There and Back Again: A Look at Japanese VRPGs VS American CRPGs

RPGs are one of the most beloved genres of games for hard-core console or PC gamers, yet each platform provides very different gaming
experiences. Many readers of this site might have lost their RPG cherry with a Computer Role-Playing Game (CRPG) such as Ultima or Wizardry. My experience started out with Video Game RPGs (VRPGs). This is a brief look at differences between the two mixed with nostalgic memories of playing a variety of RPGs growing up.

The very first VRPG I ever played was the original Dragon Warrior for the NES, when I was 7 years old. In the game your avatar was Edgar,
a knight for the King that had a whopping two quests to complete: save the Princess and slay the DragonLord. You could buy new weapons, learn new spells, navigate through dungeons, and fight adorable monsters, all to the strains of Koichi Sugiyama's classical music
with a chiptune twinge.

Despite being the first VRPGs that set the mold for most Japanese VRPGs to follow, not much has changed in gameplay style since Dragon Warrior (known as Dragon Quest in Japan). The gameplay boils down to a fairly simple flowchart of Town-->Quest-->Dungeon-->Town. The avatar recieves a main quest from a town and is told to complete it by going to a dungeon. After completing the quest, usually by retrieving a special treasure or defeating a nefarious boss monster, the avatar returns to the town to gain a reward and a clue as to what village to go to complete the next quest.

Inbetween each step of the flowchart is a boatload of cut-scenes, which are customary in Japanese VRPGs. They help propel the plot and flesh out party members and NPCs in the game. Instead of generating characters from scratch, you are given party members with predetermined roles and a bit of quirk. This leads to endearing characters and help turn more modern VRPGs into an interactive anime-- the reward for completing a quest in a VRPG is a cartoon cutscene. Later on I played several VRPGs on the SNES such as Lufia: Rise of the Sinistrals, Earthbound, and Final Fantasy III (Final Fantasy VI in Japan) enjoyed their similar style of gameplay and increasingly complicated plots (though Lufia has a party member who was obsessed with cinammon pie?!).

Much later, I was in middle school and got more into PC gaming. I was a big fan of retro-compilations even then and was sampling some
titles from Interplay's 10th Anniversary Collection. One of these was an early CRPG, The Bard's Tale. The title screen had a charming image
of a Bard sitting at a bar spinning stories of derring-do like no other. 20 minutes later, I generated a small party, equipped their
default weapons, and set out to explore the village of Skara Brae. A few steps later, my party encountered a small group of Orcs. I barely
made it past the first battle and hobbled back to the Bar for rest. This was clearly a different kind of creature than Dragon Warrior.

I was familiar from party generation from what few tabletop RPGs sessions I played with friends. The sheer difficulty is what was such a turn-off initially, as was the first-person perspective. Later on, I grew to enjoy mapping out dungeons on a sheet a graph paper because it added to the sense of discovery, but it was a huge difference from the Japanese VRPGs I grew up on. The lack of narrative was a bit dissapointing, but that the game was almost pure combat made it feel much more primal and raw to its tabletop roots.

VRPGs were like being given a tour of a village with a guide holding your hand, pointing out interesting spots along the way. CRPGs were like being thrown into a dark cave with nobody holding your hand, like a lamb preparing to be slaughtered.

Anyone else have any memories or preferences of the classic CRPG VS VRPG debate? I decided to keep things simple to prevent this article from reaching epic length. :) I feel a good blend of American and Japanese RPGs was found in Baldur's Gate 2 or Fallout for the PC-- you had some sort of a plot, but had enough freedom where you weren't locked in such a linear game progression.

Comments

yakumo9275
yakumo9275's picture
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Joined: 12/26/2006
Ze Germans are coming!
Matt Barton wrote:

I'm sure we could see the same thing in Germany, which could be rather interesting. I wonder how many German CRPGs migrated to Japan and vice versa?

german crpg's? fill me in. Im sure I know some but I dont automatically go 'german crpgs!'

-- Stu --

n/a
Matt Barton
Matt Barton's picture
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Joined: 01/16/2006
German CRPGs

Well, I was thinking of the Ambermoon/Amberstar games, as well as Darklands and Gothic. Those are the ones right off the top of my head. I'm sure there must have been many more that never made it into English versions.

yakumo9275 wrote:
Matt Barton wrote:

I'm sure we could see the same thing in Germany, which could be rather interesting. I wonder how many German CRPGs migrated to Japan and vice versa?

german crpg's? fill me in. Im sure I know some but I dont automatically go 'german crpgs!'

-- Stu --

n/a

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