the way they seem to have strongly defined player characters, and don’t pretend to offer you choices at the expense of a tight narrative.

I loved the Mass Effect games, but it bugged me that Shephard is such a hollow character, presumably to keep up the pretense of him being whoever you wanted him to be. In reality, he’s pretty much either a slightly preachy good guy, a total dick, or suffering from a serious case of dissociative identity disorder; and the way you play him doesn’t substantially affect how the story plays out. If they had given that up, and fleshed out his character more, it may have been a better game for it. This is one example, but I think it’s part of a larger trend in western games.

I’m also a bit sick of the serious moral dilemma(!) fad in western games — fed by a press that praises the games in ways that make me think they like the idea more than the execution (I’m looking at you, BioShock).

Posted by biospank

So to make this clear the reason why we don't see as much jrpgs on current consolls is becasue of the psp and ds, and another reason is because not all of them gets launched here in the west.  
But with ff13-2 I would not have huge expectations about it. You should rather hype up ni nu kuni because it is really good, this is actually what I would want from a ff game in the modern age the combat is simple and fast but not real time, and it is open to some extent.

Posted by Zelyre

Not going to get dragged into this discussion, but FF7 is highly regarded as the best RPG ever because well, the same reason Halo/CoD is regarded as the best FPS ever; it was people's first. It's not that they're not good games, but there are other games in the same genre that do things better. Find me someone who's played RPG's before FF7, either on the PC or on the consoles and they'll name a different game.

The reason why Western RPGs have boomed this generation? The hardware supports that type of gameplay. A game like Baldur's Gate would not have worked well on the PSX/PS2 as a lack of storage and the low resolution would have been prohibitive. Jade Empire? Kotor? Morrowind? With this generation of consoles coming standard with a hard drive, it opened up a new genre to a new fanbase.

Sure, you have memorable JRPG characters. But blank slate WRPG characters? The Nameless One is still, to this day, one of my favorite RPG characters of all time; in fact, he's such an interesting character that you have an entire game based on the character's past, present, and future. Planescape Torment.

Posted by Hailinel

@Zelyre said:

Not going to get dragged into this discussion, but FF7 is highly regarded as the best RPG ever because well, the same reason Halo/CoD is regarded as the best FPS ever; it was people's first. It's not that they're not good games, but there are other games in the same genre that do things better. Find me someone who's played RPG's before FF7, either on the PC or on the consoles and they'll name a different game.

The reason why Western RPGs have boomed this generation? The hardware supports that type of gameplay. A game like Baldur's Gate would not have worked well on the PSX/PS2 as a lack of storage and the low resolution would have been prohibitive. Jade Empire? Kotor? Morrowind? With this generation of consoles coming standard with a hard drive, it opened up a new genre to a new fanbase.

Sure, you have memorable JRPG characters. But blank slate WRPG characters? The Nameless One is still, to this day, one of my favorite RPG characters of all time; in fact, he's such an interesting character that you have an entire game based on the character's past, present, and future. Planescape Torment.

Planescape: Torment is also arguably the most JRPG-like of the Infinity Engine RPGs. Outside of The Nameless One, how many other protagonists from western RPGs can you name that are truly memorable characters in their own right?

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Edited by spartanlolz92

im worry but you lost me at yes you have companions in mass effect but it doesnt feel like they bond together.

i have to disagreee there is plenty of emotion and bonding between characters

and sure shepard is a blank slate but thats so you can create your epic story through out the gamehe is definitely iconic

Posted by upwarDBound

@Hailinel said:

Planescape: Torment is also arguably the most JRPG-like of the Infinity Engine RPGs. Outside of The Nameless One, how many other protagonists from western RPGs can you name that are truly memorable characters in their own right?

Geralt of Rivia from the Witcher is just as interesting as any JRPG character.

Posted by Hailinel

@upwarDBound said:

@Hailinel said:

Planescape: Torment is also arguably the most JRPG-like of the Infinity Engine RPGs. Outside of The Nameless One, how many other protagonists from western RPGs can you name that are truly memorable characters in their own right?

