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Eastern RPG
aka: JRPG

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The term Eastern RPG, contrasting with Western RPG, is a sub-genre of Role-Playing Games. It is an extension of the term Japanese RPG (a.k.a. "JRPG") to a more general Eastern cultural sphere (with Japanese-inspired game designs) instead of just a single country. The term Console RPG was historically a synonym for Japanese RPGs, due to their historical preference for console-only or handheld-only releases; the name has largely fallen into disuse as multi-platform releases became the new norm in the 2000s.

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Eastern RPG, as it is commonly used and understood, is differentiated from Western RPG on an Aesthetical level; Eastern and Western RPGs elicit very different forms of sensational and emotional responses from their players through their different applications of similar RPG Mechanics. The emergence of this different form of aesthetical design comes from a combination of East Asian cultural imprints and East Asian game design histories; some information on the history part can be seen below.

Some of the visible traits of Eastern RPGs that differentiates them from Western RPGs include:

  • Aimed to satisfy the player's need for a well-crafted interactive story with interesting characters and complex interactions.
  • The art styles can often resemble those of Anime or Manga.
  • Many tend to follow linear plots, with less of a Wide Open Sandbox setting, and many may not feature discrete "quests". However, there are many Japanese RPGs that do offer non-linear narratives.
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  • The player usually controls a party of pre-designed characters. The player is sometimes offered a choice of what characters to use, but not the option of designing his own protagonists, which allows a more cinematic and tightly scripted story. But again, there are many Eastern RPGs that deviate from this.
  • The party members are usually written into the plot, rather than blank slates.
  • Later games tend to have one or more elaborate, minigame-like "systems" (such as the License Grid in Final Fantasy XII) that allow skill and ability customization.
  • Random Encounters are a common gameplay element, especially in older games.
  • Turn-Based Combat and the various Combatant Cooldown Systems are prevalent, although action-based combat has also been popular at different times.
  • A degree of Level Grinding is strongly encouraged, if not outright required, to proceed through many of the games.
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  • Most encounters are resolved through combat or cutscenes. Most quests and abilities are combat-oriented.
  • Dice rolls are always hidden and stats are given as arbitrary numbers. Sometimes dice rolls aren't used at all, and fights are based on your stats versus the enemy's stats alone.
  • Often contain a few Mini Games.
  • Often targeted towards a broader audience, including young children and female audiences (hence the Bishōnen or Shōnen characters often found in this genre).

Eastern RPG can also be narrowly defined as a Role-Playing Game developed in the Eastern world, specifically East Asia; this definition however ignores the key aesthetical traits of Eastern RPGs that made the genre distinctive, making it less meaningful as a definition for a video game genre (some early Japanese RPGs are outright Wizardry-inspired CRPGs that bear little resemblance to JRPG as we know it, and some may even argue are outright WRPGs). Nevertheless, expect to see some games in this page to be categorized as Eastern RPGs using this definition.

JRPGs can encompass several different diverse sub-genres:

  • Turn-based RPG (a.k.a. Light RPG): The turn-based RPG is the type of game people think about when the term "JRPG" is mentioned. The turn-based RPG format was codified in the game Dragon Quest from 1986, which also codified almost all staple elements of the JRPG genre, making turn-based RPGs the first true JRPGs. Turn-based RPGs are arguably the most popular from the Super Nintendo Entertainment System to PlayStation 2 eras. With later generations, the gameplay has been mixing up with other genres (including Action Games, Adventure Games, Simulation Games, and Strategy Games) though the general "explore / get into battles / some variation on turn-based combat" is still going strong for many games within this sub-genre.
  • Action RPG: A genre that mixes JRPG gameplay with Action Adventure elements (emphasis on elements), so that while it keeps the strongly plotted story, occasionally manga/anime-influenced characters, experience and statistics, the turn-based battle system is done away with in favor of a more real-time method of attack resembling Action Games. The Action RPG sub-genre has its origins in early 80s Japanese RPGs like Dragon Slayer and Hydlide, which combined traditional RPG elements with Japanese Arcade Game action elements. Up until the early 2000s, the majority of action RPGs were from Japan, but in recent years, it is arguably more common to see action RPGs from the West.
  • Strategy RPG (a.k.a. Tactical RPG): These are Turn-Based Strategy games done in the "Console RPG style", though more recent examples of the sub-genre have also incorporated Real-Time Strategy elements. In contrast to the traditional turn-based format above (represented by Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy), tactical RPGs allow more freedom of movement in battle, while the narratives are also more likely to be non-linear, with strategic decisions often having an impact on the way the story unfolds. This tactical RPG style has traditionally been dominated by Japan, since Western turn-based RPG's usually already allow for freedom of movement in battle by default.
  • Dungeon Crawler: This subgenre can include both Eastern and Western games; it was more common among Western RPGs up until the 1990s, but has today become more popular in the East than it is in the West.

The history of JRPGs (and in turn Eastern RPGs) and how the genre diverged from Western RPGs originates from the divergences of design between Western Computer RPGs and Japanese Console RPGs. Japanese role-playing game development was in its early days very much inspired by early Western Computer RPG genre pioneers like Wizardry or Ultima. However, in the 1980s, home computers did not take hold in Japanese homes like in Western countries due to their cost, as a result, there was little market for role-playing games like Wizardry or Ultima.

The introduction and proliferation of the Famicom home video game console created an opportunity for such RPG video games to be adapted for a wider audience; Dragon Quest in 1986 took the Wizardry and Ultima format and simplified it for the limited powers of the console. Dragon Quest soon became a cultural phenomenon and hugely influential within Japanese video game development, becoming the the Trope Codifier, if not Trope Maker, of the JRPG genre. In the decades after Dragon Quest, console RPGs made in Japan and Computer RPGs made in Western countries increasingly diverged in their designs, influenced by cultural differences as well as the different foundations these genres are built on.

In the 2000s, as the power of consoles grew and platform differences decreased, the differentiation of RPGs by console or computer became increasingly inapplicable. This in turn led to the creation of the Japanese/Western RPG distinction. This distinction is criticized by many industry veterans as being misleading or otherwise unhelpful, and cross-influences as well as odd cases do indeed exist within this spectrum of games and genres. Regardless, the use of these two terms have persisted at least for now.

Roly-playing game development in East Asian countries (such as China or South Korea) took a lot of their influences from Japanese role-playing games; one of the earliest and most influential Chinese role-playing games, The Legend of Sword and Fairy (Xian Jian Qi Xia Zhuan), quite clearly exhibited many JRPG influences. As JRPG traits are being exhibited in other East Asian RPGs outside of Japan, this led some to choose to expand of the term "Japanese RPG" into "Eastern RPG".

See also our own guide on how to Play A Console RPG.


Games in this genre


Alternative Title(s): JRPG, Japanese RPG, Japanese Role Playing Game, Eastern Role Playing Game, Console RPG

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