279: United We Stand

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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.

Interesting fact: vaan wasnt in the original idea of the game,bashe was gonna be the main caracther until square said that he was to old and that the main audience for final fantasy(teens)woulnt relate with him,and that why we ended with vaan.

I think there is a flaw in logic. This is more a comparison of turn based rpgs, where you have a group to travel with since only having one character in turn based combat would be dull; and action rpgs where you can only fully control one character at a time and the character you control would be the center of the game (who would want to play as the side kick?). Since one character isn't raised over the others as much, turn-based games can flesh out a larger cast and with more characters it allows for a more involved story, often relying more cut-scenes. Action rpgs is more about the player forming the story themselves through dialog choices(sometimes) but mostly by their actions and how they play the game, so story is less explicit than turn-based ones, since it isn't always as spelled out. Genres aren't confined to one nation or another.

Japan has focused more on turn-based rpgs and seems to be holding to the conventions of them even as they move into more action oriented rpgs, but that doesn't mean that it is a Japanese thing, more a turn-based thing. Just look at Link as one example that the silent hero isn't wholly Western. American rpgs seem more derived from table top games and those a lot of the time focus on each player having their one character they develop. As mentioned several times, Mass Effect and Dragon Age are good examples of developing a group of characters instead of just one. Why we haven't seen this before is most likely due to technical limitations. They're different genres, each made to tell different stories in different ways.

Testsubject909:

You're an uneducated judgemental twat who just doesn't understand how RPGs in general work in both the Western and Eastern world.

*clap, clap, clap* Way to invalidate your composition in one foolish sentence. Also, if you are going to attempt to insult my education it might bode better for you in the future to spell it "judgmental". Unless you happened to peruse my profile and, seeing that I sing opera, were attempting to phonetically interpret a bad Italian accent..... if so, then BRAVO!

Ipsen:
I don't necessarily agree. On the topic of empathy, "being" a person doesn't exactly engender empathy, from self, or from others. I also don't think one goes around seeking emotions to feel or relate to (especially not a manly-man like yourself)

Hey, I make my living singing opera, becoming people on stage to tell a story. I am a manly man :)

Ipsen:
for the hell of it, and not when there are things to do (which one often does, in real life and in WRPG's). Granted, the only feelings one should feel towards their own character are ones stemming from survival.

What a cold, emotionless, life you lead :(. I feel for you (even though it does not improve my survival circumstances)

Ipsen:

When I'm playing Fallout 3, I'm not exactly worried, or proud, or sad about my character; I could, but that takes me out of the game, and there are things to do IN the game. I am more worried about the actions of killing that asshole of a scientist, however.

Exactly the point I was trying to make. You have little empathy ergo you get less emotional experience from your WRPG. You are in control of your choice to feel or not to feel and no JRPG writer is trying to force you to feel a certain way.

Ipsen:

In JRPG's, empathy can be felt towards any of the characters, since they all have their scripted personalities, circumstances, interactions, etc. What's a bit different between the two RPG types is that it's easier to create a more genuine sense of empathy to the 'main' character of a JRPG (if there is one), because, as there are differences between yourself and your puppet, there can be similarities as well.

Not really, genuine empathy comes from an embodiment of observation. I feel that there is more potential for empathy when you create a character from scratch and live it.... provided you are an empathetic person.

tetron:


On the other hand in a WRPG lets say one of your teammates goes down, it typically doesn't effect you that much unless you needed their specific skillset. You're directly controlling the main character and it wasn't your fault the person died it was the AIs fault.

I know I'm taking this out of context, but I want to address this. I WRPGS, losing a team member can be just as crushing as in any JRPG. If you play Dragon Age, you know that losing your Tank is going to cripple your team. In ME2, while your teammates aren't as effective, they do draw fire away from you, and use their powerful abilities to back you up. If they go down, more bullets come towards you.

tommyopera:

Ipsen:

When I'm playing Fallout 3, I'm not exactly worried, or proud, or sad about my character; I could, but that takes me out of the game, and there are things to do IN the game. I am more worried about the actions of killing that asshole of a scientist, however.