Geralt of Rivia from the Witcher is just as interesting as any JRPG character.

The Witcher games are based on a literary source in which Geralt is an established character.

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Posted by spartanlolz92

@SoldierG654342 said:

It's cultural. Now that WRPGs are viable on consoles rather than just PC, Western gamers are naturally going to gravitate towards those games that are most aligned with their cultural sensibilities.

JPRGs were only so popular because they had no real competition on consoles.

not true i would pay 60$ right now to get kingdom hearts 3 in my hand

im sure alot of people who take a chance to try the series would to that ip is ridicously fun

Posted by Jay444111

@Hailinel: Nier from... Nier was a great protaganist.

Kazuma from Yakuza is also a great character you play as. (only played the first game... so far.)

Hawke from dragon age 2. (FLAMESHEILD!!!!)

Tidus also had some really good character to him. (let us not get onto the laughing scene thing. I am willing to rant about this and I am willing to take the internet down with me and this debate... if I have to.)

There are plenty more. Just those are at the top of my head currently.

Posted by upwarDBound

@Hailinel:

I don't see why that matters. There are JRPGs that are derived from anime and books. Also in WRPGs the supporting cast can contain the most interesting characters. It doesn't always have to be the protagonist.

Posted by spazmaster666

@Ross said:

Western RPGs are the answer. This console generation has seen the dramatic rise of Western RPG development, something that might not necessarily have been expected. This was only compounded by the weak offerings that were available for the current generation of systems early in their life cycle. Examples like Blue Dragon, Enchanted Arms, and Infinite Undiscovery jump to my mind and, the even more confusing part is how they turned out how they did with who their developers are. Infinite Undiscovery was developed by tri-Ace Inc. who is responsible for the Star Ocean and Valkyrie Profile franchises. Enchanted Arms was developed by From Software who developed Chromehounds and the critically acclaimed Souls series (Demon Souls and Dark Souls). Lastly is Blue Dragon who was developed by Mistwalker Corporation who was founded by the creator of the Final Fantasy series! What is going on?

I haven't played Blue Dragon so I can't comment on it but I disagree about Enchanted Arms or Infinite Undiscovery being "weak" offerings. Enchanted Arms may not be super impressive, but it was a fun JRPG with a pretty good story and a nice take on the turn-based combat. Infinite Undiscovery also had a pretty good story and some great real-time combat (something you don't see often in JRPGs). There have also been many great JRPGs pretty early on in this generation as well including Lost Odyssey, The Last Remnant (PC version at least), Eternal Sonata, Tales of Vesperia (all of which were released in 2008 or earlier.)

Posted by Hailinel

@upwarDBound said:

@Hailinel:

I don't see why that matters. There are JRPGs that are derived from anime and books. Also in WRPGs the supporting cast can contain the most interesting characters. It doesn't always have to be the protagonist.

I was referring specifically to blank-slate characters in western RPGs like the Elder Scrolls series, not characters with histories and personalities that are clearly established by the game's narrative.

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Posted by Zelyre

@Hailinel said:

@Zelyre said:

Not going to get dragged into this discussion, but FF7 is highly regarded as the best RPG ever because well, the same reason Halo/CoD is regarded as the best FPS ever; it was people's first. It's not that they're not good games, but there are other games in the same genre that do things better. Find me someone who's played RPG's before FF7, either on the PC or on the consoles and they'll name a different game.

The reason why Western RPGs have boomed this generation? The hardware supports that type of gameplay. A game like Baldur's Gate would not have worked well on the PSX/PS2 as a lack of storage and the low resolution would have been prohibitive. Jade Empire? Kotor? Morrowind? With this generation of consoles coming standard with a hard drive, it opened up a new genre to a new fanbase.

Sure, you have memorable JRPG characters. But blank slate WRPG characters? The Nameless One is still, to this day, one of my favorite RPG characters of all time; in fact, he's such an interesting character that you have an entire game based on the character's past, present, and future. Planescape Torment.

Planescape: Torment is also arguably the most JRPG-like of the Infinity Engine RPGs. Outside of The Nameless One, how many other protagonists from western RPGs can you name that are truly memorable characters in their own right?

