279: United We Stand

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United We Stand

The difference between Japanese and Western-style RPGs may be as simple as the pronoun associated with the hero - I or We.

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not much to say really but great article. I agree one of the strengths of JRPG is the cast around you. They either make (Persona series) or break (goddamn you Vaan) the game.

Joe Myers:
Now, there's no denying that Commander Shepard is a badass, but from a literary perspective, who's more interesting?

Ultra-mega-fail.

We're not looking at literature here, we're looking at video games. Commander Shepard is intended to be interesting to play as the main character of a video game, not as a character to be read about in static media.

If we want video games to be taken seriously as art, we need to stop defaulting to looking at them through the perspective of other media. We need to be analyzing them as their own media against their own standards.

Interesting, but the article ignores the western RPGs out there that also rely on strong supporting characters. BioWare games in particular are defined by their companions. Dragon Age was very memorable because of Alistair, Morrigan, Zevran, and the others. Many companions--Zevran, Sten, Leliana, and Shale--were completely missable or killable. Seeking them out, fulfilling their personal quests, and getting to know them in general provided new insights into the world of Thedas and their own backgrounds. They are well-written, well-rounded, dynamic characters.

The article also makes the mistake of comparing the player character Shepard with supporting characters like Yuffie. In a WRPG, the PC will always be less-defined. That's because WRPGs have their roots in D&D, where role-playing is about customization and the main character can be played anyway the player wants. This is the greatest strength of WRPGs, because it allows for a story that can unfold in several ways. Look at Alpha Protocol. For as buggy as the game was, it allowed the protagonist to reflect several different personalities. And the choices he made affected the game in wildly different ways. This isn't something you see in JRPGs, which play more like squad-based action games IMO.

I just don't think you can say that the difference between JRPGs and WRPGs lies in an "I" versus "We" mentality, not when plenty of WRPGs also emphasize companions and group-dynamics. I do agree that WRPGs place more importance on the PC, though. And perhaps this lies with the Western emphasis on the individual, or maybe it's just a way of tapping into wish fulfillment. Since on some level we're supposed to be badass Commander Shepard, wouldn't it be awesome if we're the coolest, toughest, most important person in the galaxy?

BloodSquirrel:

Joe Myers:
Now, there's no denying that Commander Shepard is a badass, but from a literary perspective, who's more interesting?

Ultra-mega-fail.

We're not looking at literature here, we're looking at video games. Commander Shepard is intended to be interesting to play as the main character of a video game, not as a character to be read about in static media.

If we want video games to be taken seriously as art, we need to stop defaulting to looking at them through the perspective of other media. We need to be analyzing them as their own media against their own standards.

Definite second of this point.

For all their depth and 'flawed' nature, J-RPG characters are written as literary characters, and unfortunately they rarely stack up in that measurement.

Character development in, the example given, Mass Effect was self-generated by choice. Your Commander Shepherd was not my Commander Shepherd - they may not have even been the same gender. Cloud, by all accounts, is Cloud, as the writers wanted him to be.

The supporting character in Mass Effect tell you their stories through conversations and interactions, personal missions and vendettas. Although there are cutscenes they are far less common and generally quite brief.

It seems to me that the JRPG style of character development is based on sitting back and being told a story of how they respond to the events of the game. In Mass Effect, and the better WRPGs in general, the game is about how you - in the boots of a blank slate hero - react to the events of the game.

