Persona 3, despite its dating sim aspects* and animeishness, is pretty firmly grounded in WRPG tradition, and most of the unique elements belonging to it are idiosyncratic to the SMT series, and can't easily be called elements of western or japanese design schools. Which is why I think it did so well. It's not a good JRPG or a good WRPG or even a good RPG. It's an an incredibly well designed game by any metric, and genre and country of origin are sort of moot points.
I've always thought of the SaGa games as being somewhat along those lines. Which is one of many reasons why I love them so much.
Sort of. Again though, these games are sort of idiosyncratic. Using SaGa Frontier as an example, Ultima 5 and 6 are the only WRPGs that come to mind where you can build a party of a large number of pre-made characters. Most WRPGs have pretty small parties and either let you create everyone yourself or limit it to a fairly small number (I think Baldur's Gate 2 might be on the upper end here, if I remember correctly. I never played that much. Albion has something like 8 characters total that join your party.
As for the non-linearity, that's something that's typically part of WRPGs, yes, but I'm also not of the opinion that JRPGs are as linear as people tend to claim they are or, if I can qualify that, modern JRPGs aren't. Non-linearity is pretty weird, though. Ultima 7's actually a fairly linear game, for instance. It just has a good number of sidequests and hidden things and there's nothing preventing you from just going off and screwing around with stuff on your own. SaGa Frontier's exactly the same way. Fairly linear main storylines, with a few sidequests, and you can explore all of the worlds as you feel.
Genuinely non-linear RPGs are actually pretty rare in WRPGs. The second main paradigm is that you have x number of goals that need to be completed and can be done in any order (and you can explore around as much as you feel like with few restrictions). A LOT of JRPGs do this today, it seems, refining what FF6 did in its second half. Genuinely non-linear WRPGs are mostly limitted to the likes of the Might & Magic and Elder Scrolls series, and then a few oddball non-series games like Darklands or stuff like Megatraveller and Realms of Arkania (which I dont like because they have skills that are useless in context of the PC games and are only there so you can transfer your dudes from the PnP games over and back again).
And as for SGF's usage-based skill system, I'm not really sure where that originated. Wizardry games, when they started using skills (Wizardry 6, 1990ish?) had a usage based skill system in place, but you also gained exp and levels and could invest additional points into lagging skills. Quest for Glory is entirely usage based (but it also tracks exp and I have no idea what this does). On the other hand, Ultima is levelled based (and each game, IIRC, handles stat gain a bit differently. In 6 and 7 you gain stats by praying at shrines after levelling up. In the earlier games, where you had more that three stats, I think it was differently. Although I guess it goes to show that, while complex stat systems are often associated with WRPGs, this isn't exactly true, and I'm of the school of thought that "More skills and stats doesn't inherently mean better." Ideally, if you HAVE more skills in a game, these should translate to more actions a player can do (Armor making skill, trapping skill, music playing skill, etc.) instead of a bunch of passive skills (Medium armor, long blades, poison resistance, etc.) and when you have a bunch of skills that don't really translate into anything but obtuse number crunchery, it gets a bit silly. But I digress). Dragon Wars had a usage-based system, the Bard's Tale games did not from what I remember, and I'm not entirely sure what Wasteland had off-hand. Fallout games were investing points at level up, though, with your base stats never changing, and Albion had you paying a trainer to up stats.
And then SaGa Frontier 2 and Romancing SaGa 2 are fairly oddball, since I can't really think of any other games that have a gameplay progression like these (and RSG2 and SGF2 aren't even that similar in this regard). And the earlier SaGa games are much closer to JRPGs as a whole. So yeah. Idiosyncratic, I guess.
Which game or series would you guys say best exemplifies the JRPG, or your concept of the JRPG, rather?
* Truthfully, however, it's not so much a dating sim as it is a life sim, since you also need to balance your studying, social interaction, and general wellfare. These elements aren't unknown in western RPGs and despite being not-overly-common nowadays, if you look back at something like Ultima 7, which had detailed NPC schedules and a requirement for the player to eat, you can see where some of these things come from. More clearly, though, and since I've been playing it a lot recently, Quest for Glory 2's scheduling system is *quite* similar to Persona 3's. Where Persona 3 primarily differes, here, is the way that it monitors your relationship to various NPCs, which is quite novel. Morrowind and Oblivion, for instance, had favorability bars for every NPC in the game, although it's hard to say that either of the games used these in an interesting way (although Morrowind has some interesting friendship/relationship mods that do a lot more with this). Likewise, even though Quest for Glory 2 monitors, to an extent, whether or not other characters are happy with your actions or annoyed at you, this doesn't have much of a lasting effect, and the only characters this really matters much for would be... Aziza and Rakeesh, if you're trying to get the Paladin Class opened. However, as I said, these mostly result to responding to your actions in game or in-dialogue and don't try to simulate a long term relationship. It's also worth noting that quite a few WRPGs have tried to do what Persona 3 did with relations and failed at doing it in a decent manner, and I think it's fair to say that the Gothic and Guild games are the closest that came to Persona 3's success (However, I must admit that I don't know how well Gothic did it and I'm going from second hand knowledge here, and while The Guild does a very nice job at it, and definitely is an RPG in a very large capacity, it's predominately a strategy game/economic sim -- I have to say, though, that if it had been coupled with a dungeon crawl element, I would've been GREATLY pleased).