The thing about WRPG's is that the main character is supposed to be "your" character. They're placed in situations, and the game is about how "your" character deals with them. Even The Nameless One is "your" character, you're just dealing with situations you've gotten yourself into, you just don't remember getting yourself into them. For the past however many years. It was an interesting take on the idea of a blank slate character.

The western RPG seems to attempt to emulate a table top session of role playing. Some people will role play their characters if given the choice, others will simply do what they can to "win". Even if your DM has pre-determined outcomes, a good one will give you the illusion of choice.

The Jrpg always seemed like it was attempting to emulate an anime. You're not playing an active role in the story, you're watching one unfold. Even as a 14 year old playing JRPGs on my NES/SNES, I would find myself pissed that a JRPG would give you an option and then... ignore one of the choices.

"Kill the main villain? Yes? No?"

"Yes"

Main love interest, "No! We can't kill him!"

Silent Protagonist, "...."

"Kill the main villain?"

"Yes"

Main love interest, "No! We can't kill him!"

Silent Protagonist, "...."

"Kill the main villain?"

"No."

Main Villain, "MWA HAHA NOW I UNLEASH MY POWER AND WIPE OUT THE WORLD!"

Why even give me the option, then?

Posted by upwarDBound

@Hailinel said:

@upwarDBound said:

@Hailinel:

I don't see why that matters. There are JRPGs that are derived from anime and books. Also in WRPGs the supporting cast can contain the most interesting characters. It doesn't always have to be the protagonist.

I was referring specifically to blank-slate characters in western RPGs like the Elder Scrolls series, not characters with histories and personalities that are clearly established by the game's narrative.

If that's the case then I thoroughly disagree with you. You playing and shaping the character, basically living his life, makes him memorable. I don't see why they have to have a predefined history to make them memorable. I still remember characters I played from more than a decade ago. Are they interesting or memorable to other people? Likely not, but they are to me and that's worth something.

Edited by Seppli

@Sparky_Buzzsaw said:

@LordXavierBritish said:

I think it's pretty stupid that most Japanese developers focus entirely on creating engaging turn-based battle systems similar to tabletop RPGs with linear stories and most Western developers focus on creating variable experiences like tabletop RPGs with action-oriented combat but only rarely does either side realize they are holding the piece the other one lacks.

That's my perspective on it anyway.

That is fantastically well put and I agree 100%. Both have strengths and weaknesses, and although there are games in both subgenres that I love, they've yet to really hit a sweet spot between the two.

If Bioware ever successfully attempted to bring their strengths to an open world game, their knack for memorable companions and stories combined with freedom of exploration and the fascination of interacting with a world simulation would pretty much be just that.

That said, if you'd classify Rockstar's open world games as RPGs, it has already happend plenty of times successfully.

Posted by benspyda

I think the worst and best thing about a JRPG is its characters and narrative. This is unlike WRPGs where the narrative can be bad but because of the great combat and character development it can still be fun. No matter how good the gameplay is in a JRPG I feel because there is such a focus on characters and story, that if its bad then the game can be painful. I don't like whiny kids in my games and for some reason most JRPGs seem to have them.

I feel if you can't watch anime you'll have trouble with modern JRPGs. I don't mind some anime and so I don't mind some JRPGs. But my preference is generally always towards WRPGs these days.

Posted by Hailinel

@Zelyre: The problem with your argument is that you're expounding on the qualities of one side and denigrating the other through the use of stereotypes.

In the average western RPG of the Elder Scrolls/Infinity Engine variety, your character is meant to be you, yes. But there are inherent flaws in defining your character as though he or she is a character in a tabletop game. In pen & paper D&D, the players have complete and total freedom to do what they want, so long as the DM is willing to go along with it. In a well-run game, the world will progress naturally based on the actions of the players. But in a game like Skyrim, for example, you can go traipsing about the countryside chasing butterflies and picking fights with townsfolk for a hundred hours before embarking on the main quest line. Any time that you aren't engaged in the main quest, the primary concern of the day (dragons have come back) sits and waits while you're joining the thieve's guild, helping the Companions or just getting in bar fights.