One is passive the other is active. JRPGs ruled when interactivity was limited to a point, merely being able to take part in a grand story was a joy. Now days we want to be the story.

~~~

As an example, playing Fallout: New Vegas - I cam across the town of Nipton which had been raised to the ground and its inhabitants slaughtered by Caesar's Legion. One of the Legion challenge me to make something of it if I didn't like it - so I did. I killed the Legion in the town, I travelled to their riverside town - killed them and freed the slaves, then travelled into Caesar's camp and killed everyone and everything.

I choose to make him my enemy and kill him - I hadn't spent much time talking with the NCR at that point and no one had told me to do it. My, and by proxy, my character's choice.

Probably how you define an RPG different than how i define RPGs.

The way i see RPG is, the main character might have a name, probably some backstory but that's it, how he behave and react is up to me, so yes that character is me not someone with pre-written personality and behaviour. So the way i see RPG is i'm not thinking what would Commander Shephard do in this situation, but what would i do in this situation

I have a mixed reaction with this article.

You see, I wouldn't mind playing as one of the protagonists in any of the JRPGs and despite that I dislike most of them not because how well characterized they are as a bad person or a magnificent bastard but most characters I see are literally a joke and the entire game story is too. What game should be taken seriously? RPG #138 or an angst person who has amnesia?

Most JRPGs architecture is linear. Because you are not playing as you. You are playing someone that is set in stone. From I - XIII is same archetype (work as a group, we stand as one) since via 1980's only with different experiences. Almost 30 years of the same archetype but with different experience. Some players actually don't care about how teamwork. Unless it's the whole crux of the story, then why should players care about them?

Thankfully, some JRPGs show exposition and some don't even show. Final Fantasy XIII doesn't exposition well and most players that don't know what just happen will go "Huh?" and seeing that datalog needs reading. And happening to read all of the datalog completely overshadows the JRPG experience. Would it be pleasant for me if I haven't read the datalog? Maybe but it's poor exposition either way.

I have to say that you're not judging the main characters of WRPGs fairly. Sure, the interactions allowed are fairly limited, because there are a limited number of writers and a limited amount of time for them to write, but the whole point is that your character can be as blunt or as subtle as you want, they can be complex, or they can be simple. They can be motivated by their own personal goals and desires, or they can be motived by experience points and stats.

It's all up to you. If you do nothing but tweak your character and party so that they can most efficiently slaughter their enemies, that says more about you than it does about WRPGs.

high_castle:
Interesting, but the article ignores the western RPGs out there that also rely on strong supporting characters. BioWare games in particular are defined by their companions....The article also makes the mistake of comparing the player character Shepard with supporting characters like Yuffie. In a WRPG, the PC will always be less-defined. That's because WRPGs have their roots in D&D, where role-playing is about customization and the main character can be played anyway the player wants....I just don't think you can say that the difference between JRPGs and WRPGs lies in an "I" versus "We" mentality, not when plenty of WRPGs also emphasize companions and group-dynamics. I do agree that WRPGs place more importance on the PC, though. And perhaps this lies with the Western emphasis on the individual, or maybe it's just a way of tapping into wish fulfillment.

100% agree with this comment. It seems like the author started with the assumption that Western = individualistic / Japanese = collective and then went cherry-picking for evidence.

For me the difference between the games doesn't matter one bit, the difference that matters is with the players. Whether they want to project onto their games narrative/whatever or absorb their games narrative/whatever. Both are desired in the market therefore both are created, in both countries.

People may have problems with specific games and that's fine, but to extrapolate specificity to the wider industry is doing noone any favours.

The idea that there is somehow more inherent value in a character which is, for all intents and purposes, a blank slate, a tabula rasa if you will, for the player to project his or her values onto than a pre-defined character or a silent protagonist needs to stop. If you are so self-absorbed that you cannot bear the thought of carrying someone else through a journey that may not even be about the character you control, then I find that scary indeed.

WRPGs and JRPGs offer different takes on a similar concept. There is no need for animosity here; there is room enough for both.

craddoke:
100% agree with this comment. It seems like the author started with the assumption that Western = individualistic / Japanese = collective and then went cherry-picking for evidence.

