Role-Playing Games are a genre where the storytelling has dramatically improved alongside the gameplay. We can get more immersed in these fantasy lands (whether they have elves or not) than ever before. I really want to clear up a few misconceptions about RPGs in general so that people would quit fighting over which Hemisphere produces the best role-playing games, since there has been some incredible overlap ever since the genre was brought to video gamers everywhere in the early 80s.
This is usually listed as a strong point in favour of JRPGs over Western ones. And it’s totally wrong, since both types of common RPG can have some really strong storytelling no matter how you slice it. JRPGs of yore are lauded for having deep, character-driven stories while Western RPGs are derided for being sandboxes and all about making your character stronger. It’s really not true on either count, because a lot of fan-favourite JRPG franchises have awful storytelling, and Western RPGs are typically easier to get killed in than JRPGs are. Find the crystal macguffin and kill the evil dragon emperor. JRPG story in a nutshell. Western RPGs of the period typically had very strong storylines with continuities and few plotholes, and set distinct atmospheres (Fallout, for example). To be fair, there are as many examples of good storytelling you can find from the period in one pool as the other, I just wanted to make a shocking example of JRPGs because this is considered their bread and butter. Ys VI: Dawn of Ys is a Japanese-produced RPG which has (maybe I’m just a fanatic) an incredible story; not to mention Ys did the whole “parallel of historical Europe” thing long before Valkyria Chronicles did. The localisations of the games was hit or miss, but Ys III’s was a bit clever, and I won’t reveal why.
Usually in favour of Western RPGs, though at the expense of everything else (once again by rabid Final Fantasy fans). This actually has some merit to it, as Western RPGs are a lot more likely to put you in a world with a lot of backstory and detail than a JRPG will. I can’t tell you too much about Breath of Fire‘s world (prior to Dragon Quarter, which is a terrifying game and my favourite in the series), but I can tell you volumes about Ultima, Fallout, The Elder Scrolls, S.T.A.L.K.E.R. (though Eastern European games are a whole new kind of awesome and are a different beast from storytelling in the West and East), and a few others. JRPGs don’t usually go into this much detail, or they feel really samey in this department, but this has recently changed in some franchises and some series (such as anything Megami Tensei or any Falcom RPG) have historically had some incredible world-building. Chrono Trigger and Chrono Cross are fantastic examples of strength in this area, as well. So, I could come up with just as many JRPG examples of good storytelling and worldbuilding as WRPG ones. Fire Emblem doesn’t have particularly good world-building, and it’s difficult to find out what the fuck era is taking place at the time of the game you’re playing, though the storytelling is quite good.
Games I Recommend vs. Games I Don’t:
On the side of JRPGs…
- Ys series (I am a huge fan of anything Falcom)
- Xanadu and Dragonslayer (earlier entries are hard as fuck and difficult to play; try Xanadu Next. See Above.)
- Final Fantasy Tactics games
- Farland Story games
- Fire Emblem games
- Disgaea games
- Anything Megami Tensei, especially Persona
Fuck these games:
- Specific entries in the Final Fantasy series, namely 7-11 and 13.
- Anything that has Idea Fuck’s name on it
- Anything with Compile Heart’s name on it
On the side of WRPGs…
- The Elder Scrolls series, though I think they dropped the ball a little with Skyrim in some ways
- The Fallout series, it’s fucking incredible, and Bethesda did it great justice with newer entries
- Ultima series*
- GTA: San Andreas (it’s a roleplaying game, I am dead fucking serious)
- Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic series
- Baldur’s Gate series
Fuck these games:
- *Ultima 8 and 9, ESPECIALLY 9, holy fuck
- D&D Gold Box games, I really don’t understand how anyone could like them
- Fable, an incredibly shallow series to be flying the RPG banner
- Dragon Age, plays like WoW and reuses all of the BioWare tropes
In conclusion, this was really more of a disorganized rant with some advertisement thrown in. Oops.