The Japanese role-playing game is a surprisingly important genre for developers to study - both in terms of gameplay and storytelling, and Gamasutra presents an 'Essential 20' explaining and chronicling the top JRPGs of all-time.
The gap between Western and Japanese RPGs is so huge that they sometimes don't even seem like they belong in the same genre. Western RPGs usually concentrate on open-ended gameplay, with a "go anywhere, do anything" mentality.
Japanese RPGs concentrate on narrative and battle systems, being more eager to tell a story than let the gamer play a role. However, Japanese RPGs didn't just appear out of nowhere -- as their roots lie heavily in early American computer RPGs of the 80s.