The World of Asian RPGs
What is the decisive factor that makes Asian RPGs different? It is the relation of the gameplay to the story line. Traditionally, in Western RPGs the player is cast into a world he has to explore by himself. The story is either reduced to the main objective of the game, or has to be concluded from the exploration itself and the conversations with NPCs. Early Japanese RPGs also worked like that, but gradually evolved into a different direction. During the classic period of the genre, the tendency to emphasize a story line that developed regardless of the player's actions became evident. This led to a significantly more linear gameplay, much more detailed plot and characterization, and usage of cut scenes to advance the story line. To sum this difference in one sentence: if Western RPGs throw the players into their worlds, Asian ones guide them through their stories.
It is therefore understandable that Western and Asian RPGs usually require different approaches and are subjects to different expectations. Free-flowing gameplay with a lot of exploration is what we usually expect from a good Western RPG; a strong story with memorable characters is what is needed from an Asian one. However, it would be exaggeration to think that Asian RPGs don't care for the gameplay at all. It is mainly the exploration aspect that had to be sacrificed for more focus on story. As far as character customization and gameplay mechanics are concerned, there are plenty of Asian RPGs that deal with it even better than many Western ones. Megaten and Suikoden franchises are among the best examples for the high level of customization and replayability of Asian RPGs.
The main attraction of Asian RPGs is undeniably their story lines. If adventure games are the novels of video games, Asian RPGs are their epic poems. You play Asian RPGs to experience world-embracing tales, to participate in cosmic battles against the ultimate evil, to return back to fantastic environments and simple, yet powerful emotions of the epic. No other genre of video games can reach the level of characterization of Asian RPGs. You often play those games just to spend time with memorable characters for whom you care. Another strength of Asian RPGs is its user-friendliness. The gameplay of Asian RPGs is usually designed in such a way that leaves enough room for customization and experimenting, but the basic gameplay mechanics are usually quite simple and easily accessible for everyone. Asian RPGs are perfectly suited for people whose priority in gaming is story line and characterization, but who still want to enjoy strategic combat, building up characters, and other role-playing features, without losing the connection with the story.
|Continued: Brief History of Japanese RPGs|
|Table of Contents: The World of Asian RPGs|