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Thread: What's an RPG? (Long article illiterates need not apply)

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    Default What's an RPG? (Long article illiterates need not apply)

    What Makes an RPGs? My criteria.

    Just a few thoughts, on how I classify my games. Maybe this will draw a little pressure off Lendelin's thread, by providing a forum for the ongoing debate.

    Introduction:
    Most people probably picture tabletop roleplaying sessions as a party of uber-nerds sitting around the table in Vin Diesel's basement. Wearing novelty elf ears and wizards hats drinking mountain dew as they bewail over the death of their level 60 darkelf rangers. Is it any wonder that someone would naturally conclude that all fantasy themed videogames were RPGs? It's a dirty lie, and through the course of this thread I intend to propose a clearer explantion of the genre.

    Roleplaying, in the real world is improvisation. The practice of actions and reactions. Business trainers frequantly use it as a tool to explore "real world" senarios. Couples may use it to explore their own sexual wants and desires under the guise of "being someone" else. As a game you can play it with a strict system of rules and limiations, or spontaneous session of practical make-believe. In all cases you're presented with a limitless number of variables and outcomes. Translated to videogame, the word ceases to make any sense. By it's very nature a video game can not be a "roleplaying" game. A programmer can only simulate the experience of roleplaying with a series of preprogrammed choices and a very limited number of outcomes. The games themselves are pale immitations of their big brother tabletop counterparts.

    What Makes an RPG?
    Stripped of any real freedom, you're left with a number of common characteristics that many RPGs share; an experience system, battle system, system of barter and trade, and exploration. A basic RPG should include these four charactertistics. Dragon Warrior, being the first console RPG ever created has the honor of being our example for the quisessential RPG. A first person perspective menu based battle system, a numerical experience system, shops, and a freeroaming overworld coupled with town-roaming in a populated universe. In addition there was an element of dungeon dwelving, a popular relic of the D&D era. This in a nutshell describes your basic traditional RPG.

    For my next example I propose to use the RPG that everyone loves to debate doesn't exist. This game features a simple battle system, you press a button and the hero swings his sword, hopefully right into an oncomming monster. Experience is handled by life containers. The theory is simple, in Dragon Warrior you were presented with the illusion of limitless freedom. Save the main castle, there wasn't an area of the overworld that you couldn't physically walk to from the start of the game. However you also start off as a level 1 and are likely to get your ass kicked by wyverns the moment you cross a bridge. So you fight monsters and level grind to proceed. In this example the world map is again open to you from the start of the game, but again you're weak and will almost certainly die a merciless death should you stray too far off course. So you explore your environment, defeat dungeons and are awarded with more life for your accomplishments allowing the player acess to harder sections of the map. This I argue is a form of experience, it just isn't based on racking up numbers. In the end the same limit is achieved. Shop system? You kill enemies who may drop monies which can be spent on equipment and items ala Dragon Warrior. Exploration? The Legend of Zelda's central theme is exploration and discovery. And there you have it the classic module for the Action RPG.

    This form of RPG can also be found on the famicom, but wasn't really available in the US until the 16bit glory days of the Genesis. Shining Force is best known for it's tactical battle system. Eliminating the crutch of the random battle, every skirmish in Shining Force is predetermined and presented directly on the overworld map. Characters are moved across a grid and suddenly it becomes important to consider placement and range. Experience is once again handled by killing bad guys and earning points towards that almighty level up. Shop system is again present, and enemies regularly drop gold and the occasional item. And now here comes the point that will seperate the Tactical RPGs from the plain old strategy games, exploration. In Shining Force there are real towns and environments to explore outside of battle. Most strategy games will replace this with menu based towns to purchase equipment, unlock quests, and usher you immediately into the next battle. They are not true RPGs. But they are fun to play, and chances are if you dig Shining Force you're probably into Final Fantasy Tactics and Disgaea. But for the sake of clarification they are strategy games as they contain no form of exploration.

    This leaves us with our last form of RPG. Wizardry features a first person menu based battle system similar to the likes of Dragon Warrior. You will travel to towns and buy goods and equipment. You will gain levels by killing baddies, and you do little else besides explore a giant maze or series of mages while you kill shit. The Dungeon Crawler is the simplest RPG imaginable.

    So there we have it:
    (Traditional) RPG
    Action RPG
    Tactical RPG
    Dungeon Crawler

    these are your four basic RPGs and there are plenty of games that will mix and match these categories to create hybrid titles like Oblivion (action RPG/Dungeon Crawler), Ultima Exodus (Tactical RPG/Traditional).

    What doesn't make an RPG?
    This is the part of my article where we enter the realm of subjective classification. It's what stops us from lumping in the GTAs of the world with the Dragon Warriors. Sandbox games are a relatively new genre and I don't think they should be lumped in with Role-playing games. Without getting into what's a sandbox game, let’s just say if it's something other than an RPG then it can't also be an RPG. I think this also takes care of our dirty little imposter the Castlevania/Metroid type platformer with experience points. If it's a Castlevania game then it can not also be an RPG. This doesn't include spin-off titles such as Super Mario RPG which changes everything about the classic Mario game to make it an RPG, as Castlevania with experience points is exactly like Castlevania without experience points.
    Last edited by Daria; 02-23-2008 at 07:54 PM.