Exactly the point I was trying to make. You have little empathy ergo you get less emotional experience from your WRPG. You are in control of your choice to feel or not to feel and no JRPG writer is trying to force you to feel a certain way.

Ipsen:

In JRPG's, empathy can be felt towards any of the characters, since they all have their scripted personalities, circumstances, interactions, etc. What's a bit different between the two RPG types is that it's easier to create a more genuine sense of empathy to the 'main' character of a JRPG (if there is one), because, as there are differences between yourself and your puppet, there can be similarities as well.

Not really, genuine empathy comes from an embodiment of observation. I feel that there is more potential for empathy when you create a character from scratch and live it.... provided you are an empathetic person.

I have to disagree with you, maybe you have a skewed definition of what empathy is. You can feel empathy towards characters in both JRPG and WRPG genres. However, if you create your own character and live it, you are less likely to experience empathy towards the main character.

When you play a character (like bethesda/bioware games) in which you control your responses and choices, you aren't experiencing empathy towards your character. Empathy involves understanding the emotions of others, so when you transcribe your own emotions on a character, you are not empathizing with him/her.

Good article. Unsurprising debate.

Gonna stay out of this one guys.

Though I'm tired of the constant JRPG bashing on this site, and have noticed a few trolls, as well as some well-meaning, but ultimately flawed arguments I just haven't the stamina for "Escapist Threads: WRPG VS JRPG: Round 68".

I have a feeling that more threads will pop up though.

Depressingly bad article (as expected from Escapist, of course). All the writer is capable of is kitchen psychology using cultural stereotypes, and addressing only the superficial, most easily apparent features of the games instead of the fundamentals where the true differences lie.

The real deal here:
http://insomnia.ac/commentary/on_role-playing_games/

Akalabeth:
Ultra-mega-fail yourself, since you completely missed the point.
He's complaining about Shepherd's lack of depth as a character, lack of development, lack of arc, etcetera which is made clear by his comparison to the JRPG character who evolves in personality.

I know what he's complaining about. What you have completely failed to understand in your rush to accuse of missing his point is that it is his entire premise that I am objecting to.

Shepard's "lack of depth as a character" is because Shepard is a proxy for the player. That is how the game is designed. That is how all of his interactions, reactions, and behaviors are designed.

When you start talking about Shepard as if he is supposed to exist as a character without the player, you are completely missing the developer's point. You have stopped analyzing it as a video game and have started analyzing it as something else.

That is a failure. It is an epic, disastrous failure.

Counterpoint: Persona 3 or 4, Earthbound, or basically any "JRPG" game with a mute protagonist. It's really just a design decision, not even a part of the low-level differences between Western and Eastern RPGs, a tradeoff between (potentially) drawing the player into the role of protagonist more and making the protagonist fully fleshed out.

OT:

"Dad being from a city in Arkansas that you can't say without having people look at you funny"

Bald Knob?

I would like to point out the only reason Commander Shepard came off as flat was that you played him as a male.

Male Shepard's voice actor is irredeemable.

Fem Shepard all the way.

FloodOne:

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.

You never used omnislash? One man army with a sword bigger than he is.

The biggest difference I see is that JRPGs seem to have been put together by frustrated, wanna be film directors. Anything interesting happens in the cut scenes, just incase playing messes with the story. Heaven forbid you sneak in instead of watching a movie of you KOing a guard. Your choices seem to be limited to which weapon/skill you will equip (normally decided for you by whichever is the most powerful at the time). Its like being read a story rather than playing a role. I think thats why so many RPGs have a silent protagonist. It's easier to tell the story without involving player charecter.

The point about sidequests and party members seems cherry picked. Look at KOTOR, Dragon age, Baldurs gate, Planescape torment, even Mass effect, which he used as an example. All have well developed charecters with their own motivations, that you help out (or not) because you are friends, not because of the mission. The author failed to mention this about mass effect, only commenting on Shep. Obviously never played past the first mission.

JRPGs seem to want to be a movie or a book rather than a game. Unfortunately story telling in games is not a patch on film or literature. Think of the best ingame story you ever played. At best it could be compared to a mediocre, throw away movie.

