Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Are JRPGs “True” RPGs?

Posted by Rampant Coyote on August 25, 2010

Kombo.com makes the assertion, “An RPG is not an RPG when it’s a JRPG.”

I wanted to get all up in their grill with that and whip out Persona as the counterpoint, but they already made that exception themselves.  D’oh. So instead, as a fan of (some) jRPGs, I still feel a desire to defend them against this accusation – particularly with all the RPGs I have of that style that I promote on the Rampant Games website.

But I gotta admit that they do have a point.

Not that I agree wholeheartedly with the point, or that I’m about to replace Final Fantasy VI with Elite on my personal list of RPGs. There are folks who claim that no computer RPG is a “true” RPG who also have a point.

I have a somewhat broad definition of RPGs, so I do take a bit of an issue with something that excludes around half the games in the market (more, if in terms of sales) but ensures Mass Effect 2 is on the accepted list. That sounds a little arbitrary to me.

Open-ended, sandbox-y worlds with lots of player freedom is certainly a preference of mine. It’s how I roll.  But it’s not a completely exclusionary principle for me, especially with so many shades of that freedom available in both western and eastern RPG design styles. I mean, when the Final Fantasy games open up character development and finally give you an airship or equivalent to allow you to travel just about anywhere in the world (although most of it has already been visited), is that really that far from something like Knights of the Old Republic, with it’s pre-generated party members (your own character had somewhat fixed development path and, it turns out, an established pre-game history as well).

Or was KotOR not a ‘true’ RPG either?

I won’t call the argument a straw man, but it does seem to place the extremes of the jRPG design approach as a more typical or generic case. And as I really haven’t played THAT many “true” jRPGs (meaning console RPGs coming out of Japan) – so many don’t even make it officially to the U.S. shores  –  I can’t really claim with any authority that they aren’t a typical case. But based on my experience, I just don’t feel I can draw a clear line along such a wide, fuzzy border.

I have a tough enough time explaining why I don’t feel X-Com was an RPG. If you were to place it side-by-side with Mass Effect, Titan Quest, and Fable II, and ask, “Which one isn’t a REAL RPG, and why?”, it might not be the one I pick.

So sure – you can probably point at some extreme cases in the jRPG genre and make a case for rejecting them as “true” RPGs. The RPG genre has been one of the most borrowed-from, mashed, and played with that there are lots out outliers which are really arguable. That’s cool.  Those are fun, if sometimes heated, debates.

But rejecting the entire design style outright (even with exceptions) as members of a genre seems more a case of defending a style preference than adding clarity to the discussion.

Hat tip to GameBanshee for the link!

Filed Under: Design - Comments: 7 Comments to Read

  • Calibrator said,

    How to increase page hits, sell more ads and drive fast cars.
    Lesson 1 – Troll your readership into a pointless discussion.

  • Tolmar said,

    I can’t find a source to back this up, but I’ve heard that in Japan, what we would consider “railroading” is actually the normal for tabletop RPGs: sometimes going so far as to have the GM give the players a script.

    This is pretty foreign, but consider that a tabletop RPG as we know it is one part board game, one part improv theater. If you replace the improv theater with regular theater, are you any less playing a role? I think we can accept that, weird as this is, these are still RPGs.

    What’s the distance from a western RPG to a cross between improv theater and a board game? Probably more than the difference between a JRPG and a cross between scripted theater and a board game. I don’t think we can disqualify JRPGs as RPGs without disqualifying all computer RPGs.

  • McTeddy said,

    I agree.

    He admitted in his argument that he doesn’t like JRPG’s. He then decides that it cannot be an RPG because it is not the style that he enjoys.

    RPG has been an accepted term for this style of game. Most gamers of today know what Final Fantasy is, but far fewer actually know what Dungeons and Dragons is. Sadly, Role Playing Game’s in today’s society have become accepted as combat simulations with leveling.

    JRPG’s are a genre of their own. JRPG’s involve long deep involving stories using premade heroes. JRPG’s have earned their place as much as Mass Effect.

  • Aelfric said,

    This is easy. If it doesn’t say “Wizardry,” “Might and Magic,” “Ultima,” or “TSR” on the box, then it’s not an RPG.

    Bard’s Tale? FPS.
    Mass Effect 2? Platformer.
    KOTOR? Typing tutorial.

  • Kelly said,

    Yeah, I’m not an expert on video games, but the first RPG’s I played were JRPG’s. I thought the “role-playing” part came from being in control of another character with their own personality –like what Tolmar said. A scripted performance instead of an improv one.

    Personally it doesn’t matter to me what you call it, I prefer the JRPG style games more than western RPG’s. I suppose adventure game is a good name for it.

    I also dislike how they lump all JRPG’s together as turn-based. Clearly they’ve never heard of the tales of series or of star ocean.

  • JT said,

    Well, that exclusionary principal has more to do with cultural bias, prejudice and racism than anything else.

    I am no fan of jRPG (last one was Final Fantasy 7 for me), but to say they aren’t RPGs because they aren’t derived from D&D roots, is like saying Buddhism isn’t a religion because it doesn’t spring from the same Monotheistic tree like Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

    I mean, heck, have you SEEN the new Dragon Age 2 trailer where the guys are carrying big ass swords and sending energy balls from their hands? Likes like a trailer for Final Fantasy: Advent Children if anything.

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    Ah, but that’s the thing – they WERE derived from D&D. The Final Fantasy games, in particular, were based heavily on Ultima III (and Wizardry, to a lesser degree) – which started out their series as pretty much pure ports of D&D to the home computers (and then to the consoles).