The Western RPG

in Design

With the release of two more packs in the Medieval line by PVG, we decided to ask the community on Facebook and Twitter about their opinions on WRPGs (Western RPGs) vs JRPGs (Japanese RPGs), the style they tend to go for and people’s opinions on it.

Medieval: Underdeep The Medieval sets remind me a lot of the old Ultima games, one of the classic WRPG series.

Medieval: Underdeep: The Medieval sets remind me a lot of the old Ultima games, a classic WRPG series.

And then, imagine my surprise when people tended to not know what I was talking about!

Maybe it is a matter of age, as the two genres have blurred together somewhat in recent years (And I’m not exactly young anymore). Maybe the two terms are more regional than I thought, and it’s mostly people in the US who refer to the two biggest styles of RPGs that way.

So what makes a WRPG a WRPG, rather than a JRPG, stylistically. Like, obviously JRPGs are made in Japan, and WRPGs aren’t, but even that isn’t always the case. For instance, the style of game being made by most RPG Maker users is much more JRPG.

WRPGs tend to favor:

Player-Defined Main Character: In Final Fantasy VII, you play Cloud. Cloud is Cloud. You can change his name, but not a lot else. He has a set personality, he has a set skillset. WRPGs tend to favor giving as much control over who the main character is to the player. In Skyrim for instance, the only thing that the game really defines about your character is that you are the Dragonborn. You get to decide your name, gender, what you look like, what skills you are good at. Do you use one-handed swords? Magic? Archery? Sneaky or in your face? That is all up to you. How you react to situations, how you interact with people. You get to determine what your character is.

Non-Linear Plots: Even if the game has a central plot (almost all games do), WRPGs tend to favor a more free-form approach to the order, or even whether you do it. In the newer Persona games, one day follows the next. The main plot of the game marches on at the same pace for everyone. One beat, then the next. You might have branches for good ends and bad ends, but in general, you just follow along with the story the game tells you. In Knights of the Old Republic II on the other hand, once you get off Peragus, you have the option to go to several different planets, and you can handle the different things going on in each in any order you want. Some WRPGs even have so much side content that you could play for 100s of hours without even touching the main plot (Does anyone even know the plot of Daggerfall?)

Player Impact on the Story: Usually, the game progresses much more strongly around the player’s decisions, rather than the characters. In Fallout 4, which of the factions do you support? The entire ending of the game can change depending on who you back. In a series like Mass Effect, these decisions even informed bits and pieces of the next game. We aren’t JUST getting to see the story the writers wrote for us, we are getting to be part of that process as well.

Medieval: Town Bundle

Medieval: Town Bundle: The perfect starting point for your Medieval Collection!

Do you tend to design more like a WRPG, or more like a JRPG? How can you borrow bits from each style to enhance your game? Neither is superior. JRPGs tend to create tighter more controlled experiences, which allows for greater balance and pacing for instance.

And of course, shameless plug: Pick op the new Medieval: Underdeep and Medieval: Townfolk packs for your game today!

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  • Talonos

    While they both have their place, I feel like JRPGs lend themselves well to better story. You couldn’t do something like Tales of Symphonia if the main character was a completely customizable self-insert instead of Lloyd Irving.

    WRPGs often make you feel like the story of the world is happening around you without involving you. Take the first discussion in skyrim in Whiterun after escaping from Helgen: It literally does not include you until the very end when somebody turns to you and gives you your next quest based on the things discussed without your input.

    It’s far easier for the main character to be an active participant when they can have a name, a voice, and a face.