The best way to make a rol-playing game, JRPG or WRPG?
We all know the joy of playing a role-playing game, satisfaction when watching your characters grow, addiction to get better team and story that while it may seem cheesy at times, always hook us. These are elements of an RPG, but: Why do we differentiate Western role play from oriental? Is it just a regional difference? Do they differ only by having some realistic style and others in anime ?, these questions are the ones that I ask myself to answer in this article. Based on historical documentation of the genre and, of course, on my own experience of a series of video games that I have had the pleasure to enjoy; I intend to highlight the characteristics that define each subgenus and describe a little the evolution they have had over time.
The own RPG, was born in the early 70’s, long before the popularization of video games and in fact before they exist in them. In its beginnings, this type of “board game” was known as a dynamic in which a group of people adopt different roles, conditioned by a previously established environment, so as to interact with each other in an imaginary world through certain rules. It was based mainly on the interpretation, the dialogue, the imagination and the heroic adventure. This dynamic is attributed to a professor of sociology at Boston College, therefore, we can infer that this genre was born in the United States. Perhaps the most popular RPG of the time is Dungeons and Dragons, in which players embody a group of heroes who must overcome different tests imposed by another antagonist and omniscient player called “Master of the game.”
Over the years and with the arrival of video game consoles to the market, it was inevitable that some developers would like to emulate such a famous formula in these home appliances. One of the first role-playing games conceived for the Atari 2600 in 1982, was the Dragonstomper, although it is important to mention that RPG video games for personal computers such as the Dungeons and Dragons itself had already been developed.
All this is like talking about prehistory, but without these bases you could not talk about the two sagas of video games that achieved the branching of the genre and allowed their independence from the classic table game RPG: Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest (developed in Japan). The first gave us, for the first time, the possibility of observing our heroes of history during the battle, thanks to his lateral perspective. On the other hand, Dragon Quest III provides a system of classes in which as our characters grow, we are allowed to choose the “roles” that we want them to have (be they wizard, warrior, archer, thief, etc.). The Japanese were inspired by medieval fantasy stories portrayed by writers such as J.R.R Tolkien, then bring their own graphic style and create stories where the progression of your character is not only statistics, but also personality and history. It was not until 1989, when another Japanese company, Sega, developed Phantasy Star II that incorporates different innovations in the argument of the game, treatment of more serious subjects and adults; placing itself in a futuristic and dystopic environment.
It is here when you begin to branch out the genre, with each one’s own styles. The West RPG, developed by Americans, remained a PC subgenre, characterized by possessing a lot of content, freedom of decision histories, complex battle systems and characters with more rustic and realistic graphic style. On the other hand, the Japanese RPG was born and continued for a long time on home consoles. It used to have a system of progression and battle quite practical and easy to understand, with a maximum of 4 characters controlled by the player who progress in a story where they battle (in turn) between good and evil.
The 90s was a crucial decade for this genre, the 16 bits gave us some of the best RPG video games of all time like Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy VI; but it was not until the arrival of the Playstation when the genre became fully popular with Final Fantasy VII. The latter is considered by many as one of the most important video games of all time, having been developed with a budget of 45 million dollars, it is here when the Japanese company Square Soft took a great risk, taking advantage of the abysmal popularity of the console from Sony. Like most JRPGs to date, FFVII was a turn-based game with a linear story that evoked feeling and empathy for the characters, a formula that guaranteed success for the Japanese.
On the other hand, we can not forget the creators of the genre, who were also present at that time. The WRPGs who started out being turn-based and tactical, opted to adopt a lighter and more accessible modality for the American public, the Action RPG. This genre had already been explored a few times, including by the Japanese, but developers like Blizzard bet on going beyond and experimenting with different game modes. From that proposal Diablo was born in 1996, a mixture between hack and slash and RPG dungeon crawler style; where the main formula is based on exploring dungeons, defeating a boss, getting equipment for your character and repeating this same process in following instances with more difficulty. It sounds pretty simple, but it’s far more addictive than it seems, so much so that it was included in the 2000 edition of the Guinness Book because it was the fastest-selling computer game ever.
With the arrival of the year 2000, a better and more solid platform of navigation is established by Internet. This technological advance allowed videogame companies to devise new ways to enjoy the experience of playing, and at the same time to share that experience with others. That is how the Multiplayer Massive Online Games are born, which allowed players to interact with each other for miles away thanks to the goodness of the internet. Of course the RPG was not obsolete, and some game producers introduced the MMORPG to the computer market. The latter takes advantage of the experience of growth of the characters and their attributes, to make it a competition between people around the world. Of course, this was a sub-genre that usually does not enjoy memorable stories and arguments, but only to lighten and fight. Some of the most popular video games in this category were: Lineage, EverQuest, Ultima and of course World of Warcraft (the first being the only Japanese on the list).
Over the years, videogames went on to have more graphics and content. With capabilities to show us entire cities in high definition. The reign of sandbox games had come. However, on consoles like the Playstation 2, the JRPG maintained a strong presence with titles such as Persona 4, the Tales of Dark Cloud and Final Fantasy XII that incorporated for the first time in the saga a real-time action combat system instead of taking turns. While the WRPG had their home safe on computers with The Elder Scrolls and Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic.
When new consoles like the PS3 or Xbox 360 arrived, you could say that the RPG were taken to a third plane, and the market was full of first-person shooters (FPS). With the exception of some games, this generation was dominated by genres more focused on action than on strategy. However, we can not miss one of the most important WRPG of the present time, The Elder Scrolls Skyrimmarked a guideline on how to make the dream of role players really. This game allows us to explore a vast world in freedom to start wherever we want and in turn, does not lose the ability to make a memorable story.
Little by little, with this brief history of both RPG visions, we realize the clearest difference. The latter lies the “empathy vs. technique” or more specific “heart vs. gaming system”. While the Japanese are betting more on the story and their characters with a classic cut RPG, the Americans innovate in the system battle leaving a little out the aesthetic value and memorable characters; even most WRPGs make you create a character from scratch, which makes them less developed.
However, we have now seen a significant change in the way both visions portray gender. Over the years, each region learns more from the other and they manage to establish a point of union by mixing their strengths and avoiding the weak points. A clear example is in the previous games mentioned: Final Fantasy XII (2006) and TES Skyrim (2011), both games enjoy the best of both sub-genre; a complex and excellent progression system complemented by a good story and character development. This is perhaps the future of the genre, the regional divisions that began to be very marked, must be detached and achieve an emancipation that allows players to enjoy the different qualities of each classification without losing other important elements.
I think every house will have its style, its aesthetics. It is important to keep what empathizes in the public, so new generations of players will enjoy this genre. But, it will never be otherwise to make changes where it is possible and needed. Video games are a progressive culture that is undergoing many changes constantly and is still starting. Possibly the time will come when there will not be so many distinctions of region, the important thing is that this whole story is a learning of techniques and formulas that worked and will continue to work to satisfy the player.