Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Another Take (of Three) on JRPGs vs. WRPGs…

Posted by Rampant Coyote on February 29, 2012

Courtesy of Extra Credits – now hosted over at Penny Arcade:

Western & Japanese RPGs (Part 1)

I’m interested in hearing what else they have to say, but I’m not sure I’m going to be on board with their conclusion that WRPGs and JRPGs are two distinct genres.  Especially as I made a big case the other day about their similarities and loss of distinctiveness between the two. I guess I’m just a “big tent” kind of guy, trying to include JRPGs, turn-based RPGs, action-RPGs, roguelikes, and other offshoots all under the same general heading. One nation, many states, something like that.

I’m prepared to finish hearing out their arguments. The question is – how narrowly is a genre defined by the core play aesthetics? Action RPGs and turn-based RPGs scratch some of the same itches for me as an RPG fan, but definitely not all. Does that make them completely different genres? I know a lot of readers would emphatically state that it does, but I see too much of a spectrum over the history of CRPGs, and I really don’t know where I’d draw the line. I pretty much considered Deus Ex as an FPS for many years, in spite of people telling me how wrong I was and how it was really an RPG. I can accept that now, in hindsight, but that really enlarges the tent.

I’m happy to talk about subgenres, with the acknowledgement that clear defining lines between them are impossible to come by. I tend to see them more as ingredients. “Game A is one cup action-RPG, a half-cup of JRPG, a dash of hardcore strategy, and a half-pint of old-school console gaming to sauce it up.” And as a side-note, I have no idea what kind of game that would end up being when it came out of the oven…

But case in point: Telepath RPG – Servants of God. What kind of game is it? Which of the two genres – JRPG or WRPG – would it fit under? I’d say, “neither,” but if you put a gun to my head and forced me to make a distinction, I’d say WRPG. But the game borrows a bit from both, possibly at the same time now that the two RPG styles have even more in common. But it also borrows from “tactics” games, the style favoring the Japanese over the western styles of combat tactics games.

And although my own Frayed Knights: The Skull of S’makh-Daon is clearly rooted in the western RPG tradition, there are some aspects – the dialogs and pre-gen party, for example – that are more frequently associated with JRPGs.

I really doubt there’ll ever be a broad consensus. As always, it’s the discussion that’s fascinating and worth having, not the conclusions.

Filed Under: Design - Comments: 8 Comments to Read

  • Craig Stern said,

    I’ve been thinking about this issue; I should have some thoughts up on IndieRPGs.com sometime in the next few days. 🙂

  • Andy_Panthro said,

    I agree that making distinctions seems very difficult. The idea of what an RPG is hasn’t ever been clearly defined.

    Even Ultima on it’s own has a range of features that change from game to game. How do you give examples of what an RPG is, when you see the difference between Ultima IV, Ultima VII, Ultima VIII and Ultima Underworld? Three different perspectives (top-down, isometric, first-person), varying amounts of story, different combat styles, different spell-casting, party-based or solo.

    That’s a lot of differences to get into a genre, even without considering Baldur’s Gate, Skyrim, Mass Effect and Wizardry (to name just a few!).

    I guess that’s why they need three episodes for this, whereas defining an FPS or platformer is generally pretty simple.

  • Attila Varszegi said,

    I believe games can be categorized and defined sufficiently with the right language. It’s important that others also understand the language one uses in defining genres. So if one were to write a huge article on this sort of thing, beginning with definitions would be a good idea.

    A lot of perceived differences can quite easily be defined…for example:

    Baldur’s Gate is an RPG with strategy elements.
    Age of Wonders is a Strategy game with RPG elements.
    Exile 3: Ruined World is an RPG with strategy elements.
    Battle for Wesnoth is a Strategy game with RPG elements.
    Heroes of Might and Magic is Strategy game with RPG elements.

    In those examples, Exile 3 and Baldur’s Gate are VERY similar. AOW, BFW, HOMM are all very similar.

    In fact, I feel that with some effort one might be able to break things down further and create a scale based on the individual elements in a game. Games could be scored on it to find which group they fit into.

    I don’t think it’s hard to define, some people just can’t admit that most of their modern games AREN’T rpgs.

    Skyrim I think has crossed the line into Action game/FPSlasher with RPG elements.

    Deus Ex is primarily a FPShooter with RPG elements. It’s an outstanding FPS because it adds the RPG elements of AMAZING story…that really shouldn’t be an RPG element…perhaps it rather highlights how weak story has been in most FPS games.

    I kinda wanna make up a scoring system now 😀

  • Scotticus said,

    When reading your analogy, my first thought was “Two games, one cup”. And yes, yes I do hate myself for that.

    To make up for that, I’ll try to post something insightful or thought provoking at a later time.

  • Rachel said,

    Genres are tricky, since they’re completely inconsistent with one another. Oh, a racing game where you’re leveling up and talking to other cars? It’s a racing game based on the skin of the game. But other genres are based on gameplay… so basically, Extra Credits has a point, but for some reason they come off as really arrogant about it, when they weren’t the first group to discuss this at all.

  • Why categorize jRPGs and wRPGs? @ IndieRPGs.com said,

    […] has been some discussion lately about whether there is really such a huge difference between jRPGs and wRPGs after all. Quite aside […]

  • JT said,

    Have you noticed that Mass Effect 3 is an Americanized version of a JRPG?

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m still enjoying ME3, but it’s pretty linear and follows many of the same conventions.

    You get an airship, companions, a chance to raise your forces by doing non-meaningful sidequests, basic character advancement, character actions generally pre-defined, enclosed areas to run around, etc minus the infantile anime graphics and emo-ridden angst storyline, it really is just an Americanized JRPG.

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    Heh – I’m too far behind in my RPG playing to play something as recent as ME3. I still haven’t played ME2, though I bought it over the holidays. I’m still patting myself on the back for completing (about as much as it can be completed) Skyrim.