Last week I wrote on Exit Fate for The Border House (“The Perspective of Privilege.” The Border House. May 1 2013.). A pretty good discussion arose in the comments section that went a few different directions, ultimately ending on the semantics of J and W RPGs. Throughout the original piece, I referred to Exit Fate as a JRPG. “J” in JRPG stands for Japanese and stands opposite to “Western” WRPGs. Exit Fate was developed by an artist going by the moniker SCF, a man living in the Netherlands. The Netherlands are not in Japan. I still called Exit Fate a JRPG on the basis of its content, not its country of creation.
While I don’t want to be “that guy” that keeps repeating himself, “When I was growing up, there was no need for the “J” in JRPG” (“Finite Fantasy: The Problem with JRPGs“. PopMatters. 12 June 2012). Until only a few years ago, the distinction seemed unnecessary. When it did enter the gaming lexicon, it was to distinguish the slower paced, turn-based, party driven, stylized techo-fantasies that often come from Japan from the open world, tech-tree based, hack and slash traditional fantasy and sci-fi of RPGs from North America and west Europe. Distinguishing them is useful, but it’s not a cut-and-dry definition.
In an era when games are created by teams sprawling across the globe, it’s getting more and more difficult to pin a project to one location. It’s even getting more difficult to pin a project to a single culture. One of the interesting things that comes out of a global culture is that people and ideas that were seldom able to communicate and interact are now able to influence one another. Just last month I wrote about Wild Arms 3, a JRPG in the style of Sergio Leone’s desolate interpretation of the American west (“Plural Protagonism Part 2: Wild Arms 3.” bigtallwords. Apr 11 2013.); Leone (an Italian) began his legendary “Dollars” trilogy with A Fistful of Dollars, which is actually a reinterpretation of Akira Kurosawa’s samurai film, Yojimbo; Yojimbo is an adaptation of Dashiell Hammett’s 1929 bio-novel, Red Harvest, based on his experience as a detective in Montana.
The interplay of texts makes it difficult to pin a work to a single culture, to say nothing of tying an entire genre to one country. JRPG refers to a loose set of conventions and mechanics composed in such a way to suggest a certain set of themes. That’s vague, but helpfully so. Demon’s Souls is a WRPG but it was made in Japan. The structure and aesthetic is identifiable as fitting with “western” conventions; the fact that it was designed by a Japanese team has little bearing on what it is.
I won’t say that writing across cultures isn’t without potential problems, theft among them (Kurasawa successfully sued Leone for 15% of the profits from A Fistful of Dollars), to say nothing of colonialist appropriation. But I do think that, when done respectfully, the open influence and interaction of cultures can improve art so long as creators are able to keep their voices.
SCF is Dutch and he made Exit Fate, a really good JRPG. Cool, huh?
Further reading: Juster, Scott. “Rediscovering JRPGs.” PopMatters. Sep 5 2012.
Brice, Mattie. “Must I Say Goodbye?: Leaving Behind JRPGs.” PopMatters. Apr 9 2012.
Parkin, Simon. “Maps.” Boing Boing. Jul 28 2010.
Swain, Eric. “A Comment on Video Games as a Medium.” The Game Critique. Mar 29 2011.