In the West, the most popular RPGs of today, besides Pokémon, are Western role-playing games like the Elder Scrolls games, and the Witcher series. These games are generally played on PCs, while Japanese role-playing games are played on real gaming consoles.
In my opinion, the Japanese way of making role-playing games is largely superior. However, Western media outlets tend to act very patronizing towards Japanese RPGs (e.g. Tales of Graces F and Etrian Odyssey), but when they’re praising a JRPG, they tend to ignore the major, crippling gameplay flaws of that game because it comes from a mainstream company and looks very pretty (e.g. Bravely Default).
I’ve played both Western and Japanese RPG’s, and out of the two, I strongly prefer the Japanese way. Why do I prefer them? Because I enjoy the style much more.
Western RPGs tend to be more realistic and grittier, but I’m not exactly comfortable with this, and it tends to cause a lot of Western RPGs to be indiscernible from each other, much like a lot of AC/DC’s singles. By contrast, Japanese RPGs offer a more colourful art direction, and while WRPG’s tend to confine themselves to a medieval setting, JRPGs get more creative, to the point that it truly is fantasy.
Another key difference is that WRPG’s tend to focus on character customization, but this means that you only play as one character, and that character is a blank slate hero with no real personality. By contrast, JRPG’s give you a set of pre-designed characters, but focus more on story and character development. Also, WRPG’s tend to support PC’s, even when they’re released on consoles as well. JRPG’s, meanwhile, are almost always released on real gaming consoles, keeping the tradition of console gaming alive and well.
Finally, WRPG’s generally have this bullshit action-based real-time gameplay system, which, to me, just flies in the face of what I saw as traditional RPG gameplay. Meanwhile, JRPG’s generally stay true to the classic turn-based formula, and even with the grinding it’s better.
What really bugs me is how established Japanese companies have gone on a trend of repeatedly abandoning aspects of the JRPG philosophy. For me, the chief offender is Capcom’s Dragon’s Dogma, which feels more like Skyrim than a JRPG.
Also, Square Enix, formerly one of the vanguards of JRPG’s, have pretty much given up on rekindling their glory days. The Final Fantasy franchise is abandoning the gameplay that made it great, and Bravely Default failed to provide an experience that’s genuinely like a classic RPG. Meanwhile, the Shin Megami Tensei franchise continues to fail at treading water in Europe. I mainly say this because Shin Megami Tensei IV still hasn’t come to Europe, even after a year of waiting, and even after Nintendo stated that it would.
In conclusion, I think that JRPG’s are an underrated kind of game. I think they aren’t treated very well because many gamers in the mainstream market don’t have a lot of patience to play them. If you like good story-telling, well-developed characters, a solid art style, and smooth gameplay, you might want to try a JRPG. There are plenty of good JRPG’s out there. All you have to do is look for them.