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:: RPG Source :: View Article :: RPG vs RPG

RPG vs RPG
By Zurukai [1/7/2004]
Who saw it coming? If you did, no one probably believed you, did they? Japan has gone from a military power to an economic power in less then half a century. Their astounding control of the electronic market leaves many awe-struck at how one nation could change so much. But still, wasn't it America who brought this great revolution about?

We, the staff at RPG Source, founded this site for a reason: we're nerds. We like being nerds, but we're nerds nonetheless. Our breed of nerd became popular around 10 years ago, with the release of Final Fantasy III (VI in Japan). The Japanese RPG nerd is quite different from the American "Dungeons and Dragons" nerd, since the Japanese RPG has stretched far from the American RPG. Many people have believed it has even surpassed it, or that all good American RPGs are now trying to copy Japanese RPG (They use the example of RPG Source's "RPG of the Year": Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic). But we cannot forget the original roots of the RPG, thus totally forgetting the American RPG would be rather stupid.

What makes this Japanese RPG so different from its American counter-part is several things, the first being how the story is driven. I'm going to compare Pool of Radiance to Final Fantasy II (IV in Japan) if you don't mind. In Final Fantasy II, the main story was driven by the main characters, and revolved around them as well. The world often hangs in the balance in these plots. From what I've noticed about generic Amerian RPGs, they don't have a "world on the edge" theme nor really give the characters major influence on their surroundings.

But that is the beauty of it: the realism in American RPGs. Most people argue that Japanese RPGs have more plot advance and character development, but only the former statement is true. Why is that? If you ever played Dungeons and Dragons with a good GM (Darshu being my prime example) you will notice that they impose character development. And unlike Japanese RPGs, these character developments aren't pre-programmed, they can change and turn 180 degrees at any time because of the fact they're based on the most unpredictable thing in the world (not women): human nature. Isn't that the whole meaning of the genre, role-playing game? Many of you might be thinking "He's comparing the table-top to the TV" but that's untrue, because if you go back and play Pool of Radiance on the NES, you'll realize the title allows much more self role-playing the SNES Final Fantasy II did.

A sort of metaphor for this point I'd like to bring up is the perspective. In Pool of Radiance, Daggerfall, or the Daggerfall sequel, Morrowind. In the typical Japanese RPG, you usually have a 3/4 perspective (not to be confused with the rarely use top-down perspective). You're watching the events happen through the actions of other people (you're merely inputting the means to achieving those actions). In the American RPG, you're actually in a bit more control of your destiny. Though I did say self role-playing was quite easy in these games, don't forget that it'll have no influence on your outcome in the game at all.

Maybe I shouldn't have brought up the Elder's Scrolls series, because now many people will argue in the favor of the American RPG that more freedom is allowed in Amerian RPGs. That's only really true in the Elder's Scrolls series if you think hard enough about it. I mean, are you really going to say Neverwinter Nights has as much freedom as Morrowind? Sure, freedom is an aspect, American RPGs are quite more linear, but it isn't true for all of 'em.

Yes yes, you've all guessed it. This is where Blizzard's famed Diablo comes in. It is a whole new genre in its own if you ask me, it has little to no resemblance to the Dungeons and Dragons series. Many people just consider it an action game with RPG elements, but nonetheless it is an RPG, and truly revived the American genre, and would bring about countless hack'n slash clones such as Dungeon Siege.

How does Diablo fare against the Japanese RPG? Well, Diablo isn't as story driven as the Japanese RPGs are. Rather, it depends more on a fun factor, then anything that'll immerse you in the universe (though it does have a tight plot). The Diablo-esque RPG puts you in the shoes of a guy who by killing monsters and getting weapons will eventually save his world from an evil demon. These games are relatively simple, which makes them have a mass-market appeal. "Click, kill, get better stuff". Simple, but strangely addictive (then throw in an online mode for a quest with friends).

When I started this article, the truth was I was thinking it was going to end up pretty pro-Japanese. But if you look at it, it really comes down to personal opinion. Yes, there are the difficulties of putting everything into one category (it's like being prejudice against games), but often it is easy to find a common feel (From Breath of Fire to Golden Sun, they have an extremely similar feel). With that in mind, I feel all my points were factual and made perfect sense without being too biased to either side. I know I didn't bring in many things such as Square-Enix's famed real-time Seiken Densetsu series or Sega's star Shining Force games, but that leaves room for a sequel, right?
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