JRPG vs WRPG - The same but different?
JRPG vs WRPG has been an ongoing battle for centuries. In the early Playstation era of Final Fantasy, JRPGs were more popular than their Western counterparts; however, as the consoles progressed, JRPGs fell away into a niche background. Western RPGs such as Fallout and Mass Effect supplanted them in popularity on later consoles.
Before these two genres can battle it out in a JRPG vs WRPG battle royale. Let’s look at what makes an RPG; Japanese or Western. There a many differences between the two not limited to:
- Graphics and Aesthetic.
1) Graphics and AestheticS
Firstly, The above is not specific to the JRPG vs WRPG; however, many JRPG’s present this aesthetic. As a result, it was impossible not to incorporate some of Satchely’s work. Support it here!
As you can see from the style above, Japanese culture appreciates Kawaii greatly from implemented art into its’ games. Sometimes this can put gamers off with the copious amounts of questionable fan service. I am not here to judge as I believe the majority of these art styles are harmless, and there are far more significant real problems in the world.
Western RPGs often follow a more realistic trope. The environments less colourful and cute, more grimy and dripping in shades of brown such as Witcher and Fallout. I prefer the former if given the choice however, I do believe it would be nice to see more games mix it up.
Graphically Japanese RPGs flirt with a hentai style (Japanese for “pervert”). The focus being aesthetic of characters exclusively. Conversely Western RPGs put the world and the environment are the forefront whereas characters settle more into the background. Neither are right, or wrong for that matter. It is simply a difference of style.
One criticism of JRPGs vs WRPGs is Japanese games tend to have similar stories. The stories, despite being brighter and stronger, often have trouble bringing anything new to the genre. They are, however, epic in nature and tend to follow a more linear approach. Japanese RPGs have more in common with a good book than their Western namesakes. The sense of scale is clear to the player and does very much follow the stereotypical “save the world” trope.
Western RPG games still have epic stories; however, the main story carries less weight. Often side quests have equally high stakes. More developed side content is excellent, allowing you to have a variety of experiences; however, it can result in the dilution of the main plot.
Often Western RPGs’ are criticised as their stories are weaker. Usually, this is a symptom of much more focus on the side quest stories, and very few games balance the two successfully. The Witcher 3, for instance, has an enormous, comprehensive main story but also great side quests that often feel as important as the main story itself. Fallout 4 and Skyrim, on the other hand, have vast worlds teeming with side content, but the main story is a little flat to be polite.
To summarise, overall Western RPGs offer more in terms of sides stories and content, often much more developed than its’ Japanese counterpart. Japanese RPG centre around the main story with usually less developed side quests serving as light-hearted distractions.
Character development is paramount in JRPG compared to WRPGs. By the end of the journey, you really feel like you know your characters. Sometimes they may be tired tropes of standard stereotypical characters however often there is a lot of depth as exploration as to the characters’ motivations. For instance, Final Fantasy 7 is appreciated amongst the greatest RPGs of all time as a result of the amazing development of the main protagonist Cloud.
In opposition to this, Western RPG character development tends to take a backseat to exploration and player freedom. A benefit of this is the resulting lack of stereotypical characterisation; on the other hand, this means the character is given little or no development throughout the story.
As a result of this, Western games can implement blank canvas’ the player can customise or in the words of the bible, “make in their image”. Immersion is improved, but storytelling suffers as character motivation is not enforced throughout the story. For more information about customisation in video games, check out this article on character creation.
There is no better way of comparing JRPG vs WRPG gameplay than actually seeing some. Below are two examples of fantastic games. The Witcher 3 is possibly the best western RPG of the last generation, and Persona 5 is probably the best Japanese RPG of the past ten years.
As you can see, both games have their charm, and both do what they do very well.
The future of both genres is looking likely to be an amalgamation of the two. Massive IPs such as Kingdom Hearts and Final Fantasy are taking more elements of Western RPGs to infiltrate the Western market. Not always successfully either, Final Fantasy 15 and Kingdom Hearts 3 were massive disappointments. The confusion of trying to make themselves more appealing to the Western market resulted in them missing the mark somewhat in the areas that make the franchises so successful in the first instance.
For more about underrated RPGs check out this article.