http://www.gamesetwatch.com/ffxxi.jpgOver at Armchair Arcade, there's a reasonably interesting post named 'Kawaisa!: A Naive Glance at Western and Eastern RPGs', which looks at how RPGs have evolved differently on different sides of the Pacific.

Author Matt Barton has a relatively simple thesis: "In short, what I see when I compare games like Pool of Radiance and Dragon Quest, or Neverwinter Nights and Final Fantasy, is a great cultural rift. It seems to me that folks who grew up playing Japanese games on their NES and later SNES systems probably developed an affinity for Japanese style art and themes that have created a sort of "East/West divide" right here in the US." In other words, some Western players love JRPGs, and others (presumably the 'D20' types?) love Western RPGs.

But I think the evolution of the RPG is actually a lot more complicated and interesting than that. The fact is that, despite the sometimes adorable graphics, the play systems in Japanese RPGs seem much more heavily influenced by the old, old-school Western computer RPG, particularly the Henk Rogers-designed JRPG grandaddy Black Onyx, which was tremendously influential even on the creators of Final Fantasy.

In addition, we've previously mentioned JRPGs being influenced by the early '80s-originated Western-sourced Wizardry series, which is still popular in Japan, and shows the hardcore turn-based grinding battle system which is the core of many a Japanese role-playing game in today's market. Meanwhile, the Western RPG, such that it still exists, has evolved into the supple story-based automation seen in many a BioWare title - the roots seem significantly more blurred across multiple genres.

So what are we trying to say here? Mainly that you shouldn't judge a book by its cover, and that despite distinctive anime or manga-influenced visuals, the clearest evolution from the roots of the Western role-playing game genre is, I'd argue, in today's Dragon Quest or Final Fantasy, and not in the genre-blurring West itself, where the RPG is practically an orphan genre at this point.