JRPGs vs. Western RPGs

        While you may know what an RPG is, a role playing game, the genre actually goes a bit deeper than just that. You can point to examples of one, such as Final Fantasy 7 or Dark Souls, but there is a very fundamental divide the genre, splitting them into two categories: Japanese RPGS, or JRPGs for short, and western RPGS.
        So what exactly is so different about these two? Obviously the title denotes that some are made in the west and others in Japan, but this is actually not entirely true. These two sub-genres have very distinct differences in terms of gameplay and story, so a western RPG can be made in Japan, and so on.
        However, I feel first I should show what is the same about these two. Generally there is an overarching story through with your character or characters must traverse, growing stronger and leveling up as they go, as the plot unfolds before them, often with lots of dialogue and exposition. That is a central cord that connects all RPGs. However, beyond that they have very different ways of approaching this, and in fact I could say they lean heavier on two different halves of this core concept.
        Western RPGs focus more so on the ‘growing stronger’ aspect, while JRPGs focus more on the plot of the game itself. To explain, let’s look at two different games. First is Dragon Ball Xenoverse 2, a western RPG. These games are mostly defined by the creative aspect in the beginning- you can change how your character will look, name them, and often, such as in this game, even choose their gender species, maybe even their voice.         Effectively, the main character is your creation. They will be the one to stop all the chaos being caused by the villains and make sure everything works out. This is further reinforced by how there is a statue of the hero who saved everything before, and it is your character from the first Xenoverse game. You are the savior, and you were the previous savior.
        However, it goes further. Not only can you choose your characters appearance, but you can choose what sort of fighter they will grow to become in two important ways. Firstly, you can take on various Dragonball characters as your mentor, to teach you their various techniques to use in battle. Through this you can collect an impressive assortment of attacks and moves, and pick and choose which of them you want to use. So your characters moves are what you decide.
        Secondly, as your characters level up, you are given points to distribute into various stats, such as health, strength, stamina, and so on. What you put these into will determine what sort of capabilities your character has. Maybe they have a lot of health, or will punch very hard, or their super moves will be devastating, or some combination. This in turn influences what sort of techniques your character will use, and ultimately shapes them into certain roles, such as a close range melee fighter, or a long range blaster, and so on.
        While you are roped into certain choices to a degree by your choice of gender and species, which effects your stats in a way, you can ultimately shape your character into whatever you wish, regardless of they seem suited for to start with. For instance, Team Four Star, the creators of Dragon Ball Abridged, a hilarious parody of Dragon Ball, went ahead and made their own playthrough of the first game, and at this time are in the middle of playing the second.
        The first game’s character was Dumplin, a male Majin who ended up being primarily a blasting character, using flashy energy attacks to wipe out enemies primarily. The second game features a female Majin named Puddin, who, in contrast, is incredibly melee focused. While she did start out with Dumplin’s repertoire of moves, she eventually abandoned that in favor of close range strikes, making her shine even more as her own character.
        Pretty much all western RPGs have something akin to this sort of character creation, and that is their draw. This does, however, have an intrinsic issue. Namely, since your character has no set personality aside from one or two traits, if that(your Xenoverse character will be considered heroic for stopping evil villains, for instance) and because of this it is a little hard to write them into the story, in a sense.
        There is a plot, and it does happen, but it may seem rather impersonal to the player precisely because their character can’t give reactions to what is going on, or at least not exceptionally emotional reactions, and often the plot itself can seem irrelevant and distant because you wanted to go off and do your own thing, which you can, and since your character doesn‘t express any concern, why would you? Fallout 4 has you looking for your lost son, but it’s amazing how fast people forgot that and started going off to plant a garden or shoot people or what have you.
        JRPGs, on the other hand, do not suffer from this, but they lack the whole character creation thing, and that is exactly the trade-off they make. They instead have set characters, and thus can craft personalities for them, allowing them to actively engage in the plot before you, and thus make the story seem more clear and lively because your party member and so on are giving their reactions to it. In other words, while growth and empowerment are certainly there, the game’s plot takes up a much more important role.
        Accordingly, as mentioned, the characters are set. Leveling up does happen, but you cannot guide the characters as they grow or control that growth as much, if at all. Generally they have set abilities they learn at certain points, rigid strengths and weaknesses, and you usually can’t pick and choose where the points go when they level up- that happens on its own, and generally they exaggerates their particular facets.
        For example, the melee character will get better at melee and physical defense, but still have a weakness for magic that is never fixed, at least not by stats. Items and the like can help make them more well rounded if you want, but those inclinations cannot be fought- they are not your creations, they are their own characters with their own unique capabilities.
        To give an example, Fate Extra is a PSP game I have recently gotten hooked on. It is firmly a JRPG, though it does have some elements of a western one. It lacks a party of characters and does include a self-insert of sorts, but aside from picking dialogue choices you do not mold or shape your chosen character. You pick their gender and their name, and that’s it. They also have no stats for you to modify and no skills to learn.
        This is because they are not a combatant in this game. They are the Master, or commander, of a Servant, which is the real fighter in the game. And this Servant is one of three you can pick, and as with any JRPG, they have set preferences. Saber, for instance, is incredibly bad at magic, but excellent at physical strength. While leveling up does give points you can distribute, and nothing stops you from putting them in her weak points, it is clearly and obviously the best choice to make her strength even greater.
        If you did try to improve her magic stat, you would find that in comparison to say, Caster, who has great magic, she is far less capable not just in stats, but in how she can use it in the first place. Saber has virtually no magical abilities at all. If you want good magic, therefore, you should simply use Caster instead, start the game with her. The game basically forces you to stick with your Servant’s strengths.
        Not that this is a bad thing- while you cannot mold your Servant into whatever you wish, they are very good at what they do in particular, and you do have your choice of three of them at the beginning. In addition, they also provide most of the dialogue throughout the game, as they will be at your side from the moment you meet them.
        They are what help shape your view of the game’s world, providing exposition and advice, in particular about your opponents, about whom they will give their opinion of their tactics, personalities, and what exactly you should do about them. While you do get to answer a few questions that shape their opinion of you, this does not impact the game’s plot itself overly much, just your relationship with your Servant.
        Through all these differences, you can see that JRPGs and western RPGs are ultimately are very different, to the point of barely resembling each other. One is a story driven game where you power up characters as they go on their quest, exploring their lives and motivations, while the other is a player drive game where you basically thrust a personification of yourself into the game, shaped however you wish, to explore everything it has to offer.

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