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“Fixing” JRPGs and the Resulting Backlash

January 18, 2010

Courtesy of Kotaku, I found a pair of interesting links I’d like to share with you. These are in relation to my previous post on RPGs and JRPGs, but this time, we’ll get to see it from the side of Westerners and Japanese folk.

On January 11, 2010, IGN put up an article titled “Top 10 Ways to Fix JRPGs.” Essentially, the two people who made the article criticized certain aspects of Japanese role-playing games, such as linearity, the retreading of particular story elements, the battle system, and seven other things that we’ve come to associate with JRPGs.

Six days later, AltJapan has an article up that lists some of the anonymous reactions to the IGN article from 2chan, Japan’s well-known BBS. Among them are the following points, which appear to have been translated by AltJapan:

“Oblivion and Fallout fanatics are exponentially more annoying than any Final Fantasy fanatic.”

“Hey foreigners: we find your first-person shooters boring as shit. What do you say to that?”

“When I see all the ‘sniping’ and corpse-desecrating ‘teabagging’ going on in US games, the thought of what what foreigners do when they get mad [in real life] freaks me out.”

“Okay, so give us some foreign RPGs that are more interesting than Japanese ones. I just don’t find foreign RPGs interesting at all.”

“Do foreign companies even make RPGs anymore? The only games that come to mind are first-person shooter action games. If we followed this ‘advice’ to the letter they’d have us making Grand Theft Auto clones.”

Now, while most of the commenters were probably understandably upset and/or defensive of Japanese role-playing games, there was one comment that really strikes me as elucidating the heart of the problem. The unknown commenter wrote, “I call ‘cultural differences’!”

I think there’s nothing inherently broken in JRPGs that would require fixing. JRPGs have their own way of presenting a world, as does Western RPGs.  The problem, however, shows itself when a person tries to see JRPGs in light of Western sensibilities and Western RPGs in light of Japanese (or probably Asian) sensibilities.

Japan gets the stereotype of being the mecca for well-made console RPGs (and possibly pachinko and bullet-hell shooters, but I digress). America, on the other hand, has its hands full with being thought of as predominantly making well-done first-person shooter games and sandbox action games (At least, that’s the impression I’m seeing from the people who replied on 2Chan.)

One thing that must be noted at this time is that the sensibilities and preferences of people change over time. As more games get made and new boundaries in gaming discovered and crossed, it’s possible that we’ll see a shift in how JRPGs are seen by some Westerners, and also in the way Western RPGs are seen by the Japanese (or other Asian folk, as the case may be).  We might not see it immediately, but maybe as the world gets more interconnected, we’ll see it happening.

In which case, I long to see an RPG that combines the best of Japanese styled role-playing and Western-styled role-playing… all meshed perfectly into a game that just fits the sensibilities of more than one culture.

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