Hardly. It is, after all, ALWAYS the protagonist that is the catalyst for the entire game, and the main focus point of nearly all character interactions.

I find the group-vs-individual part misleading - it's simply a question of what "role" means in RPG. In a JRPG, it's like being an actor - hit your marks, get your lines right, and you win based on how someone else wrote it to be. If the story itself is compelling and the fights well-done, you will likely enjoy it (though if the story blows and the characters terrible, so does the game). But in a WRPG, it's about pretending to be someone else, and the illusion of free will and control is not only essential, it's the whole point of the game. To pretend to be someone else, come up on a set of challenges and then find a way to defeat them. And since pretending to be multiple people is hard, of course the secondary characters fade to the background some, and their petty issues remain, well, petty.

So while a linear story is fine or even a plus in a JRPG, in a WRPG, it's failure. You're promising free will and then punishing the player for trying to use it. In the west, the writer's precious, timeless masterpiece about hippies and revenge and magic crystals isn't that important (especially once we're old enough to realize how awful most game stories really are). What matters is escapism, and again, the illusion of free will. Whereas free will in a JRPG is a design flaw.

MatsVS:

craddoke:
100% agree with this comment. It seems like the author started with the assumption that Western = individualistic / Japanese = collective and then went cherry-picking for evidence.

Hardly. It is, after all, ALWAYS the protagonist that is the catalyst for the entire game, and the main focus point of nearly all character interactions.

Not quite sure what you're disagreeing with here. I'm simply agreeing with an earlier poster who pointed out that the hard-and-fast differences between Western/Japanese RGGs explored in this article just don't hold up to closer inspection. I then postulated that the author started with a (rather stereotypical) perspective on the differences between the West/Japan and then went hunting for examples in RPGs to support that assertion, ignoring any evidence to the contrary. In other words, I'm not taking issue with the examples chosen; but rather with the many counter-examples that are never discussed.

Urkh, since when did J-RPG's have new character casts? Oh thats right. There is only 1 cast, and its a bunch of crying, whining angsty emo-teens and some creepy old guy who for some reason hangs around with them.

high_castle:
Interesting, but the article ignores the western RPGs out there that also rely on strong supporting characters. BioWare games in particular are defined by their companions. Dragon Age was very memorable because of Alistair, Morrigan, Zevran, and the others. Many companions--Zevran, Sten, Leliana, and Shale--were completely missable or killable. Seeking them out, fulfilling their personal quests, and getting to know them in general provided new insights into the world of Thedas and their own backgrounds. They are well-written, well-rounded, dynamic characters.

The article also makes the mistake of comparing the player character Shepard with supporting characters like Yuffie. In a WRPG, the PC will always be less-defined. That's because WRPGs have their roots in D&D, where role-playing is about customization and the main character can be played anyway the player wants. This is the greatest strength of WRPGs, because it allows for a story that can unfold in several ways. Look at Alpha Protocol. For as buggy as the game was, it allowed the protagonist to reflect several different personalities. And the choices he made affected the game in wildly different ways. This isn't something you see in JRPGs, which play more like squad-based action games IMO.

I just don't think you can say that the difference between JRPGs and WRPGs lies in an "I" versus "We" mentality, not when plenty of WRPGs also emphasize companions and group-dynamics. I do agree that WRPGs place more importance on the PC, though. And perhaps this lies with the Western emphasis on the individual, or maybe it's just a way of tapping into wish fulfillment. Since on some level we're supposed to be badass Commander Shepard, wouldn't it be awesome if we're the coolest, toughest, most important person in the galaxy?

I couldn't have said it better myself.

craddoke:

MatsVS:

craddoke:
100% agree with this comment. It seems like the author started with the assumption that Western = individualistic / Japanese = collective and then went cherry-picking for evidence.

Hardly. It is, after all, ALWAYS the protagonist that is the catalyst for the entire game, and the main focus point of nearly all character interactions.

Not quite sure what you're disagreeing with here. I'm simply agreeing with an earlier poster who pointed out that the hard-and-fast differences between Western/Japanese RGGs explored in this article just don't hold up to closer inspection. I then postulated that the author started with a (rather stereotypical) perspective on the differences between the West/Japan and then went hunting for examples in RPGs to support that assertion, ignoring any evidence to the contrary. In other words, I'm not taking issue with the examples chosen; but rather with the many counter-examples that are never discussed.

