Home > gaming, Uncategorized > Ryan’s Rammblings: Euro-centrism in fantasy RPGs

Ryan’s Rammblings: Euro-centrism in fantasy RPGs

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Lately I have noticed what I perceive to be a troubling trend in the design of WRPGs and JRPGs set in fantasy worlds. Think about the major titles from both of these genres: Dragon Age, Final Fantasy, the Tales series, The Elder Scrolls, The Witcher, Dragon Quest, all have one major design element in common. They all draw inspiration from European medieval folklore to create their fantastical worlds. Castles, knights, trolls, dwarves, elves, and medieval weapons are staples in these games and it’s starting to get a bit tiring.

I feel like WRPGs developers can receive a bit of a past for the continual use of these troupes. After all, in all likelihood a good amount of the people work

ing on those teams come from heritages that these legends come from. But why JRPGs developers continue to use these European fantasy settings as inspiration is beyond me. Take The Last Story for example: what makes up that world? Castles, Dukes, knights, and an orc-like race of enemies. All troupes we’ve been down too many times before. This is one of the reasons why I find myself drawn to games like the SMT series and The World Ends with You for my JRPG fun. Those games forgo a fantasy setting for a modern or futuristic setting that, in my opinion, allows for more creativity.

The massive castle from The Last Stor......zzzzzzzz

The massive castle from The Last Stor……zzzzzzzz

Don’t get me wrong. I love the medieval European fantasy setting. Hell, I’m replaying the Witcher 2 right now which I established as one of my favorite games of all time. I love the Dragon Ages and The Elder Scrolls as much of the next RPG fan, but I would love to see a little more variety in the type of fantasy we get. Why not based a game world around Japanese folklore? Or Native American? Or African?

Mainly what I would love to see is a game that lets me step into and explore a world derived from the myths and legends from a culture that I don’t know. That’s why I would love to see what a company like Bethesda, who excels in world creation in my opinion, would do with a whole new set of mythos to draw from. I know Bioware did make Jade Empire, which is in my backlog queue, but that is the only example of an RPG that is inspired by non-European fantasy that I could find.

Like this demon from Japanese mythology. Have no clue what it is but I want to slay it

Like this demon from Japanese mythology. Have no clue what it is but I want to slay it

It’s just a shame that while playing The Witcher games, that do a superb job of fleshing out a medieval European fantasy world (yes I know they had help with the books), that I cannot get that same experience exploring a world inspired by another region’s traditions. Where is the Samurai RPG that allows me to plough Geishas and kill Oni (yeah sorry, I’ve really been playing the Witcher games a lot lately.)

ps. Looking foward to the new strategy game Skulls of the Shogun, which uses Japanese mythology as a back drop, plus it has a sweet art style.

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  1. January 29, 2013 at 5:46 am

    The closest we got to that in a widespread release was Onimusha. Of course, that was a much different style of gameplay, and far far away from an open world environment.

    • January 29, 2013 at 10:28 pm

      yeah I found a few titles that used Japanese mythology but not many. Okami used a lot of elements but still doesn’t do it in the way that an Elder Scrolls or Withcer does that allows you to kind of explore that world with a more grounded sense of realism.

  2. January 29, 2013 at 6:30 am

    This is such a great point! There is definitely too much emphasis on fantasy that’s in the Tolkein vein. Every game or world has its own twist on the tropes — elves, orcs, dwarves, and way too many dragons — but it’s still so familiar. On the other hand, a lot of the creatures are similar across cultures, they just have different names. Oni are sort of like trolls, right? (Or vice versa!) Love the idea of exploring another mythology, though. I’ve always thought it would be fun to play a Psychonauts-style platformer game based on the Maya Hero Twins.

    • January 29, 2013 at 10:25 pm

      Your right there is a lot of overlap between monsters and what not between cultures but just looking at the art style of how the Japanese drew their creatures can make one hell of a game. And in my limited research of oni their kind of like demons, but they might be troll like? Who knows

      • January 30, 2013 at 12:34 am

        Yes that would be awesome to see a different art style when depicting these creatures, so it’s not such a Westernized (as opposed to Eastern) fantasy world. I don’t know much about oni either, I thought they were troll-like demons, so you must be right. Some of the definitions sort of vary between stories too, I know!

