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Western RPG

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Western RPG (WRPG for short) is a subgenre of Role-Playing Games. It contrasts the Eastern RPG subgenre, and was likely originally coined as a reaction to the emergence of the JRPG genre.

The genre is historically also known as Computer RPG (CRPG for short), as a result of Western RPGs' historical preference for PC platforms, in contrast to Japanese RPGs' preference for consoles. As multi-platform releases became standard for RPGs in the 2000s (for both Eastern and Western developers), the term "Computer RPG" lost its WRPG meaning and instead became a name for a new type of PC-exclusive RPG games, which are often independently-developed and in the classic Western RPG style.

The Western RPG's definitions is in many ways defined to be everything that the Eastern RPG isn't; after all, before Japanese RPGs came onto the scene, all role-playing games were Western RPGs. It was the emergence and divergence of Japanese RPGs from Dragon Quest onwards that made a East/West distinction necessary. As such, the traits that define Western RPG are generally the gameplay traits featured in the original 70s-80s generation of RPGs; this inclues their association with PCs, as the genre originated as a PC gaming genre.

If applied to the narrow creator region definition of Eastern RPGs, then Western RPGs are all RPGs made outside of East Asia, usually in the Americas (USA, Canada, Mexico, Argentina, Chile, Brazil, etc.), Australia, New Zealand, and Europe instead. When used to contrast the aesthetical definition of Eastern RPGs, Western RPGs are defined as a Role-Playing Game following a style popularized by Western computer developers.

General traits of games that people call Western RPGs include:

  • 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, 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 than in Eastern RPGs, with more lifelike body proportions and facial features, compared to the more anime-inspired art style of 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.
  • Background 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.
  • Often features numerous optional quests. These are usually recorded in a "quest log" or a similar system to keep track of them.

The Western/Computer RPG is a flexible format, having gone through several dominant design paradigms since its nascence around 1980. The major sub-genres include:

  • Dungeon Crawler: The dungeon crawler is focused on the dungeon crawling experience — players would move through dungeons, kill monsters, and loot treasure. This was the form that the earliest examples of Role-Playing Games (and therefore the earliest Western/Computer RPGs) took, in games like Temple of Apshai, Ultima, and Wizardry. These games are directly inspired by Dungeons & Dragons, and in essence are a more forgiving version of the Roguelikes (which had been codified around the same time).
  • Sandbox RPG: The sandbox RPG is focused on the free-form "go anywhere, do anything" Wide-Open Sandbox experience, with more forms of interaction than just combat. The subgenre was codified in 1985's Ultima IV.
  • Narrative RPG: The youngest subgenre of Western RPGs, narrative RPGs put a greater emphasis on intricate plots and interesting characters. Although its earliest specimenBetrayal at Krondor and (unsurprisingly) the Ultima games from Ultima VII Part II onwards — emerged at the dusk of the Golden Age (1993note ), the subgenre wasn't codified until Planescape: Torment and Baldur's Gate II towards the end of the 1990s.

The RPG genre originated from attempts to adapt the Dungeons & Dragons pen-and-paper RPG format onto a digital video gaming medium. Two games, Wizardry and Ultima codified the RPG genre as a whole, and even the JRPG codifier Dragon Quest directly took their influence from them. After RPG development diverged into WRPG and JRPG (or Computer RPG vs Console RPG) following Dragon Quest, Wizardry and Ultima continued being the pioneers of Western RPG tradition, with Wizardry codifying such things as a Player Party of pregenerated NPCs and Karma Meter, while Ultima codified things like Overworld Not to Scale, interactive dialogue (via a Text Parser), NPC Scheduling, and even Romance Sidequests, as well as the traditions of the Sandbox RPG.

The Ultima series reached its high point, withered, and died by 1999. In the mid-90s, things were looking very grim for Western RPGs. Ultima was not the only reputed series that didn't make it to the 3D: Wizardry, 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.

Then, however, 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.

The emergence of the narrative RPG became a new Genre Turning Point for the WRPG genre. As the sixth generation approached, Western RPGs went 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, Anachronox, Summoner, 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 '10s, 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 has experienced a renaissance of sorts in The New '10s. 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 90s to early 2000s) but have been swept under the rug as Western RPGs went down the triple-A road.

On the triple-A side of the industry, the narrative RPG subgenre was, for a long time, defined by the rivalry between BioWare's cash cow franchises, Mass Effect and Dragon Age, and CD Projekt RED's The Witcher gamesnote . The sandbox RPG niche is dominated by Bethesda's massive The Elder Scrolls and Fallout franchises. 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.

The history of Western RPGs is a long one, and is intimately tied to the history of the RPG genre as a whole. For more information on the genre's history, see its Useful Notes. The WRPG genre is also closely linked to several other genres outside of RPGs by their shared origins; RPG codifier and WRPG pioneer Ultima also gave birth to the Immersive Sim note  and the MMORPG genresnote .

See also our guide on how to Write a Western RPG.

Examples of this genre:

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Alternative Title(s): Western Role Playing Game