I am disagreeing with the notion that drawing the following conclusion: Western RPGs = Individualist is an assumption at all, and that to prove said notion, one would have to cherry pick. I'd argue that it's the other way around, that what we have established here is a clear trend, which has prompted WRPG apologists/defenders to find examples of the contrary and presenting them as evidence as such, despite said examples being exceptions rather the norm. Gee, unwieldy sentence...

Kenko:
Urkh, since when did J-RPG's have new character casts? Oh thats right. There is only 1 cast, and its a bunch of crying, whining angsty emo-teens and some creepy old guy who for some reason hangs around with them.

I take it you've played 1 JRPG ever?

I am troubled by this article, and it surprises me that nobody has addressed the issue what I had with it.
Mr. Myers says that WRPG cast members aren't there to ask you how your day went. That's all well and good, except that his core WRPG example isn't Fable, or Fallout 1. It's Mass Effect, where the side characters might just ask how your day went.

high_castle:
Interesting, but the article ignores the western RPGs out there that also rely on strong supporting characters. BioWare games in particular are defined by their companions. Dragon Age was very memorable because of Alistair, Morrigan, Zevran, and the others. Many companions--Zevran, Sten, Leliana, and Shale--were completely missable or killable. Seeking them out, fulfilling their personal quests, and getting to know them in general provided new insights into the world of Thedas and their own backgrounds. They are well-written, well-rounded, dynamic characters.

The article also makes the mistake of comparing the player character Shepard with supporting characters like Yuffie. In a WRPG, the PC will always be less-defined. That's because WRPGs have their roots in D&D, where role-playing is about customization and the main character can be played anyway the player wants. This is the greatest strength of WRPGs, because it allows for a story that can unfold in several ways. Look at Alpha Protocol. For as buggy as the game was, it allowed the protagonist to reflect several different personalities. And the choices he made affected the game in wildly different ways. This isn't something you see in JRPGs, which play more like squad-based action games IMO.

I just don't think you can say that the difference between JRPGs and WRPGs lies in an "I" versus "We" mentality, not when plenty of WRPGs also emphasize companions and group-dynamics. I do agree that WRPGs place more importance on the PC, though. And perhaps this lies with the Western emphasis on the individual, or maybe it's just a way of tapping into wish fulfillment. Since on some level we're supposed to be badass Commander Shepard, wouldn't it be awesome if we're the coolest, toughest, most important person in the galaxy?

I was also going to point this out. Bioware seems to get it, Mass Effect and Dragon Age do bring together a lot of the best qualities in character design from JRPG and WRPG perspectives. The main character is not totally mute, but instead the player is allowed to craft the personality of that character which makes him or her more relatable than the Fallout Character who lacks such attributes, except on a rather superficial level.

Bioware teammates also bring a lot to the table in regards to the atmosphere and emotional proclivity, rather than just being hired guns. Interaction with a companion in Bioware is usually pretty deep compared to a Fallout companion who is likely to just shoot things and chime in occasionally with a bon-mot. Don't get me wrong, I love Fallout. But the level of interaction with NPCs in Fallout isn't as deep as I'd like it to be.

Of course, one has to keep in mind that constructing the kind of interactions that Bioware gives us is no small task. What other game developer has the capital or the talent to put something like that together? Mass Effect and Dragon Age are the kind of innovations in character interaction that RPG developers should inspire to. But it's going to take time to get there. And not every game needs that sort of thing.

lhin:
not much to say really but great article. I agree one of the strengths of JRPG is the cast around you. They either make (Persona series) or break (goddamn you Vaan) the game.

Nearly four years later and I still have no clue WHY Vaan was supposed to be the main character. Here you have four characters with incredibly awesome stories;
A Princess rumored to be dead trying to reclaim her throne.
A Captain alleged to have betrayed his own country seeking redemption.
One of the most notorious Sky Pirates alive and his Vierra partner.
And they're lead by...a street orphan whose relation to the plot is coincidental at best.

BloodSquirrel:

Joe Myers:
Now, there's no denying that Commander Shepard is a badass, but from a literary perspective, who's more interesting?

Ultra-mega-fail.

We're not looking at literature here, we're looking at video games. Commander Shepard is intended to be interesting to play as the main character of a video game, not as a character to be read about in static media.

If we want video games to be taken seriously as art, we need to stop defaulting to looking at them through the perspective of other media. We need to be analyzing them as their own media against their own standards.

