This is a weirdly fierce debate between a lot of groups so I’m gonna drop this here to preface the content of this article: I don’t want this to be primarily focused on which genre of RPG is better because at the end of the day it is entirely subjective. What I’m writing about comes from my own experiences and this purely an opinion piece. I don’t expect everyone to completely agree with my views and with each of my points there is an expception. Not every game will fit into my points. Many people will not enjoy the Western or Eastern RPGs and that is perfectly understandable. My main goal here is to explicitly state the characteristics of each type of RPG in the best manner I can. At the end of the day, it’s still totally subjective and just what I’ve seen. Enjoy!
Now, I love RPGs in just about every facet. Before I became hooked on just about any cRPG or action RPG I could get my grubby little paws on, I was one of those kids sitting in their living room with their friends playing Dungeons & Dragons and other variants of it like the Marvel Super-hero roleplaying game (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marvel_Super_Heroes_(role-playing_game)) . This was my life as a kid; there was an inherent satisfaction in beating up no-gooders and evil-doers to earn experience points which in turn would allow you to level up your character and assign attributes and skills to your player. Having a very clear line of progression (earn XP -> Level Up) is a fun and easy to grasp concept.
There are two types of RPGs and multiple sub genres within said categories. It’s the ultimate regional war. Today I want to just focus on the two MacDaddy’s, JRPGs and WRPGs. Each has their own unique advantages and disadvantages and I’m going to try my best to spell them out, from my view, as clearly as possible.
Western RPGs are role-playing games which were developed in North America and Europe and which follow certain, very particular characteristics. That’s not to say that every game falls into these tropes (for lack of a better term) but that these are merely common.
- Character Customization
- Typically a WRPG allows you to create a character. This goes further than merely just a name change. Instead, WRPGs opt for customization of the Player Character. This can range from appearance to skills and points. This is mainly because the original cRPGs of the Golden Age (Baldurs Gate, Planescape: Torment, etc.) used modified versions of the Dungeons & Dragons rulebook. This allowed for sweeping character customization that allowed for a player to completely invest within the character that THEY created, allowing for completely dynamic play-throughs each time.
- Games like Mass Effect, The Elder Scrolls Series, Baldurs Gate, Planescape: Torment, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, and The Witcher Series. All of these games are focused on a central storyline as well as expansive side quests. This is to help further advance the main story and the state of the world. All of the games mentioned above are very much cemented in a time and place that is further fleshed out throughout the course of the games. The games are interested in creating a unique world that keeps you invested
- The combat in WRPGs are typically associated with two styles, both of which can be broken by time. The deliberate, turn based RPGs of the 90s are from a bygone era. While many still love and cherish this combat style (like me) and fall in love with games that attempt to capture that essence (Pillars of Eternity), it has noticeably dropped in popularity. Instead we have the combat of the 2000s and 2010s, fast-paced, real-time, action oriented combat. This style relies heavily on muscle memory rather than the planning stages of precious RPGs. Which is not to say that is a bad thing, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning has one of the most exciting combat systems I have ever played while Pillars of Eternity is far more methodic.
The way I feel about JRPGs and WRPGs is like how I feel about a plantain and a banana, they come from the same place, but they’re ultimately different. JRPGs take a more focused approach on the singular narrative while pushing the world towards the back burner. I’ve played many JRPGs and WRPGs and I’ve always felt that the greatest distinction between the two subgenres, from a narrative perspective is:
o Focused on the individual (or groups) story but not creating a richly detailed universe
o Focused on the individual (or groups) story as well as a richly detailed universe to set them in.
When I say that WRPGs are focused on the world and the story particular examples come to mind: Mass Effect, The Elder Scrolls, Diablo, even The Technomancer and Bound by Flame (notoriously bad games in my book) have a heavy focus on world building. There are a lot of examples of richly crafted worlds in JRPGs but I don’t feel that it’s a major focus. I think this goes to the West’s fascination with history (even if it’s all bullshit). Game of Thrones is one of the hottest series’ around right now and I feel that a large part of its success is due to how detailed its lore is; I think the same applies to Video Games. A game that isn’t an RPG but helps to prove the West’s fascination with lore is the Halo series. It’s richly detailed and intricately crafted to support a huge universe, which isn’t something that I see for a lot of JRPGs that aren’t Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest.
- Character Customization
- Typically a JRPG places you into the role of the main character. At times there may be some character customization but usually the focus on having you play a specific character (JRPG: Final Fantasy Series/WRPG: The Witcher Series). This doesn’t allow for fluidity between projectile or close-combat fights. WRPGs of the modern ilk usually allow the player to freely float between the different classes and subclasses. Allocation of skill points is also something that I’ve noticed is very different between WRPGs and JRPGs since many JRPGs don’t actually allow you to choose what to upgrade, the most you can do is upgrade your weapon. That’s purely a preference thing though, I know many people who like that style of progression and don’t really care for all of the complex, obscure shit that comes with skill trees (exception: Dark Souls. Those skills are incredibly complex.
- As I mentioned earlier, JRPGs are focused on the story of the individual or group while placing the world design and history on the back end. Complex lore doesn’t appeal to everyone since, as mentioned earlier; it’s a lot of crap that isn’t necessarily relevant to the main campaign.
- JRPGs seem to lean heavily towards turn based combat while WRPGs are focused on real time action. Each has their advantages and disadvantages but at the end of the day it’s really up to player choice. I love action rpgs but I won’t deny that I’ll play and enjoy a turn based rpg from time to time.
Overall, the choice is up to you. No one subgenre is better than the other. This is just the differences that I’ve seen from my perspective. If you have any questions or comments please send me an email, hunt me down on twitter, or shoot me a question down in the comments.
Which do you prefer WRPGs or JRPGs? Which is your favorite game in the subgenre? Drop a comment down below and let us know!