In a D&D campaign like the one I've been in for about eight years running now, time is constantly flowing for all events. We're actually nearing the end of the campaign at this point and the DM has stated that we have a few days in-game to get our shit together before the ancient evil overruns the continent. We're in the middle of a dungeon where, if we can complete our objectives within, it will at least make the final confrontation with the Big Bad somewhat easier. We only have the final chamber to go, but our party is in a right fucked state at the moment; the spellcasters and healer are all running low on spells, and the sorcerer and wizard are both suffering from Constitution drain. Assuming we can teleport out of the dungeon, we can in theory take eight hours to rest, get restored, and heal up before going back in. But then we have to worry about going back in (the guards are going to be even more vigilant at that point), and if we can't teleport our way back to where we were (unlikely), we'll have to go through the caves again (most likely).

And this is assuming that the undead army in those caves doesn't start pouring out early while we're resting up. Alternatively, we could enter the next room, attempt to face what's within (we have a pretty good idea of what's inside, but aren't certain), and if we have the chance, activate a self-destruct mechanism to take down the fortress that we were informed about. That is, assuming that we don't all die horribly within three turns of setting foot inside the room.

I have never seen a western RPG cover choices this complex. At heart, they are rote and simplistic. The actual consequences of any action you take are binary. Yes, they are based on concepts found in pen and paper games, but so are concepts found in Japanese RPGs. Most games produced in Japan just borrow different concepts; ones that don't expose the flaws found in the western RPG idea of choice. Also, to respond directly to your example, JRPGs that use the trope of the forced Yes/No answer have become far fewer and less frequent in this era, so you can't cling to that stereotype and use it as fact against the modern era as a whole.

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Posted by Hailinel

@upwarDBound said:

@Hailinel said:

@upwarDBound said:

@Hailinel:

I don't see why that matters. There are JRPGs that are derived from anime and books. Also in WRPGs the supporting cast can contain the most interesting characters. It doesn't always have to be the protagonist.

I was referring specifically to blank-slate characters in western RPGs like the Elder Scrolls series, not characters with histories and personalities that are clearly established by the game's narrative.

If that's the case then I thoroughly disagree with you. You playing and shaping the character, basically living his life, makes him memorable. I don't see why they have to have a predefined history to make them memorable. I still remember characters I played from more than a decade ago. Are they interesting or memorable to other people? Likely not, but they are to me and that's worth something.

That's fine and dandy, but I couldn't give two shits about my Oblivion character, and my party in Icewind Dale was little more than a band of standard-issue tabletop characters.

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Posted by Ubersmake

I'd love to see a massive family tree of RPGs, because for me, the difference between these two types of RPGs is largely historical. This is just a theory, but I'd love to have the time to actually research this stuff and present it somewhere, or prove the following wrong altogether.

Let's start with tabletop wargames. Dice rolls. Stats. Hexes. From there, it's not a large jump to tabletop RPGs, like Dungeons and Dragons. These made their way to the PC, and then there came along a series called Wizardry. For whatever reason, Wizardry became popular in Japan, and then there was a split in what parts of that RPG should be emphasized in future games.

In Dragon Quest, character archetypes became the important thing. You had your fighter, your mage, your healer, and around these archetypes, you could tell stories.

In the west, RPGs continued to use the D&D license, and largely continued to explore character skill growth. And because narratives are more difficult to tell when a central character is very amorphous, the stories told were more about the character interacting with the world, rather than the world shaping the character.

These are, of course, very rough generalizations. But as a generalization, it's very easy for me to see the Wizardry-split and see one extreme with character archetypes and the other extreme with character skill growth.

Posted by tourgen

you should maybe check out Drakensang: The River of Time as an example of a non-JRPG that does turn-based party combat the right way. It came out early last year and went fairly unnoticed. Also maybe you've heard of The Witcher 2. It does story very well with a strong protagonist while still allowing some room for significant player choices and consequences.

you like ME1 better than ME2 (as far as the RPGing goes) so you're alright by me. I miss a lot of what got trashcanned when they went from ME1 to ME2.