Now can we put FF to bed and get on with making a new Vagrant Story?

ZodiacBraves:

I have to disagree with you, maybe you have a skewed definition of what empathy is. You can feel empathy towards characters in both JRPG and WRPG genres. However, if you create your own character and live it, you are less likely to experience empathy towards the main character.

When you play a character (like bethesda/bioware games) in which you control your responses and choices, you aren't experiencing empathy towards your character. Empathy involves understanding the emotions of others, so when you transcribe your own emotions on a character, you are not empathizing with him/her.

I think you are looking for something we who play WRPGs don't need. We don't NEED Empathy for the main character, because we ARE the main character. It is a totally different concept. The lack of empathy is not a sign for weakness, since it instead is replaced by a sense of self.

On the other hand I think you also sell the WRPG companions short. BOth in DA:O and in ME2 we feel enormous emotional responses to the companions. Be it Morrigan, Tali or anyone else.

Okay, that was weird, I clicked post, it didn't appear in the thread, clicked Back on my browser to add the quote bit for the above post.. Then BAM, two posts. Crazy~

metal eslaved:

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.

Interesting fact: vaan wasnt in the original idea of the game,bashe was gonna be the main caracther until square said that he was to old and that the main audience for final fantasy(teens)woulnt relate with him,and that why we ended with vaan.

Actually, Basch was going to be the main character because the lead designer at the time made it so. This lead designer then suffered from medical problems and had to step down from his position on the game. The guy that replaced him made Vaan the main character, yet with the plot how it was.. Vaan's whole storyline ended not even half way into the game. It was more about Ashe and Basch than anyone else.

ANYWAY..

Why the FUCK do I bother reading comments? Is it because I love to torture myself?

You people make me sick. I actually like this article.. I honestly thought it'd be constant JRPG bashing this issue (Sorry, John Funk..?), but no. That's just what happens in the pathetic forum comments..

I tried playing Fallout 3, I downloaded and attempted the Mass Effect 2 demo. I felt absolutely zero attachment to the supporting characters and Shepard is a boring son of a bitch.. The "choose your response" chat segments were SO FUCKING DULL.

conflictofinterests:
I would like to point out the only reason Commander Shepard came off as flat was that you played him as a male.

Male Shepard's voice actor is irredeemable.

Fem Shepard all the way.

I designed a female Shepard for the demo. Totally didn't change a thing. It was still dull gameplay and shitty, mono-tone, chalkboard conversations. They didn't change a single thing for me. Simply having a "main character" that is merely just cosmetically different.. Doesn't change anything if the "choose your own adventure" selections are all bullshit. Hell, most of them lead back to a "main menu" where you -have- to go to particular prompt anyway! What makes that different to any JRPG? You can choose different responses in Final Fantasy games too. Brilliant example is Final Fantasy X. Your responses and how you react to Yuna, Rikku, Lulu, Kimahri (and I believe Auron) also leads to who throws the Blitzball to Tidus during Blitz Ace (the character with the highest "Affection"). I'm sure it benefits other stuff too, but eh, I can't be bothered..

Hell, I HATED the moral choice system in Fable II! I want to sit back and -play a game- the way it was made, not potentially fuck up anything that happens in the future!

Having a choice that drastically affects the game in general has ALWAYS pissed me off. Immensely. I'm tolerating (read; kind of enjoying) Fable III at the moment, but I was absolutely steaming when I found out that the mercenary boss, Saker, becomes a follower on the Road to Rule if you spare him.

I killed the bastard and then later (a few hours onward) thought I'd literally fucked the game up or ended up missing certain quests or achievements, etc. Luckily, no achievements are affected by Saker being killed, but you still miss a lot from the Mercenary Camp.. In general, they just do not interest me.

I've actually neglected Fable III lately and started playing Final Fantasy X again, with some visits to Final Fantasy XIV Online and Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep.

Seriously, I've had more enjoyment playing TETRIS SPLASH on XBLA than I have playing Fallout 3 or Mass Effect 2. You may say "But the blank slate means you can make him/her your own kind of character and change the story to suit you~". My response is the same one Conan O'Brien gave to NBC after they asked him to move his show to 12:05. "Go to hell!"

