Although the terms are not officially recognized, all gamers agree that Japanese RPGs and Western RPGs are very distinct genres of their own. We enjoy both types of RPGs equally, and we’ve decided to do a little comparison between JRPGs and WRPGs to show some of their main differences.
For a period in history (c. 1990-2000s), Japanese RPGs experienced a renaissance. The JRPGs of this time captivated the hearts of gamers by introducing concepts and gameplay that no one has ever seen before – and the quality that stood out the most was the epic storytelling that Japanese games had that was hardly ever seen in Western games. JRPGs were characterized by deep character development and plotlines that were often convoluted and mythical. However, the downside to this focus on storytelling is that it produced games that were extremely linear.
As the technological capabilities of consoles increased, linear games slowly began to feel very restrictive. This is when WRPGs really began to stand out. Since the beginning of time, WRPGs had relatively bland storytelling and usually left the outcome of the story in the hands of the player. As for games that weren’t in a ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ style, WRPGs focused more on gameplay and barely made efforts on storytelling. But when the era of the seventh and eighth generation consoles ushered in, WRPGs surpassed JRPGs in popularity thanks to the impressive open worlds that players were allowed to explore as they please.
Although they weren’t the inventors of turn-based combat, JRPGs revolutionized this battle system and made it a defining characteristic of their games. Turn based JRPGs have produced classics such as Final Fantasy X, Chrono Cross, Pokémon and Persona. But yet again, turn based combat is slowly being perceived as ‘dated’ by gamers as they felt like it restricts the graphical capabilities of the latest console generations.
WRPGs utilized their vast open worlds through either hack-and-slash combat or first person shooters. WRPGs sometimes incorporate interactive combat that goes along with their interactive storytelling. These gameplay mechanics have risen in popularity as the technological capabilities of consoles increase.
JRPGs are also notorious for having almost-impossible-to-defeat bosses and tedious quests in exchange for highly valuable rewards. Meanwhile, WRPGs rely on fetch quests, which are smaller quests that are regularly done but reap smaller rewards than JRPG quests.
The worlds created in WRPGs have great uniformity and realism with the themes they choose for the setting. For example, games like Skyrim are strictly medieval (but with fictional dragons) and sci-fi games such as Mass Effect are purely science fiction; outer space and all.Not that uniformity is bad, but JRPGs aren’t afraid of experimentation. Hence, JRPGs often end up with very whimsical fantasy worlds. An example would be Final Fantasy IX, a game that is a hodge-podge of medieval, sci-fi, fantasy – and with such a dark story, the characters also look like little children! Fun, right? Unfortunately, some players find some JRPGs too different or ‘bizarre’ for their tastes, which is why JRPGs experience less commercial success as compared to WRPGs.
For a more in-depth look on the differences between JRPGs and WRPGs, the people behind Extra Credits have made a highly informative series of videos about the subject:
Some Japanese games nowadays possess WRPG qualities, and vice versa. Other games are a mix of both, with the example of Final Fantasy XV – a game made by one of the largest JRPG makers in the industry, Square Enix, was made with the goal to appeal to Western audiences and thus had some WRPG elements added to it. Times are changing and it’s only a matter of time until the distinction between the two completely dissolves.
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