I think you're reading to far into just one word. Shepard is of course more embracing of the interactive side of video games, but right now even the best examples of this kind of gameplay are fairly limited. It may allow for greater introspection, but a character with their own personality can force us to look at perspectives apart from our own. It can also serve as a stronger foundation to build a story around, and create a compelling character arc. In Prince of Persia: Sands of Time it was the Prince's pride and attitude that drove the plot. It would be hard to recreate a story like that if the player can change how the Prince acts. And yes, stories and messages are just as important to video games as they are to any other medium.

Then again we're talking about Bioware, a company that pretty much sets the bar for story telling in games.

While I think it's an interesting angle, I can't help but feel that this article presents a gross simplification.

Baldurs Gate 2 (amongst many other WRPG's) was packed full of interesting companions with fully fleshed out back stories and many had sidequests that revolved around them. Indeed, for some people that was part of the main draw of early Bioware RPG's. Who could forget Minsc the Berserker and his miniature giant spacehamster Boo?

And, while I agree with you that the protagonist (in this case the PC) always tended to be at the centre of things, I think there are very few RPG games where that isn't the case - Western or otherwise. And, regardless, success still required the party to work together towards a common goal.

And it isn't like I'm describing some fringe indie hit here. The vast majority of Bioware, Black Isle and Interplays early RPG output was like this.

Sure, in regards to modern WRPG's like Mass Effect your analysis sort of holds up. But does that reflect the West's preoccupation with individualism or does it reflect the fact that it's difficult to transfer the traditional 'party focused' WRPG experience to consoles, and so, as a compromise, developers like Bioware have been forced to put less focus on the more intricate party dynamics which defined their earlier titles, and more focus on ass-kicking and wisecracks?

Either way I have to conclude that you present an interesting idea but it stands on pretty flaky ground.

If I was going to present a concrete difference between JRPG's and WRPG's I would say that JRPG's focus primarily on a theatrical story, often to the detriment of interactivity. While WRPG's focus on world interaction and player choice, often to the detriment of cohesive storytelling.

Obviously there are exceptions and I think the two forms influence each other and exchange ideas a lot more than is perhaps recognised. Regardless, either can be good in the right hands - but devs need to play a delicate balancing act.

I completely agree with you Micheal

MatsVS:

I am disagreeing with the notion that drawing the following conclusion: Western RPGs = Individualist is an assumption at all, and that to prove said notion, one would have to cherry pick. I'd argue that it's the other way around, that what we have established here is a clear trend, which has prompted WRPG apologists/defenders to find examples of the contrary and presenting them as evidence as such, despite said examples being exceptions rather the norm. Gee, unwieldy sentence...

I don't think it's a ridiculous claim to make that the writer may be cherry picking his examples when he lists only two Western RPG's (Mass Effect And Fable) as evidence of some all encompassing trend. Off the top of my head I can name more than four times as many games I've played that can't be dismissed in such simplistic terms - Baldurs Gate, Baldurs Gate 2, Neverwinter Nights 2, Mask Of The Betrayer, Storm of Zehir, Dragon Age, Icewind Dale, Icewind Dale 2, Dues Ex.

And that's fairly recentish stuff.

What about Betrayal At Krondor?

Now I'm saying that there isn't something to his argument. I'm just saying that if you make a bold assertion with such a small list of examples, and with so little clarification, then it is inevitable that some people are going to accuse you of cherry picking. His angle has potential but, as I stated in an earlier post, he doesn't make a very convincing argument.

MatsVS:
[quote="craddoke" post="6.243881.8876088"]I'd argue that it's the other way around, that what we have established here is a clear trend, which has prompted WRPG apologists/defenders to find examples of the contrary and presenting them as evidence as such, despite said examples being exceptions rather the norm.

Whoa... first, a handful of examples does not equal a trend. Second, the empirical facts about WRPGs mentioned in the article (which I don't necessarily dispute in the case of those specific examples) could have any number of other rationales/causes. Third, I don't see how pointing out the logical flaws in the article amounts to being a "WRPG apologist/defender" - I don't actually see any conflict except the false one being ginned up by this article and I feel that the argument laid out in the article is just as (if not more) insulting to JRPGs and Japanese culture. The whole argument is reductionist and smacks of racial stereotyping.

rossatdi:

BloodSquirrel:

Joe Myers:
Now, there's no denying that Commander Shepard is a badass, but from a literary perspective, who's more interesting?

Ultra-mega-fail.

We're not looking at literature here, we're looking at video games. Commander Shepard is intended to be interesting to play as the main character of a video game, not as a character to be read about in static media.

If we want video games to be taken seriously as art, we need to stop defaulting to looking at them through the perspective of other media. We need to be analyzing them as their own media against their own standards.

Definite second of this point.

For all their depth and 'flawed' nature, J-RPG characters are written as literary characters, and unfortunately they rarely stack up in that measurement.

Character development in, the example given, Mass Effect was self-generated by choice. Your Commander Shepherd was not my Commander Shepherd - they may not have even been the same gender. Cloud, by all accounts, is Cloud, as the writers wanted him to be.

The supporting character in Mass Effect tell you their stories through conversations and interactions, personal missions and vendettas. Although there are cutscenes they are far less common and generally quite brief.

It seems to me that the JRPG style of character development is based on sitting back and being told a story of how they respond to the events of the game. In Mass Effect, and the better WRPGs in general, the game is about how you - in the boots of a blank slate hero - react to the events of the game.

One is passive the other is active. JRPGs ruled when interactivity was limited to a point, merely being able to take part in a grand story was a joy. Now days we want to be the story.

Yes, JRPG's are about 'being told a story', to be more specific, it is about dancing as the song says. Some NPC tells you what to do, and you have to do, exactly as the NPC have told you, can't chose the way or what you going to do about it, YOU have to, the only 'freedom' the player may have is about how further is going to get involved, by doing or not the 'side quests', which in fact, only provide the player whit more information, doesn't meter if you have discovered 'The Secret' trough a 'side quest you' are not going to be allowed to 'use it letter, why? Because it isn't you ho is given the cards here...

It reflect the solid and oppressive 'cultural regime' imposed in the nation that developed game, don't be foolish thinking the only difference between an small island on the Pacific Ocean amd one on the Atlantic Ocean is: if the fish is fried or not. Japan throw it high isolation of the outside world have been forced to work under and strong hierarchy that was very simple, the owner of the land and the rest, simple see? Like in the European stile it have some sub classes (by some I meen one) but what meters it's the way it was managed... how? They say you obey, didn't have any kind of 'nice talking agreement' ( diplomacy ) between the classes, it wasn't necessary, collective memory was more important to surviving.

Sacrifices have to be made by the Japanese population, to adapt and be acceded by western world, the losing of theirs still in development culture ( the geixas or however it is written, are traditions younger as 'Brazil') for weirdo pink hairdos and skinny clothes. This all is represented in JRPG's all the time, an diffuse looking characters how are set into a 'kingdom' with problems whit far and strange neighbor ( Orc maybe? it is a figurative way too represent other human ethnic) the plot? Well its is (too) complicated (and broken too) but doesn't meter, you can't change what is going to happen just have survive and do your job ( kill the Bad man, if it is possible) watching the cutsenes...

About the WRPG's sorry too big for one post...

The Main Difference between WRPGs and JRPGs? The egos of the creators. JRPGs would rather we player watch cut-scenes than mess up their story by actually playing the game. How many JRPG fights have we had to sit through instead of participating in? Hideo Kojima could learn a thing or two from the RPGs of the west. Either that Or he and others of his ilk should move on to writing screen-plays, they're halfway there already!!

Also, as a big bad-ass westerner, I start to get annoyed that the only heroes that could ever save humanity in JRPGs are 15yo shemales while the big guys are either evil or "slow". I mean, c'mon!!!

Ok here's my advice: If you want to pick an example of a western game to prove that western rpg characters are less diverse, interesting and well characterised than their J-RPG counterparts you DO NOT use a Bioware game as this example! Let's compare Mass Effect (your choice, remember!) to FFVII characterwise: In FFVII you have the "cold-blooded" mercenary who used to work for the bad guys, eventually warms up and turns out to have amnesia; the tough talking guy who cares about his daughter more than anything else and hates the bad guys because of a terrible injustice done to him; the silent vampire-like character who deigns to work with the party for revenge; the girl who cares a great deal for the protagonist and looks after him in his darkest hour; and of course the love interest/plot driver/ sacrifice who's all sugar and rainbows until predictable tragedy. As much as I love the game, they never really develop beyond these tropes. All of them will, at some point in the