Jan 312013
 

The labels JRPG and Western RPG are commonly used genre labels that don’t do a lot of good in actually telling anyone what the game in question is like because there is so much variety between games that are arguably in the same genre. For that matter, some people still can’t agree whether these terms should apply strictly to the location of the developer that made the game or to the style of game. Surely, we can do better.

Here are 9 criteria you can use to classify just about any RPG.

Combat System – Is it turn-based or Real-time? And for real-time games, there’s a further sub-classification – is it menu-based or does the player have direct control over their character?
Positioning – Is character & enemy position important or irrelevant in combat?
Party Size – How many characters does the player have in their active party?
Power Progression – Is the player’s party’s power progression linear or do they have more freedom to choose how their character’s develop in power & skill?
Story – Is the story predetermined or does the player have freedom to affect the story in major ways?
Focus – Does the game focus more on story or more on gameplay? This isn’t a reflection of the quality of either but rather how much time is spent on each comparatively.
Exploration – Is exploration linear (go here, then go here, then go here) or does the player have more freedom to explore the entire world?
Art Style – Is the art style realistic or more stylized?
Success – Is success in the game based more on the player’s skills (reflexes) or their character stats & strategies?

As you can see, most of these categories aren’t either/or situations. For example, in Final Fantasy IV, power progression is mostly linear (you have a set party at each story point and LV-Ups give increased stats & new abilities regardless of player choice) but the player has a small amount of control in how they choose to equip their characters (equipment is mostly linear progression too but occasionally it’ll give more interesting choices).

For fun, I decided to rate the stereotypical JRPG, Action/JRPG, and Strategy/JRPG in these various categories.

Traditional JRPG
Combat – Turn-based
Positioning – Irrelevant or minor (front & back row)
Party Size – 3-5
Power Progression – Mix
Story – Predetermined
Focus – Mix
Exploration – Linear at first, opens up later.
Art Style – Stylized
Success – Stat/Strategy-based

Traditional JRPG/Strategy
Combat – Turn-based
Positioning – Important
Party Size – 5 or more (sometimes WAY more)
Power Progression – Mix
Story – Predetermined
Focus – Gameplay
Exploration – Linear to non-existent
Art Style – Stylized
Success – Stat/Strategy-based

Traditional Action/JRPG
Combat – Real-time (Direct Control)
Positioning – Important
Party Size – 1 to 3
Power Progression – Mix
Story – Predetermined
Focus – Gameplay
Exploration – Linear
Art Style – Stylized
Success – Skill-based

And here are some analysis of many popular RPGs, both Western & Japanese. Oh and I included Bioshock as well even though some people don’t consider it a true RPG.

Persona 4 Golden
Combat – Turn-based
Positioning – Irrelevant
Party Size – 4
Power Progression – Mix
Story – Predetermined (But some freedom in the S-Link system)
Focus – Mix
Exploration – Linear
Art Style – Stylized
Success – Stat/Strategy-based

Final Fantasy XIII
Combat – Real-time (Menu-based)
Positioning – Moderate
Party Size – 3
Power Progression – Linear (becomes less linear late in the game)
Story – Predetermined
Focus – Mix
Exploration – Linear
Art Style – Stylized
Success – Stat/Strategy-based

Xenoblade Chronicles
Combat – Real-time (Menu)
Positioning – Important
Party Size – 3
Power Progression – Freedom
Story – Predetermined
Focus – Gameplay
Exploration – Freedom
Art Style – Stylized
Success – Mix

Dark Souls
Combat – Real-time (Direct)
Positioning – Important
Party Size – 1 (Can co-op with other players temporarily)
Power Progression – Freedom
Story – Predetermined
Focus – Gameplay
Exploration – Freedom
Art Style – Realistic
Success – Skill-based

Dragon Age: Origins
Combat – Mix (Real-time with pause to enter commands)
Positioning – Important
Party Size – 4
Power Progression – Freedom
Story – Changeable
Focus – Mix
Exploration – Freedom
Art Style – Realistic
Success – Stat/Strategy-based

Bioshock
Combat – Real-time (Direct)
Positioning – Important
Party Size – 1
Power Progression – Freedom
Story – Predetermined
Focus – Gameplay
Exploration – Non-linear
Art Style – Mix
Success – Skill-based

Borderlands
Combat – Real-time (Direct)
Positioning – Important
Party Size – 1 (Can co-op with other players)
Power Progression – Freedom
Story – Predetermined
Focus – Gameplay
Exploration – Freedom
Art Style – Stylized
Success – Mix
 Posted by at 10:44 am

  10 Responses to “A Better Classification System for RPGs”

  1. To me, categorizing RPGs is like trying to categorize Metal Music. You start out with some broad categories that everyone can agree on – Power Metal, Thrash Metal, Death Metal – but eventually there are so many nuances and you end up with stuff like “Symphonic Neo-Death Grindcore”, at which point you just need to realize that categories lose a lot of their meaning.

