A long time ago, in a roundtable far, far, away, our RPGFan editors tackled various issues surrounding Eastern Vs. Western RPGs. They looked at everything from story and music to emotion and structure. The conversation ended with a bang as our editors made conclusions about how the RPGs could combine the best of both worlds in order to make a perfect RPG experience. Let's listen in on the exciting finish!
Eric Farand, Editor-in-Chief
Okay guys, in a perfect world, how would each of your RPGs look? Because I have strong opinions on this matter.
Mark P. Tjan, Previews Editor
I feel synthesis of both viewpoints–some choice, some linearity–is really the only way to go. It's why Chrono Trigger remains my favorite RPG, because it gave you options without going too far. On the other hand, we can look to Romancing SaGa for where it's just a little too loose for its own good. For WRPGs, Fable is another example of a game with too little linearity, and not enough focus. It may be argued that Fable just doesn't have "enough" of anything, but I feel that had Fable been given better direction, even as a short adventure it may have been more fun. As it stands, the game just falls short, like Romancing SaGa did, because it doesn't give the gamer a helping hand on where to go. In fact, Romancing SaGa did better here, because at least the quests could turn out to be interesting.
Patrick Gann, Chief Soundtracks Editor
Mark, do you have any final thoughts on this?
Mark P. Tjan
Yes, let me conclude by saying that while I tend to prefer Japanese RPGs, I find myself amazed time and again by the mechanics in North American titles. There's a wealth of technology they utilize, which simply doesn't exist in Japanese games yet, and that's where they shine. On the Pacific side, however, games are much more refined in terms of presentation and aesthetics such as music and story. It's hard to tell which is "better," if that's even a valid statement. But just think of what could be achieved by bringing East and West together, eh?
I agree about the bringing "west" and "east" together. The results would be pretty amazing. Most of the complaints about Japanese RPGs are that they are linear, lack freedom, don't have enough statistics, attributes, skills, customizations, etc. On the other hand most complaints about Western RPGs are about a lack of focus and not enough emphasis on storytelling and character development.
Now, imagine an RPG that could give you the best of both worlds. Imagine playing Oblivion with a character that has a personality, interacts with various NPCs with memorable character traits and backstory, and has dramatic cut scenes at several important points in the storyline accompanied by dramatic music that adds emotion to the scenes. I believe this would add a little extra something to Oblivion.
Eric, you're giving me goosebumps, please continue...
For you Pat? Always. Imagine playing a game like Final Fantasy X where you have a lot more attributes to deal with instead of just Strength, Defense, HP and MP. Imagine being able to access certain areas of different cities depending on the type of character you are. You could have access to a locked Magician area if you've leveled your character that way, or get better prices at shops if you decided to level up your mercantile skills.
Because of this, you could have different ways of solving conflicts in the game. Instead of the traditional "go to town, rescue the mayor's daughter who was captured by a group of thieves in a cave nearby, go to the cave, rescue daughter, go back to town, mayor allows you to leave city so you can continue your quest," why not be allowed choices in how to solve different situations like in KOTOR? For example, you could: use brute force and fight your way through the cave, use your persuasion skills to discuss with the thieves and arrange for her release, try to sneak in and avoid most fights on your way to rescuing her, use conjuration skills as a magician to conjure some big monsters scaring the thieves. The possibilities are endless. Basically, the ideal is to just give a sense of more "freedom" to the player while still retaining the rest of what makes Japanese RPGs great.
That's great and all, but what company could pull this off? Who has the guts to synergize the east and the west?
Damian Thomas, Chief Reviews Editor
Let me start by saying this: There is still some originality, but it's not coming from the "big guys" as much anymore. Atlus does well with their Shin Megami Tensei games, and Square Enix does manage to pull off something interesting now and then, but I haven't seen an original Tales game from Bandai Namco since Phantasia, no good Shining or Phantasy Star titles from Sega, and certainly nothing new in the Dragon Quest world (it's kinda like a poison to them). Even Level 5 is starting to lose their edge, and that's when the sadness really kicks in.
So, do you think it will be a Japanese or Western company that pulls it off?
Honestly, thanks to the Japanese love of the status quo, I see the US market as being able to make this sort of hybrid much more readily. In fact, I can cite one prime example of that merger–Planescape: Torment. The character has a past (quite a complex one at that) and yet you can decide in which way you want him to answer, grow, etc. That's probably the best example I can cite of such a hybrid, and its legendary status proves that it worked.
So, we'll have to count on the good ole' US of A, or perhaps Canada (BioWare) or France (Ubisoft, yea for Beyond Good & Evil!) for any real development in that regard.
Thanks guys for all of your amazing input. We should get to together more often.
Mark P. Tjan
Yeah, except next time, let's not invite Pat.
Well folks, we hope you enjoyed our four part roundtable discussion. While we might not have solved every facet of the east vs. west debate, we certainly tried. Stay tuned to RPGFan in the coming months for other special features.