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RPG is the abbreviation of Role-Playing Game.

Definitions[edit | edit source]

A very common but inaccurate definition of role-playing video games is the following:

A role-playing video game is a game where the player character earns experience points.

A more accurate definition is the following:

A role-playing video game is a game where all the following aspects are present:
1. Dialogue is an essential part of the game, and the characters have to talk and interact with non-evil characters to proceed in the adventure;
2. There are permanent upgrades, in the form of enhancements of the various attributes of the characters (attack, strength, magic, etc.);
3. There is freedom of exploration, all the areas are connected by an "overworld", and areas that have been previously cleared can usually be re-visited; in other words, the game is non-linear.

Note that most role-playing games feature an in-game map of the large overworld. Many gamers do not distinguish between the map of the overworld and the overworld itself, and refer to the latter using the word for the former.

Controversy[edit | edit source]

The two definitions do not overlap.

According to the second definition, experience points alone are not sufficient to classify a game as role-playing game. Experience points are just one of the possible permanent upgrades, and some role-playing games do not feature them at all. Some games follow perfectly the second definition (dialogues, permanent upgrades, non-linear exploration), but they feature no experience points. A notable example is the Legend of Zelda series.

Some games do feature experience points, but absolutely nothing of the three points in the second definition. A notable example is Hybrid Heaven, that would be better classified as action game.

In the original pen-and-paper Dungeons & Dragons (as well as in the Gold Box games), the party can earn experience when they find treasures, too. Earning experience and levels translates into more health points and more skills, but it is very uncommon to raise the numeric attributes/statistics. The many Legends of Zelda remove the "experience/level" middle-man: when Link finds a treasure, it translates directly to health points (heart containers) or skills (special items); upgrades to the hero's attack and defense are very few, too. From this observation, a further criteria can be added:

  1. If a video game has less role-playing elements than The Legend of Zelda series, it is not a role-playing game.
  2. If a video game has as many role-playing elements as The Legend of Zelda series, endless discussions will follow.
  3. If a video game has more role-playing elements than The Legend of Zelda series, it is a role-playing game.

Sub-genres[edit | edit source]

Role-playing video games can be divided into two main groups:

  1. American-style or computer role-playing games, that focus more on character upgrading and non-linear exploration (n.2 and n.3 in the definition above).
  2. Japanese-style or console role-playing games, that focus more on plot and dialogues (n.1 in the definition above).

Another subdivision is the following:

  1. Turn-based role-playing games, where battles are triggered periodically and are fought on a separate screen, interrupting the exploration of the overworld or dungeon.
  2. Action-based role-playing games, where battles happen in the same field the characters are exploring.

In general, action-based role-playing games require more advanced programming, and therefore they are more recent than turn-based role-playing games.

A further subdivision is about the immersion in the game world:

  1. Dungeon crawls are set inside a huge, maze-like dungeon. The earliest role-playing games (1975 PLATO) were of this kind.
  2. Open worlds feature a world surface, towns, shops, and townsfolk the player can interact with. That is, an immersive fantasy world (occasionally science fiction). The earliest example is probably Ultima I: The First Age of Darkness (1981).

Classic examples of sub-genres
Turn-based Action-based
Open worlds Western: Ultima
Japanese: Dragon Quest, Final Fantasy
Western: Baldur's Gate
Japanese: Seiken Densetsu
Dungeon crawls Western: Wizardry
Japanese: Mystery Dungeon
Western: Dungeon Master
Japanese: Castlevania: Symphony of the Night

Further sub-genres incude:

  • Roguelike games, where the layout of dungeons is randomly generated; they are a sub-group of turn-based dungeon crawls.
  • Strategy role-playing games or tactical role-playing games, where the focus is on long battles, and often one of the three defining points of role-playing games is missing; they could be seen as "chess with more realism"; they are usually turn-based.
  • Pokemon-like games, where the player character neither gets upgrades nor fights, whereas a group of creatures controlled by the character fights all the battles and receives upgrades; the main character is a tamer or breeder of other creatures; they are a sub-group of consolle turn-based role-playing games.

History[edit | edit source]

The earliest role-playing video games were developed as early as 1975. They had two main sources of inspiration. One was the first pen-&-paper role-playing game, Dungeons & Dragons, released the previous year, in 1974. The second source of inspiration was The Lord of the Rings by John R. R. Tolkien. Nevertheless, the first official role-playing games based on said two franchises were released about 15 years later (see also Advanced Dungeons & Dragons: Forgotten Realms and The Lord of the Rings).

The two major, groundbreaking series began in 1981: Wizardry and Ultima. They set the standard for more than twenty years of role-playing video games.

The earliest Japanese role-playing games were released in 1984: The Black Onyx (inspired by Wizardry), Hydlide (inspired by Ultima) and Dragon Slayer. They actually were more of prototypes, and lacked many of the conventions and mechanics that modern players are used to; the sequels are far better examples of role-playing games. Few years later, the Dragon Quest series began, and it became the reference for role-playing in Japan. It was localized for the Western audience, but there its popularity was superseded by Final Fantasy.


This category has the following 5 subcategories, out of 5 total.

Pages in category "RPG"

The following 200 pages are in this category, out of 981 total.

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