    For me, there are a few guidelines I’d put in that basically boil down to Action vs. Strategy based combat and to the themes of the story, but in the end I have to go with Justice Potter Stewart: “I know it when I see it”.

    Penny Arcade 3 was a JRPG, Demon’s Souls was not. Call of Duty is not an RPG at all even though they have Elite-Levels and stuff while Deus Ex is one.

  2. I personally dislike this, it doesn’t give a clear picture of what the game is like and is misleading when applied to other genre’s. It’s overly complicated and yet doesn’t accomplish being informative in anything I find too relevant.

    Borderlands is a First Person Shooter with Hack and Slash styled looting. You can go further to describe the MMO-like questing system if you wanted.

    Bioshock is a FPS with a Binary Morality system tied to gameplay, minor character progression/customization.

    It does help differentiate between similar RPGs, describing the difference between say Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy 13 but it doesn’t work well in hybrid RPG’s/mixed genres

  3. Why do Action JRPGs need to have 1 to 3 character parties? Tales Of and Star Ocean, IMO two of the biggest action JRPG franchises, both use parties of four.

    Also – Super Metroid is the best JRPG of all time. Of. All. Time.

  4. Odd idea that just popped to mind. We could use your system as an RPG meta-game to define the genre. Each RPG can be assigned some sort of numerical value for each of the ‘stats’ you’ve identified. For instance, perhaps the Exploration stat for a game like FF13 would be 1, where a full open-world like Skyrim would get a 9. Then we can go and classify each game and define “builds”. After that, we can then we can consider corresponding each “build” with common RPG classes, and I could then say that I prefer Rogue(like) RPGs.

  5. I feel similarly about the whole “Metroidvania” thing. To me, a Metroidvania game is a Castlevania game that borrows elements from Metroid. A game that isn’t a Castlevania game and is similar in style to a Metroidvania game isn’t a Metroidvania; it’s a Metroidvania-style game. Even then, people use the term “Metroidvania” to describe games that’re nothing like Metroidvanias. In fact, some games that’re far more similar to Metroid are called Metroidvanias, whereas it’d probably be more accurate to call them Metroid-style games. Games like Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet have exploration, but they couldn’t be further from Metroidvanias in terms of game play style in that they just don’t feel anywhere close to similar.

    Of course, the problem with classifying games is that there are so many bullet points to consider that creating a new acronym for any given type of game’s genre would result in something that – in your case – is nine letters long. I suppose that wouldn’t be an issue if it could was a term that you could pronounce without having to spell it out, of course.

  6. I honestly have never had too much problem with the typical three types of RPGs as a broad categorization- JRPG, WRPG, and SRPG. Sure, there are games made in one region that don’t fit the mold, but thats ok. For instance, I’d call Zeboyd Games’ games as JRPGs despite being made in the west, and I’d consider the D. Souls games as WRPGs despite being made in Japan.

    Now that said, like I said, I’m fine with the broad categories as a basic guideline to know what I’m getting. Of course there are a lot of sub-genres- dungeon crawler, first person, third person, action, turn based, etc. But at some point I’m going to just go read some reviews and watch some gameplay videos and try a demo, and just decide if I’ll like the game or not. All genres have some difficulty in categorizing every game- take the Action/Adventure category for instance. I don’t particularly see the point in trying to better define an genre at this point, and all it’ll really accomplish is the 30 year old argument of “what IS an RPG?”

  7. That is way more complicated than it needs to be.

  8. Dragon Quest 1 & Panzer Dragoon Saga are two prominent JRPGs where you only have on character in your party.

  9. I completely agree, the label of RPG is way to broad and inefficient for describing what a game is, as about the only element universally agreed on is a leveling system of some sort, but lots of games have those now. I think Extra Credits put it best, genres define WHY we play the game rather than HOW if functions.

    For me personally, when discussing WRPG vs JRPG (funny how we define it as half the world vs one country) the important part is how the character(s) are handled. In a WRPG I expect the player to character grow and be built based on my choices. In a JRPG on the other hand, I expect to follow a group* of predefined characters and watch them grow and develop on their own.

    *I can’t think of any games I would consider JRPGs where you follow/play as a single character. I would be interested in any examples.

  10. Name this RPG:

    Combat – Real-time (Direct)
    Positioning – Important
    Party Size – 1
    Power Progression – Mix
    Story – Predetermined
    Focus – Gameplay
    Exploration – Linear
    Art Style – Realistic
    Success – Skill-based

    Answer: Call of Duty

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