Eastern vs. Western RPGs:
Cultural Differences that Shape Games
Traveling the vast land with a sword in hand, the warrior walks with a purpose in their soul. The task handed to them is truly one of great importance, and the challenge they face is likely to be a test of their brains, brawn, and battle skills.
Sounds familiar? It should be as it is the core idea of any roleplaying game (RPG for short). These games ask the player to take on the role of an exploring character and grow them into a person capable of accomplishing the mission that is set out before them.
While some RPGs dare to push into new territory, a typical one tends to borrow themes from its ancestor table-top RPGs, a top contender being Dungeons & Dragons, making a character’s ability be defined by numbers and items that will improve over the course of their adventures.
RPGs have gained popularity in both Eastern and Western cultures due to their incredible stories and immersive experiences. They make the player feel like their character is developing in a world that they are able to make a difference in. However, both Eastern and Western RPGs have different ways of approaching them.
My Personal Experience with RPGs
First of all, let me explain my exposure to the RPGs of the East. My very first RPG was a Nintendo franchise everyone’s heard of; The Pokemon series, specifically Pokemon Red. To this day, I still enjoy Pokemon which is why I bought Pokemon Sun and Moon.
I’ve also burned through most of the Final Fantasy series, Persona games by Atlus (as well as the Shin Megami Tensei JRPGs), The Tales of Symphonia/Vesperia series, Dragon Quest, and many other niche-specific titles from the “land of the rising sun”.
Even my relationship with my girlfriend was founded upon JRPGs as she was the one who showed me videos of Persona 3 and 4 (even going as far as
almost spoiling who the killer in P4 was). Meh, I said they share the same voice actor. You could say that Japanese RPGs or JRPGs are a huge part of my gaming hobby.
I’m not as familiar with Western (American) RPGs, but I am no doubt just as if not more enthusiastic about it. I didn’t play those for an extensive amount of time until I attended a new high school and found that my new gamer friends preferred them over JRPGs.
I began with The Elder Scrolls 4: Oblivion, the game that preceded my former review article on Skyrim.
After finding them, I continued to play more Western RPGs, becoming very familiar with mainstream RPGs from both Bioware and Bethesda such as Fallout, Elder Scrolls, Mass Effect, Dragon Age, and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. That being said, I try out other western-style RPGs as well.
Back then, I only played video games, but once I went to College and grew interested in table-top RPGs, it was like understanding the code of the games which skyrocketed my appreciation for Western RPGs!
Eastern RPGs-Made in Japan
JRPGs typically will have a style that makes them noticeably different from the western ones. The anime/manga style is more prominent, with brighter colors on average. The lore and stories behind many JRPGs are derived from “Oriental” spiritual legends which are rather understandable given the country of origin.
Style aside, it is also visible to people who’ve played both styles a lot, recognizing that JRPGs are more likely to have a separate set of gameplay mechanics. While many RPGs will center the story on the main character, JRPGs instead, tend to depend on using characters other than the protagonist.
Not only will JRPGs be centric to a team of people or friends, but some of them also tend to be games of the monster collecting variety. For example, Disgaea on PC is a game with a cast of many quirky characters which pits them against tons of enemies and monsters in combat.
While it is true that not all JRPGs share these basic mechanics, the vast majority of the ones synonymous with the RPG genre are known to have them, aside from the monotonous grind that is. Oh, and the characters are of high school age.
Western RPGs are thematically opposite from JRPGs. While many JRPGS are colorful and cartoonish, Western RPGs strive for realism, even extending into the bounds of downright grittiness. Many of legends of Western RPGs are inspired by European folk tales or Tolkien style fantasy realms.
The system of a Western RPG exhibits great contrast from that of a JRPG. While the monster hunting and group-based adventures are typical of JRPGs, Western RPGs take a much larger focus on the singular character that the player controls.
With that in mind, it is fairly common for these RPGs to encourage character customization that is far more intricate than those of a JRPG since the one character in it is far more important to the game. You could change nearly all traits of the playable character!
On the contrary, a fair enough number of Western RPGs still do have groups that collaborate, but the player doesn’t really control the other members as much. It is rather limiting to treat the other characters as NPCs you have no say on.
Meanwhile, JRPGs such as the Final Fantasy series will still make the side characters have in-depth backgrounds and/or higher levels of accessibility in assigning their combat roles.
The Western RPG Devs prefer to have their audience play on the basis of the player being the exo-facto “Chosen One” who will bring salvation to crush the world’s evils, or at least be the crucial cog in the grand machine, driving the majority of the events in the game.
My Final Words on the Matter
Both Western RPGs and JRPGs are two of my all-time favorite genre of games, even if their length and repetitive battles can wear me down. The chance to go in and immerse inside the world where I invested in the characters I control, is truly worth my salt.
I’m in the same boat as other people, since many of the modernized RPGs have been mixing in newer elements to appeal to a younger generation of RPG players. More thought-provoking stories and mechanics are constantly being implemented to stimulate RPG-players who have shrinking attention spans.
The idea of taking something small and making it accomplish extraordinary things is indeed appealing to most people. And as long as that is true, RPGs will remain a fantastic genre for story lovers.