The term "Western RPG" can be used in two different ways:
A Role-Playing Game
developed in the Western world, specifically North America and Europe.
Or a Role Playing Game following a style popularized by Western computer developers, which is sometimes differentiated from Eastern RPGs
by having several or more of the following features:
- Usually made in North America or Europe.
- Often released on the PC instead of consoles (though recently they have been on both).
- Aimed to satisfy the player's need for self-expression and fantasy fulfillment by allowing them to become something that they can never be in real life.
- The game rules resemble (and are often licensed from) Tabletop RPGs such as Dungeons & Dragons.
- Often has a Wide Open Sandbox game experience, but can be a Dungeon Crawler, or in recent years, a plot-based game focused on the Character Development of both the customized PC and the NPCs.
- The main hero is generally customizable, and is more of a "blank slate" than a predetermined character.
- In some games, non-boss encounters can be resolved (at least, in theory) without combat, through diplomacy or stealth.
- Turn-Based Combat was the dominant combat form in the past, but has been steadily losing ground to action-based real time. Real Time with Pause is the genre's popular middle ground.
- The art style tends to be more "realistic" and "grittier" than in Eastern RPGs.
- Usually enemies are fought on screen rather than cutting to a separate "battle screen", though the latter was not uncommon in early Western RPGs. Terrain and party formations often play an important role in combat.
- Dice rolls are often visible, and stats are directly shown as they interact with the rules. In recent years, however, many of the more action-oriented Western RPGs have been moving away from this.
Computer RPG is a flexible format, having gone through several dominant design paradigms since its nascence around 1980
. The earliest examples
) were more-or-less faithful implementations of Dungeons & Dragons
and are best described as "dungeon crawlers
": as the player, you were supposed to get through a dungeon, killing monsters and looting treasure—in essence, a more forgiving version of the Roguelikes
(which had been codified around the same time). This period also saw the last extensive cross-pollination between Western and Eastern RPGs
—e.g. Dragon Quest
was influenced as much by Ultima III
as by The Portopia Serial Murder Case
(a quintessential Visual Novel
)—before the two traditions grew firmly apart.
For a while, RPGs in the West remained all about Turn-Based Combat
, but something extraordinary happened in 1985: Richard Garriot's Origin Systems released Ultima IV
, which codified what would become the new "sandbox RPG
" subgenre, where you could go wherever you wanted and do whatever you pleased. For the longest time, Ultima
became the pioneer of Western RPG tradition, codifying such things as a Player Party
of pregenerated NPCs
, Karma Meter
, interactive dialogue (via a Text Parser
), NPC Scheduling
, and it even gave birth
to (as in, "made profitable") the MMORPG
genre. Although the Ultima
series reached its high point
, and died
by 1999, it saw a successor to its traditions in The Elder Scrolls
series, which climbed to the heights of commercial and critical success in the following decade.
But in the mid-90ies
, things were looking very grim for Western RPGs. Ultima
was not the only reputed series that didn't make it to the 3D
, The Bard's Tale
, Might and Magic
, the Gold Box
, The Magic Candle
, Quest for Glory
, Eye of the Beholder
, Lands of Lore
... they were all dead or dying
by the end of the decade. And as if to fill the void, Japanese RPGs like Final Fantasy VII
stormed the Western markets and conquered them in a flash, with nobody left to challenge them.
Or so it seemed. From the ashes of the old Western RPG tradition, two phoenixes rose around 1997. One was Diablo
, a perky little dungeon crawler that captivated the masses with simple, action-oriented gameplay (instead of traditional turn-based) and a consistent and moody Gothic atmosphere. The other was Fallout
, a game that profoundly changed the Western understanding of role-playing video games by focusing on a single PC's story (rather than a party
) and on the choices the players must make, from building their character
to story-shaping decisions
to figuring out their path to victory
On the shoulders of these giants, the third and, so far, the youngest subgenre of Western RPG arose: the "narrative RPG". Codified by Planescape: Torment
and Baldur's Gate
(particularly part two) and learning from the successful story-oriented competitors from Japan, these games put the spotlight on intricate plots and interesting characters—and hit gold. As the sixth generation
approached, this allowed the Western RPGs to go on an offensive and plant boots on the console ground with The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind
(a sandbox RPG) and Knights of the Old Republic
(a narrative RPG).
The jump to full 3D and Multi-Platform
brought with it new sensibilities, however. Some Western-developed games (Septerra Core
, Sonic Chronicles
, etc.) deliberately went for the console RPG feel. Other developers embraced real-time combat and Game Pad
controls and started streamlining traditional RPG mechanics and pitching their games as "Action RPGs
"—a term that has never been particularly well-defined in the West, but one that now posed the critical question: just when does an "ARPG" stop being an RPG and become an Action Game
? At the same time, RPG Elements
started to bleed into other genres (shooters, strategy games, MOBAs
, sandboxes, etc.), and by The New Tens
, Western RPG was suffering from a severe identity crisis that could be summed up in one sentence as "It's an RPG if the publisher says it is
Perhaps as a response to this, the genre is experiencing a renaissance of sorts in The New Tens
. The rise of crowdfunding (and Kickstarter
in particular) and affordable game tech (like Unity
) has allowed some veteran developers to go back and reevaluate the gameplay and story ideas that were on the table during the Golden (pre-1995) and Silver Ages (late 90ies to early 2000s) but have been swept under the rug as Western RPGs went down the triple-A road: inXile
's Wasteland 2
was a deliberate throwback to the 1988 original
(and, by extension
, to Fallout
's Pillars of Eternity
, to the Infinity Engine era; inXile's new Torment
, to the classic Planescape
; and Garriot's Shroud of the Avatar
, to his own Ultima VII
. Unity even paved a way for the resurrection of the venerable Might and Magic
brand, while Path of Exile
brought back some of the old Diablo II
magic via direct crowdfunding.
On the triple-A side of the industry, the narrative RPG subgenre is currently defined by the rivalry
's flagship franchises, Mass Effect
and Dragon Age
, and CD Projekt RED
's The Witcher
games. The sandbox RPG niche is dominated by Bethesda
, who most recently released The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
to great success and now owns the Fallout
IP. Pure dungeon crawlers have largely gone out of favor with the big publishers, but Blizzard
has made a resurgence with Diablo III
, and Diablo
clones like the Torchlight
series still bring in the cash.
See also our guide on how to Write A Western RPG
Examples of this genre:
- Planet Stronghold (An independent 2D game with many Western RPG elements, created by Winter Wolves with Ren'py, released for computers in February 2011.)