Again, I'll say what I continue to say to the circle-jerking WRPG AND JRPG fanatics. Shut. The. Fuck. Up. Seriously! You want to jerk off over your Mass Effect 2/Dragon Age character? Fine. Just don't constantly abuse those who happen to like JRPGs. You want to jerk off over your Final Fantasy/Kingdom Hearts/Dragon Quest/Lost Odyssey/etc games? Go right ahead.

For fucks sake, just get over yourselves, everyone! Don't like a particular game series? THEN DON'T FUCKING PLAY IT. It also gives you no right at all to complain/bitch about them. I've PLAYED Mass Effect 2 (demo or not..) and Fallout 3 (what I could stand of it anyway, not knowing where the fuck you need to eventually go.. Megaton was it for me~), so I have every damn right to comment on my experience. But it doesn't mean I think any less of anyone who DOES play those games! I don't hate Jeremy Petter from LoadingReadyRun because he enjoys WRPGs more than JRPGs. That's perfectly fine! To each their own and all that wacky shit. At least there's a mutual respect.

TL;DR?

Matt_LRR:
Eat a bowl of dicks.

The original Final Fantasy got some of its inspiration from Dragon Quest, of which only had one character. It was also massively popular in Japan and made in Japan. Thusly, it only focused on one character. Just pointing that out.

I play RPGs, not just jrpgs or wrpgs, cuz that really doesn't matter. JRPGs don't really focus more on the group than WRPGs, just the way it's presented seems like it does. If you don't do those sidequests, you're no wiser of your parties 'backstory' are you? If they're really so important they'd make it mandatory that you'd learn about them.

And even when they do its so much less than the main character anyhow, sure you learned about Barret in FF7 but after that he was done and out of the way with, regardless of it being his mission to begin with. In Xenosaga, the main story was about Shion and KOS-MOS(they're extremely long backstories), with dabblings in the parties stories, but not by that much. You had to read up their logs if you wanted to know more information about em. In the latest Persona's you're a 'blank state' as well, who can choose to know more about your party. Otherwise it doesn't go into some epic plot into their lives either.

In JRPGs or WRPGs, the MC is still the star of the game, along with his love interest. You'll learn the most about him, and the party are all sidekicks, who eventually fade into the background because its not about them. Difference being is that for JRPGs, the hero's are usually so heroic, that they don't have a will for themselves, bending to whatever some NPC says, when really in some cases they shouldn't stand for it. D:<

But, why is a 'blank state' character 'boring'? If it's representing you(Persona 3/Mass Effect), then it's YOUR personality right? In essence, those of you saying they're dull and boring are reflecting on your own personalities right? All of my characters with blank slates are dynamic exciting characters, and thus not boring. :)

How on earth is "Where the world ends" a good role-playing game when you are not able to play any role but the one the story has chosen for you? Regardless of what you want and desire, you will take the same bland and boring, incredibly predictable choices. From a literary perspective it's asinine to compare the two characters because one of them has already made all of her choices. You play role-play games to actually, you guessed it, role play. Immersion is lost whenever you're forced to go along with whatever the spiky haired androgynous teen of the month decides to take the "nice route" for the hundred time. This is why Persona is a good RPG and Final Fantasy 7+ are horrible ones. It's about choice and diversity, and those choices need to span a bit further than what slot I check in the stat-sheet.

Anyone notice how it's virtually impossible to identify yourself with almost any character in a japanese game?

Whilst I'm aware that the accuracy of a few comments may be questionable, I still found the article very interesting.
The group mechanic of jrpgs is one of the main reasons I still play them despite being fed up of many of the overused memes and traditions.

Stefan Eriksson:

ZodiacBraves:

I have to disagree with you, maybe you have a skewed definition of what empathy is. You can feel empathy towards characters in both JRPG and WRPG genres. However, if you create your own character and live it, you are less likely to experience empathy towards the main character.

When you play a character (like bethesda/bioware games) in which you control your responses and choices, you aren't experiencing empathy towards your character. Empathy involves understanding the emotions of others, so when you transcribe your own emotions on a character, you are not empathizing with him/her.

