From Art To Player Agency, Do JRPGs Do It Better Than WRPGs?

Which way, modern man?

Story Highlights

  • For many, JRPGs and WRPGs appear to be different sides of the same coin.
  • However, both sub-genres have many differences that set them apart from each other.
  • But do these differences truly make one genre superior to the other?

The debate between JRPGs and their Western counterparts has been going on for longer than I’ve been alive. They’re set to even outlive the console wars at this point. Each subsection of the role-playing genre brings its own unique flavor to the table, catering to different preferences and philosophies. But the question still remains: Are JRPGs truly better than WRPGs? Allow me to give my $0.02.

Defining The Divide

Before I dive into all the comparisons, it’s important to understand the fundamental differences between JRPGs and WRPGs as a whole. Japanese Role-Playing Games are often characterized by their emphasis on storytelling, character development, and turn-based combat systems. Titles like Final Fantasy, Yakuza, and Persona exemplify this narrative-driven approach.

On the other hand, Western Role-Playing Games prioritize player agency and exploration. They offer expansive open worlds, branching storylines, and real-time combat mechanics. Games such as Skyrim, Baldur’s Gate, and The Witcher best represent this immersive, player-driven experience. Here, your decisions help shape the course of the narrative and the protagonist’s journey.

Why do you prefer JRPGs over RPGs in the west
byu/btsao1 inJRPG

Direct Vs Passive Story Engagement

One of the main ways in which RPGs differ, at least in my opinion, lies in how they immerse the player into the game. JRPGs excel in storytelling, weaving intricate narratives filled with emotional depth and character development. Their worlds are teeming with lore and mythology, forging bonds with companions and navigating moral dilemmas along the way. But at the end of the day, you, the player, are just an outside spectator.

In contrast, WRPGs prioritize direct player interaction. While storytelling remains an important aspect, it often takes a backseat to exploration and combat mechanics. They usually prioritize strategy and tactical decision-making. Players are free to carve their path, whether it’s as a selfless hero or a genocidal warlord (Or replaying the game to get both the way I like it).

JRPGs Usually Feature A Passive Level Of Immersion
JRPGs Usually Feature A Passive Level Of Immersion

The Speed Of World-Building

Another major contrast between JRPGs and WRPGs lies in their approach to world-building. JRPGs tend to adopt a slow-paced, methodical approach. They gradually introduce players to the intricacies of their fictional universes. Players slowly gain insight into the history, politics, and cultures that shape the game world, fostering a sense of immersion and depth.

In contrast, WRPGs favor immediate action and exploration. You’re often thrown straight into the vast open world, ripe for exploration and discovery. You often piece together the story through NPC interactions and picking up collectibles such as flyers and letters. This approach lets you advance the story at your own pace, being able to retrace your steps back to the beginning of the game whenever you want.

WRPGs Like The Witcher 3 Allow Players To Play The Game At Their Own Pace
WRPGs Like The Witcher 3 Allow Players To Play The Game At Their Own Pace

The Episodic Vs Linear Approach To The Narrative

The narrative structure of JRPGs and WRPGs also diverges significantly. Here, each sub-genre reflects its distinct storytelling philosophies. JRPGs often adopt an episodic approach, dividing the narrative into discrete chapters or arcs. Each episode unfolds like a chapter in a book or an episode of an anime, complete with climactic battles, plot twists, and character growth.

In contrast, WRPGs prefer a linear approach to storytelling. Rather than dividing the narrative into distinct episodes, WRPGs offer players a sandbox of possibilities. This way, as previously mentioned, you can advance the story at your own pace. It also means that no two playthroughs will ever be the same, as you can always choose to go for a different ending/route.

WRPGs Often Let You Choose Between Good And Evil Playthroughs
WRPGs Often Let You Choose Between Good And Evil Playthroughs

Creating Vs Predefined Characters

In JRPGs, players usually assume the role of characters with an established backstory, personality, and motivations. While this limits player agency to some extent, it allows for a deeper exploration of character relationships and narrative arcs. You get to grow attached to the character and root them on. Unfortunately, this also ends up making emotional moments hit even harder. Manly tears.

In contrast, WRPGs allow you to create your own character from scratch, customizing their appearance, abilities, and moral alignment. While this might sacrifice the depth of predefined characters, it offers a level of personalization and player agency that resonates with many gamers. Besides, it’s much more fun rizzing up the NPC baddies with your custom characters, isn’t it?

Creating Your Own Original Character Is A WRPG Staple, For Better Or For Worse
Creating Your Own Original Character Is A WRPG Staple, For Better Or For Worse

Levels Of Immersion

JRPGs traditionally don’t prioritize immersive gameplay experiences. They still draw players into the narrative and gameplay mechanics, but as I mentioned previously, you are simply an observer of the story. Whether it’s embarking on quests, engaging in strategic battles, or forging bonds with memorable characters, players control an existing character’s story in a richly crafted world.

In contrast, WRPGs focus on immersive world-building. Players insert themselves into the story. They explore diverse landscapes and interact with a whole roster of characters and creatures, shaping the course of their adventures. While gameplay remains important, the love that the devs put into crafting the world and lore elevates the WRPG experience to new heights of immersion, and sometimes even comedy.

Differing Combat Systems

JRPGs typically feature turn-based combat systems. Players take turns selecting actions and strategically planning out their next moves. While I understand some may find this approach slow, you can appreciate the depth and complexity it adds to battles. If not, then just put a Subway Surfers clip next to your screen to keep you occupied, I guess.

In contrast, WRPGs favor real-time combat, emphasizing player skill and reflexes. Whether clashing swords, casting spells, or shooting in general, the player’s mastery of their weapon allows them to take down enemies. While it may end up becoming an endless loop of left-clicking and dodging, the sense of challenge and accomplishment remains a hallmark of the WRPG experience.

Do you prefer turn-based combat or real-time combat?
byu/Stalin_Reincarnated inrpg_gamers

So, Is One Truly Better Than The Other?

Short answer? No. While everything I’ve highlighted in this opinion piece are things you’d typically see in either sub-genre, they aren’t the set standard or rules. Take Baldur’s Gate 3 and Elden Ring for example. One is a WRPG that features JRPG elements (turn-based combat + episodic storyline), and the latter is a JRPG with WRPG elements (free combat + player agency). And guess what? Both are Game of The Year winners.

Whether you prefer the narrative depth of JRPGs or the unbound player agency of WRPGs, there’s no denying the appeal and diversity of the genre as a whole. So, rather than seeking to crown one genre as superior to the other, let’s focus on the rich tapestry of experiences that JRPGs and WRPGs continue to offer to gamers around the world.

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Saif is a seasoned video game journalist who works for eXputer. His passion for gaming was nurtured by playing on arcade emulators since his early childhood. Specializing in writing opinion pieces, he dives into the intricacies of the latest titles, the gaming industry, and the wider community. A sucker for good storytelling and a love for immersive worlds, Saif eagerly explores the latest releases while turning his thoughts into engaging and entertaining articles. Writes Opinion Pieces at eXputer || Education: Bachelors in Psychology.

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