  3. January 30, 2013 at 9:49 am

    What makes a fantasy RPG is the fantastical setting. Which is why it works best with European medieval era. When you think of that themes you get a picture of brave heroes venturing off into strange world fighting monsters and rescuing princesses. Grand castles and palaces just have this fantastical feel to them. Just an easy theme to work with when it comes to fantasy RPG.

    A lot of JRPGs I have played generally have a more global approach. You start off with a more castle theme but then find yourself in other themed areas as you travel. Baten Kaitos had normal medieval castle themes but then you also got cake town. Likewise Little King’s Story fairly normal kingdom but then you also got “lego” rival kingdom. It’s not uncommon for themes to be mixed and matched. A popular choice is starting medieval but then adding futuristic themes later on.

    There are already some games that do have fantasy Japanese themes. Muramasa Demonblade and Okami being top two. You do need some sort of guide to just explain certain story elements and design choices. Just wouldn’t know or realise otherwise. Which is why potentially the theme is avoided. Just not enough general knowledge going around.

    • disingenuousparker
      January 30, 2013 at 4:07 pm

      I agree with that. A lot of games have a base or start out with the castles n’ knights background, but when you start exploring the rest of the world, it becomes more varied. I think the Golden Sun games did a good job of representing a lot of different regions with their diverse cities, seeing it was mostly a reflection of the actual world (European medieval-ish towns, Chinese type villages, etc).

      And I’ve already urged Ryan to go play Okami to get his fill of Japanese themes. May not be an open-world RPG like he’s looking for, but you really can’t go wrong with it.

      • January 30, 2013 at 10:05 pm

        I really enjoy games where locations can be so varied. It can get boring seeing same type of buildings all way through the game. Baten Kaitos and Little King’s Story has some pretty weird locations. Made the games all the more fun.

        I hope does try out Okami. It’s a lot of fun. I got the huge artbook and that gives insight for choices in design made. It’s interesting to hear where certain elements actually came from. I wouldn’t have known most otherwise.

    • January 30, 2013 at 4:31 pm

      I’ll disagree with you a bit on the fact that medieval settings work best for fantasy. The hero’s journey is a universal tale, and I don’t see why Greek, Egyptian, Roman, Asian, or Native American mythology can’t be drawn from. Also the worldliness of some JRPGs you mentioned, while interesting in their own right, isn’t quite what I am looking for. I would love to see a more unified vision that just takes one mythos and explores it rather than jump around. Thanks for telling me about Maramusa though, because after looking it up it looks awesome and I’m gonna pick it up.

      • January 30, 2013 at 10:01 pm

        It is the best fit for the genre. Doesn’t mean others can’t be used just don’t work as well. Just far easier time period and location to work with in a fantasy setting. Most others would require further explanation for those playing it. Drawing on stories no one knows about can be risky specially if the locational theme isn’t popular with type of gamers your trying to market game for.

        Some games do use themes from other mythologies. I know good few use Norse mythology for at least parts of it. The World Tree is a popular choice. Then there is the steam punkish ones. Although neither are probably far enough away from medieval castles for your liking. Xenoblade I could suggest but that has more futuristic themes rather then fantasy ones. More of a mixture of the two. There is Monster Hunter as well. Has a more slightly tribal feel to it although not sure it counts as RPG.There is RPG game based on Heracles for DS. I don’t think it was great though. It was mentioned but then vanished very quickly. There is Shiren the Wanderer series. Not sure entirely what that is based on. I actually forgot about another Japanese one although I think only the crossover Pokemon Conquest was released outside of Japan. It’s called Nobunaga’s Ambition.

        It’s bit of a pain to dig out other themed stuff. Not because they don’t exist but because not many talk about them. Specially not within the confines of fantasy. There are number of futuristic ones as well as more normal/roughly present day type stuff. Odd post apocalypse ones too.

        Muramasa is a lot of fun but story specially Momohime’s is confusing. To be warned you can swap characters within same save file. I have heard a few create separate save file to play as other character. You don’t need to. Can pick other character when you load the save file.

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