I think you are looking for something we who play WRPGs don't need. We don't NEED Empathy for the main character, because we ARE the main character. It is a totally different concept. The lack of empathy is not a sign for weakness, since it instead is replaced by a sense of self.

On the other hand I think you also sell the WRPG companions short. BOth in DA:O and in ME2 we feel enormous emotional responses to the companions. Be it Morrigan, Tali or anyone else.

I don't feel I sold the WRPG companions short. I was merely making the point that you cannot empathize with yourself; so in a WRPG it is much harder to empathize with a main character that defines you.

I felt a strong sense of empathy towards my companions in Mass Effect and Dragon Age. I did not, however, show empathy for my main character because I transcribed myself on him.

Its just a different viewpoint to take in a game, nothing wrong with it.

Joe Myers:
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.

Read Full Article

Great article. Great arguments.
I am doing a research on JRPG for my college independent studies in game narrative, and I would like to quote your article as an epigraph in my final report.
Thanks for writing it.

tommyopera:

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!!!

I am sorry If I am rude, but I think you are oversimplifying things.
From the various JRPGs I played, the average age for the characters goes around 20/21.
And, from where did you get this "shemale" idea?
If you say that all heroes on JRPGs are shemales, others may say that all heroes in WRPGs are gorillas.
Generalisation is really misleading...

llagrok:
How on earth is "Where the world ends" a good role-playing game when you are not able to play any role but the one the story has chosen for you? Regardless of what you want and desire, you will take the same bland and boring, incredibly predictable choices. From a literary perspective it's asinine to compare the two characters because one of them has already made all of her choices. You play role-play games to actually, you guessed it, role play. Immersion is lost whenever you're forced to go along with whatever the spiky haired androgynous teen of the month decides to take the "nice route" for the hundred time. This is why Persona is a good RPG and Final Fantasy 7+ are horrible ones. It's about choice and diversity, and those choices need to span a bit further than what slot I check in the stat-sheet.

Anyone notice how it's virtually impossible to identify yourself with almost any character in a japanese game?

Altough I donīt agree entirely with you, you have a point.
However, there need to be a definition in the term "role-playing" for your words make sense. It does not imply on its meaning that you have got to play any role. You get to play a role. Which one? Depends on the game.
The games in which you do not get to choose your character usually have another point beyond that, which is your personal development inside this hero's story. So, if you do not want to know Cloud's story, donīt play the game, because youīll be undeniably bound to a first-person narrator.
The matter of immersion does not necessarily depends on the main character you are playing. Because, in any game (except some sim games) you have to follow fixed narrative points, whether you like them or not. They are there for you to either choose what to do or obey.
Demon Souls, a recent game a played in which you can customize your character, imposes that you have to follow a certain path inside that castle. You cannot run from it.
Even Fallout. Little influence on some fixed narration points your character have.

RPGs are, first of all, stories. You will have to obey in some point.

And about this identification thing... I think this is really personal. You can choose to do it, if you want.
I usually don't, and good RPGs stay as good RPGs nevertheless. You don't really need to identify with Hamlet to agree that it is a wonderful play.

clarissa:

tommyopera:

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!!!

I am sorry If I am rude, but I think you are oversimplifying things.
From the various JRPGs I played, the average age for the characters goes around 20/21.
And, from where did you get this "shemale" idea?
If you say that all heroes on JRPGs are shemales, others may say that all heroes in WRPGs are gorillas.
Generalisation is really misleading...

You are right about generalization being misleading. I was channeling Yahtzee a little when I called them shemales. If you ever met me though I think you could justify your generalization of WRPGs men being gorillas. I am a crazy hairy dude :)

I think the WRPGs were a little, JUST a little bit now, taken for granted here, but I think they can handle it with how much crap JRPGs get. Great article when it comes to the main point. The point of characters that talk in your party is to connect/relate with them. The method in which a genre does so is not for gamers to be jerks about and say the genre is doing it wrong. That said, JRPGs all the way. Also:

No JRPG is complete without numerous sidequests exploring the backstory of your party members and putting some sort of demons to rest.

I knew FFXIII wasn't complete....

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