I love RPGs, as you can see at the block "Games In Progress" there at the right. Specially the japanese ones.
That doesn't mean I dislike western ones, though. I didn't play many of them so most of what I "knows" comes from research, videos and whatnot. One of those few I did play and thought was awesome was Mass Effect.
The thing is, everywhere I go my dear japanese RPGs are accused of sheer, complete, absolute and mortal linearity, and because of that they are supposedly inferior. "It's not like you have a choice in the first place. LOL." says the Internet Dude. The japanophile, in the other hand, says that all heroes from western games are stereotypical bald/muscle men dubbed by the Devil himself. The war goes on.
Should the presence or lack of linearity on the narrative and/or gameplay be such a big deal? Does this Cold War of the Videogames have any value?
Maybe I'm completely missing the point here, but I really don't see much difference between say, Oblivion and any Final Fantasy (besides XI, because it's a MMO) in these terms. You start from one point, and the game will inevitably end in another one. And the player will go trough a pre-determined process to get from one point to another This is absolute, an immutable fact.
Oblivion has a huge open world, thousands of quests, NPCs, events and whatnot, but that doesn't mean it's less linear - it means only that the line is, well, broader. You have lots of options that, at the end of the day, keep you on the same road. Inside the same process and going forward to the same objective. Nothing has changed. The muscular knight in full armor and the blonde man-girl with the huge, compensating sword are on the exact same boat.
A greater degree of freedom, on the other hand, can be seen on the earlier installments of the Shin Megami Tensei series, which I would say are very, very japanese. I didn't play the Megami Tensei games on the Famicom, but at least from the first "Shin" to Nocturne you actually get to choose which adventure you will play. Depending on your actions during the course of the game, the alignment of the main character will vary between Neutral, Chaos and Light, and this changes just about everything: friends can (and will) abandon you, the demons you can recruit changes, the last boss changes, the story events changes. The whole world reshapes itself depending on the choices you actually make. That's some non-linearity to me. The type you can also find at varying degrees on Jade Empire and the already mentioned Mass Effect.
That said, I believe linearity is not a necessarily good or bad thing. Sometimes I want to be the story, sometimes I want just to see a good story. And I hope there's nothing wrong with that.
Achieving true non-linearity is a very difficult task, I think. Because if you don't do things right, you may end up in a situation very well described by Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw in his Fable video review: you can only become either Mother Theresa or Satan. There's nothing in between. There's no neutrality, no shades of gray. There's no subtlety. And that sucks.
What do you think of this? Any lights or signal posts to help out on this one? Am I just a sad, sad man? I hope not.