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Does the fantasy genre often focus solely around Western culture and ideals?

The fantasy genre is incredibly broad, fitting many RPGs. but also occasionally platformers, visual novels, and point and click adventure games. It is noteworthy that even in JRPGs – a confusing term referring to both Japanese RPGs and RPGs with certain gameplay elements – a European, medieval aesthetic is common. This is most clear in games such as Dragon Quest: although Akira Toriyama’s art clearly invokes his previous works on anime such as Dragon Ball, the designs of armour, weapons, buildings and sometimes environments are clearly western-inspired. The majority of swords resemble broadswords, and the armour worn by the paladin or knight classes in the games often recreate the classic image of the medieval knight. However, whilst western medieval inspirations are clear in the Dragon Quest games, other cultures are borrowed from as well. This is particularly obvious in Dragon Quest IV, with each member of the party’s voice being based on a real life accent, including non-western ones.

Whilst Dragon Quest is more explicit in its real-life inspirations, with the JRPG series Final Fantasy it varies based on entry. The more recent entries have settings somewhat close to reality, with modern vehicles such as cars, but earlier installments have more traditional fantasy areas, depicting castles and villages.

Outside of JRPGs, the European medieval aesthetic varies. World of Warcraft’s human race live in settings with a clear medieval aesthetic, whilst the pandaren race live in a region inspired by imperial China– an addition to the game that perhaps came too late, considering its high percentage of Chinese players. Although the creation of the pandaren race and Pandaria is tasteful, Blizzard’s depiction of the Witch Doctor class in Diablo III is often criticized– out of the six original classes, it is the only one that is Black, and draws primarily from Voodoo, focusing on the negative aspects of the religion with curses and raising the dead. The class is even made somewhat redundant by the whitewashed Necromancer class which possesses very similar abilities, although it is worth noting that the Witch Doctor class was a new addition to Diablo III after Diablo II.

There are countless examples of the European medieval aesthetic in fantasy games, with almost every fantasy title taking from it. In the future it would be great to see Western titles be inspired by other cultures more, although it’s clear previous attempts yielded mixed results. 

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Jack Oxford

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June 2022
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