plot, reach a fixed conclusion and give scripted expositional dialogue at key points in the plot, Vincent gets his revenge. Barret manages to protect Marlene and defeat Shinra. This is not to say they aren't great characters, but are they really deep in a way no western rpg-character will be? Compare this if you will to characters from Mass Effect 1 & 2: Ashley, the predictable choice as love interest for many, is clearly a good person who cares a lot about her crew, but is inexplicably hostile towards aliens. Only by talking to her frequently and gaining her trust do you eventually learn the reason why, and depending on the player's choices she can overcome this and eventually be vindicated in the 2nd game. Garrus immediately comes across as a typical 'loose-cannon cop' trope, who joins the crew specifically to avoid doing things by the book. But based on the players actions the two can become firm friends, and if the player has spoken to Garrus enough to learn why he adopted this mentality he will eventually reach a confrontation where he has to decide if this is who he really wants to be. And that's only two of them. 'No JRPG is complete without numerous sidequests exploring the backstory of your party members and putting some sort of demons to rest'. I'm sorry but you just described ALMOST THE ENTIRETY OF MASS EFFECT 2. This is a game where the entire final act and the ending, even Shepard's life, are determined by how supportive to your teammates you were in the rest of the game. In ME1 you have to choose between 2 of your team to abandon, instantly a more involving emotional moment than watching the least interesting member of the party die a scripted death at the hands of Sepiroth (while looking fairly resigned about it too). Whoever you choose to save will confront you about it afterwards and demand to know why you picked them. These are real characters who respond to your actions, their opinion of you changing depending on how you behave around them. Yes Shepard has no personality beyond that which the player assigns to him, but only so that the player can choose how to see the other party members.
Oh yeah and the notion that all western rpg's put the individual above the group is bull. Try playing Dragon Age: Origins where the player is forced to give up their own life (very literally) to serve in protection of Ferelden, either bullying or coercing others to do likewise and become a team, putting the fate of the populace above their own. Hell nobody even calls you by your name: Just 'Warden'. Because that's all that you are anymore.

Veldt Falsetto:

Kenko:
Urkh, since when did J-RPG's have new character casts? Oh thats right. There is only 1 cast, and its a bunch of crying, whining angsty emo-teens and some creepy old guy who for some reason hangs around with them.

I take it you've played 1 JRPG ever?

Whoa! Careful there buddy!!! You sound like a cat-ear-wearing-fan-boy :)!! *kidding smile*

Seriously though, point out where he is wrong so that he might be educated if you feel he lacks the exposure. It is more productive than hostile responses.

I, for one, feel that, even though it may be an oversimplification, his point has merit.

JRPGs are a bad joke.

Valdez Leel:
I don't think it's a ridiculous claim to make that the writer may be cherry picking his examples when he lists only two Western RPG's (Mass Effect And Fable) as evidence of some all encompassing trend. Off the top of my head I can name more than four times as many games I've played that can't be dismissed in such simplistic terms - Baldurs Gate, Baldurs Gate 2, Neverwinter Nights 2, Mask Of The Betrayer, Storm of Zehir, Dragon Age, Icewind Dale, Icewind Dale 2, Dues Ex.

And that's fairly recentish stuff.

What about Betrayal At Krondor?

Now I'm saying that there isn't something to his argument. I'm just saying that if you make a bold assertion with such a small list of examples, and with so little clarification, then it is inevitable that some people are going to accuse you of cherry picking. His angle has potential but, as I stated in an earlier post, he doesn't make a very convincing argument.

Thing is, though, that most of those games extremely individualistic in nature (exceptions being, what, Storm of Zehir and Icewind Dale? Haven't played Betrayal at Krondor. Good?), and places the protagonist at the front and centre of the story, with the side characters being just that; side characters, secondary in importance. And that, I think, is the crux of the argument.

Just a clarification for clarity's sake: All these games you just mentioned - AWESOME. This is not a debate of quality, but rather an examination of a symptom within the games. I am probably being fucking pedantic here, but it's best, I find, to keep these arguments as streamlined as possible. Much like certain JRPGs, OH SNAP!

craddoke:
Whoa... first, a handful of examples does not equal a trend. Second, the empirical facts about WRPGs mentioned in the article (which I don't necessarily dispute in the case of those specific examples) could have any number of other rationales/causes. Third, I don't see how pointing out the logical flaws in the article amounts to being a "WRPG apologist/defender" - I don't actually see any conflict except the false one being ginned up by this article and I feel that the argument laid out in the article is just as (if not more) insulting to JRPGs and Japanese culture. The whole argument is reductionist and smacks of racial stereotyping.

