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I love role-playing games. Over my few years in gaming, they've provided some of the best experiences I've had, across several consoles and generations. I've most likely spent more time with them than any other genre, and if my top one-hundred games is accurate enough, it is my favorite genre. The genre can be split into two different groups though; Japanese role-playing games, and Western role-playing games. I definitely have had a lot more fun with Japanese ones, but there still are some good Western ones in the industry. One thing I've noticed with this divide, though, is that I generally have preferred role-playing games on portable systems compared to consoles. Yes, I love console games like Xenoblade Chronicles and Kingdom Hearts II, but in reality, Japanese RPGs have had far more success with me. As part of a brand new series where I compare Japan with the West, I'm going to take a look at why JRPGs and WRPGs succeed on the platforms they do, and include some of my own personal views on the matter.
That awkward moment where I only beat Mass Effect 1 and played FF XIII for...three hours?
Looking at my top ten games of all time, it's already obvious I prefer handheld games compared to home consoles (also, for the sake of this blog, we're assuming "home consoles" includes PC). Six of the games in my top ten appeared on Nintendo DS or 3DS, and four of those are Japanese RPGs, with both spots two and three being two of them. As for Western RPGs...well, I loved Fallout 3, and spent a decent time in Skyrim, but they don't garner as much attention from me. I bought both of the first Witcher games, but I've yet to really get into them in any capacity. Borderlands 2 is probably right up there with Fallout 3, I guess, though some people don't consider an RPG as much as a first-person shooter.
What separates Japanese RPGs from Western RPGs mostly amounts to style, as Japanese games are derided a bit for having more obscure plotlines and outrageous hairstyles. Western RPGs, to me, seem more grounded in fantasy worlds inspired by the worlds of Tolkein and Lewis, or in science-fiction settings that usually involve space in some shape or form. I feel that Japanese RPGs are degraded more for staying within that realm of weird loli-fantasy and stuff, while Western RPGs are looked down upon mainly for containing numerous glitches, or other problems. Japanese RPGs have roots in turn-based combat, but nowadays we see a good amount of them also utilize a real-time system, while Western RPGs almost exclusively use real-time (I can't think of any, but I'm sure there are a couple).
The thing about Western RPGs (and to an extent, some Japanese RPGs) is that they focus on larger, more open-world experiences. Probably the most popular Western RPG, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, has the player run around the large open province of Skyrim. The game is first-person, and has decent textures, so that's what sort of eliminates the idea of this game existing on a portable device. It's entirely possible that the game (or possibly its predecessor, Oblivion) could be ported to the Vita in some capacity (The 3DS could run it most likely, but considering the interface, the Vita would be more suited for the game), but that would require the field view to be decreased a lot, for removal of some features most likely, and would basically create an entirely different, lesser experience. I don't want to play games like Skyrim or Fallout 3 on a portable console, though. I want them on a higher powered machine.
I play both portable and console games for long stretches of time, but portable systems really allow a person to play for shorter intervals. I've had a couple five hour sessions with Persona 4 Golden over the last week, but the majority of my time was in small, thirty-to-forty minute sessions, because I was playing a lot on the bus to school, during free times, and also while writing blogs and doing homework. The ease of closing a 3DS or putting a Vita into sleep mode can actually be a crucial factor in how a person plays a game. When I played Xenoblade Chronicles a couple years ago, I wasn't doing these small sessions; I was playing for four-to-five hours on end. The same is true for Borderlands 2: I played that game everyday after school for about two weeks (then Dishonored came out), and spent about four hours each day playing. Sure, Borderlands 2 is coming out for the Vita in a few months, but I don't see myself buying it: I may enjoy being able to do a quick mission or so while I'm on the bus or something, but honestly, I think I'd rather just fire it up on my PC again. If I am playing a game I love, I can play it for several hours on end, but for some, there's something satisfying in just getting a quick taste. Portable games naturally feel good in small doses, but also great in longer sessions. Console games seem to only enjoy the latter from me, personally.
*Insert newfound love for Persona 4 Golden here*
I mentioned how I've been playing Persona 4 Golden a lot in small amounts, and that is completely true. If I wasn't doing homework while on my break at school or anything else, I'd whip out my Vita and have a couple battles with Shadows, or maybe hang out with one of the characters. It's this fact that made me want to write this blog: Japanese RPGs on portable devices have something that neither Western RPGs nor Japanese ones on consoles have. It's some sort of, well, quality that makes them addictive, and playable in small doses. Somehow, I love them more than either of the other two sets of games I mentioned, but I can take playing them less. Well, it's more that the small bit of time I play just makes me want to play more the next time. And so, I get into this cycle of just wanting to play the game over and over, but steeling myself not to. When I played Fallout and Skyrim, I don't recall actively thinking about the games over and over when I wasn't playing them, but I have been doing that with Persona 4 Golden, and still do that with Chrono Trigger and The World Ends with You. The only real console exception to this is Xenoblade Chronicles.
It may not be that portable Japanese RPGs have some unique quality, though, but rather that Western RPGs have a negative quality. If you think about it, something that's been pushed during the last generation has been immersion, and that may be a problem for Western RPGs. Sure, I get immersed in those games, but it sort of takes a bit of time to settle into the world, and realize how big it is and how much I can explore it. With portable RPGs, I can turn off sleep mode, and immediately be in the game. I'm immediately immersed because I've got a world to explore at my fingertips, and I'm not faced with longer loading times I experience on consoles. That may not be a factor for some people, but when I can immediately jump into a game (and also avoid having to load a save file) it feels more of a natural interaction.
I know this has been a sort of, well, all over the place blog, but my main thing is that for some reason, that may not be singular, I've enjoyed JRPGs more on portable devices than on home consoles, and the same goes true for all Western RPGs. I think that even if Western RPGs did go onto portable platforms, they may not received the desired qualities that JRPGs have. The necessity of longer sessions with Western RPGs really kills off any possible immersion (and thus increased enjoyment) that they could have on portable devices.
Well, those are my thoughts considering how Japanese RPGs have succeeded on portable devices, and how Western ones will most likely not find success on them (at least, in the near future). This was sort of an idea I've had in the back of my head for awhile, so I'm excited to hear everyone's thoughts. I don't have a set schedule of when new blogs in this series will come out, but you can probably expect one in the next month (because that's how things roll nowadays with my planning...). So yup...see you all tomorrow.
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