My response was not limited to this article, but rather this age-old argument as a whole. That should have been clearer, sorry. And yes, the article does but scratch at the surface of the subject at hand, but it does touch upon enough good points that I am willing to give the author the benefit of the doubt and write that off to space restrictions.

And of course it's going to "smack of racial stereotyping". It's, you know, a debate about games made by people of two different races. Kinda inevitable, no? That doesn't mean there isn't anything to it. Reductionist, though? That would implied that everyone engaged in this argument are just sitting around flinging faeces at each other. Which, granted, does occur, but that still does not give sufficient credit some certain people who approach this subject seriously. It's a convenient cop-out, though. ;)

tommyopera:
The Main Difference between WRPGs and JRPGs? The egos of the creators. JRPGs would rather we player watch cut-scenes than mess up their story by actually playing the game. How many JRPG fights have we had to sit through instead of participating in? Hideo Kojima could learn a thing or two from the RPGs of the west. Either that Or he and others of his ilk should move on to writing screen-plays, they're halfway there already!!

Also, as a big bad-ass westerner, I start to get annoyed that the only heroes that could ever save humanity in JRPGs are 15yo shemales while the big guys are either evil or "slow". I mean, c'mon!!!

This post clearly illustrates the vast cultural differences between the East and the West.

You know what I'm tired of? Giant hulking one man armies, but the West keeps shoving them down my throat. So I choose not to play those games and lo, the problem is solved.

tommyopera:

Veldt Falsetto:

Kenko:
Urkh, since when did J-RPG's have new character casts? Oh thats right. There is only 1 cast, and its a bunch of crying, whining angsty emo-teens and some creepy old guy who for some reason hangs around with them.

I take it you've played 1 JRPG ever?

Whoa! Careful there buddy!!! You sound like a cat-ear-wearing-fan-boy :)!! *kidding smile*

Seriously though, point out where he is wrong so that he might be educated if you feel he lacks the exposure. It is more productive than hostile responses.

I, for one, feel that, even though it may be an oversimplification, his point has merit.

I disagree, maybe a few games are like that but I think the majority are very different, the crying and whining thing just doesn't exist, maybe the creepy old man thing does though.

high_castle:
Interesting, but the article ignores the western RPGs out there that also rely on strong supporting characters. BioWare games in particular are defined by their companions. Dragon Age was very memorable because of Alistair, Morrigan, Zevran, and the others. Many companions--Zevran, Sten, Leliana, and Shale--were completely missable or killable. Seeking them out, fulfilling their personal quests, and getting to know them in general provided new insights into the world of Thedas and their own backgrounds. They are well-written, well-rounded, dynamic characters.

The article also makes the mistake of comparing the player character Shepard with supporting characters like Yuffie. In a WRPG, the PC will always be less-defined. That's because WRPGs have their roots in D&D, where role-playing is about customization and the main character can be played anyway the player wants. This is the greatest strength of WRPGs, because it allows for a story that can unfold in several ways. Look at Alpha Protocol. For as buggy as the game was, it allowed the protagonist to reflect several different personalities. And the choices he made affected the game in wildly different ways. This isn't something you see in JRPGs, which play more like squad-based action games IMO.

I just don't think you can say that the difference between JRPGs and WRPGs lies in an "I" versus "We" mentality, not when plenty of WRPGs also emphasize companions and group-dynamics. I do agree that WRPGs place more importance on the PC, though. And perhaps this lies with the Western emphasis on the individual, or maybe it's just a way of tapping into wish fulfillment. Since on some level we're supposed to be badass Commander Shepard, wouldn't it be awesome if we're the coolest, toughest, most important person in the galaxy?

Personally I think it's a great article, but you also make a very strong counterpoint.

However, I'd like to add that it's not necessarily the games that matter here as it is the gamer. WRPG's have some very strongly written titles with exceptional characterization, so that seems to invalidate the articles point. Balders Gate, Fallout 1 & 2, Planescape: Torment, were all popular games, but quickly gave way to the even more popular Diablo style of gaming. For every strongly written/characterized Dragon Age we have a Mass Effect, Elder Scrolls, Fable, Fallout 3/New Vegas, Diablo 3 games. So while we have comparison's the general trend is for the individualistic approach. After that, you're basically just highlighting the virtues of this style, which coming from a Westerner basically supports the article rather than refute it.

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