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    Yep. you've pretty much wrote the perfect "Definition of an RPG" article. You should submit it to RPGFan.

    I don't get one thing... what fool has debated that that particular type of RPG "doesn't exist"?

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    Quote Originally Posted by James8BitStar View Post
    Yep. you've pretty much wrote the perfect "Definition of an RPG" article. You should submit it to RPGFan.

    I don't get one thing... what fool has debated that that particular type of RPG "doesn't exist"?
    Hmmm... maybe I worded that wrong. But many people feel that Action RPGs and Zelda clones are two different genres. And that Zelda in particular isn't an RPG.

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    Holy Schmoly, Daria! Do you know what you get yourself into with this? debates, debates, debates...

    I have to look very carefully at your article before I might respond.

    This is actually a good undertaking, at one point we have to make more clarifications about the definitions of a RPG. Compliments.

    Damn, girl, you have some guts!

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    Ooh Ooh I'll be the first to attack, by what you said. Why wouldn't Castlvania: Symphony of the Night be an RPG?

    By how I understood you justifying Zelda, Castlevania is just a side view action as opposed to top down.

    Kill enemies for experience, if you don't grind enough you will most surely die.
    Pick up objects/monies and trade them for stuff
    Explore a map
    And battle with various weapons (by punching buttons)

    Not so much defending Castlevania, I don't know if I call it an RPG either.

    I personally enjoy the more American-ized RPG's. The AD&D make a party of sword wielding fighters magic-users, clerics etc. But the graphics in the more anime RPG's are just awesome.

    I think I'm more into the turn based RPG's.

    Edit: Well I guess Zelda isn't really top down, but you know what I mean top down would be more PS2/Xbox Baldur Gate-ish.
    Last edited by Skelix; 02-23-2008 at 11:37 PM. Reason: just to add something

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    Quote Originally Posted by Daria View Post
    Stripped of any real freedom, you're left with a number of common characteristics that many RPGs share; an experience system, battle system, system of barter and trade, and exploration.
    ...
    So you explore your environment, defeat dungeons and are awarded with more life for your accomplishments allowing the player acess to harder sections of the map. This I argue is a form of experience, it just isn't based on racking up numbers. In the end the same limit is achieved. Shop system? You kill enemies who may drop monies which can be spent on equipment and items ala Dragon Warrior. Exploration? The Legend of Zelda's central theme is exploration and discovery. And there you have it the classic module for the Action RPG.
    The category 'exploration' is a dangerous one, I think, in particular with the broad definition of 'experience' in the case of action RPGs.

    The simple increase of life units like in your prime example for an action RPG (Zelda) would open the door for the Onimushas and all the games of Devil May Cry. It is coupled with another broad requirement -- the combat system. As soon as you define it simply as one button-hit technique (one action with no delay) instead of a menu-driven combat system all action games with this sort of combat which fullfill the other categories fall in your definition of an RPG. The advantage: Alundra and Zelda are in the RPG genre, the disadvantage: the Onimushas and Devil May Cry games are in, too.

    They have an increase in life and MPoints and strenght (weaponry) the more enemies you defeat, they have shops and a barter system (granted on screen, but Onimusha 2 even has a barter system located in towns where you can exchange items with certain characters, gain new ones, and combine them), and they fullfill all the other general categories.

    I can't see the separation line to these kind of games which would also open the door for FF Dirge of Cerberus. Unless you'd argue that these games should be regarded as action/RPGs, of course.

    ...and if you use all of the above criterias, then...

    Without getting into what's a sandbox game, let’s just say if it's something other than an RPG then it can't also be an RPG. I think this also takes care of our dirty little imposter the Castlevania/Metroid type platformer with experience points. If it's a Castlevania game then it can not also be an RPG. This doesn't include spin-off titles such as Super Mario RPG which changes everything about the classic Mario game to make it an RPG, as Castlevania with experience points is exactly like Castlevania without experience points.
    ...it is unclear how you can argue that Castlevania SOTN isn't an action RPG. Same goes for Castlevania II Simon's Quest. They have all of your required standards of an RPG. Why they should be excluded remains unclear. Again, the introduction of one-hit battle system with no delay instead of a menu-driven combat system makes them necessarily RPGs.

    I think your gameplay standards for an action RPG are too broad. I knew why you did it, Zelda was and is a controversial case, and you like to include it.

    My comments are not rhetorical or sharp disagrements, I just want to point to some potential weaknesses or clarifications. There are other points I want to make after I read it a second time more thoroughly.

    Great attempt, Daria. The introduction is really nice and important. It makes clear why the often heard "if you play a role in a game it is an RPG" makes no sense and takes care of that.

    I see the danger of too much inclusion of certain games because the four general necessary gameplay techniques are too broad, but it is a great start for a discussion.

    At the end of the discussion with constructive criticism and improvements you could indeed think about to do something with this article. That isn't patronizing. Writing is re-writing. The smartest guys with the best articles go through a lot of revisisons until they get it right.
    Last edited by lendelin; 02-24-2008 at 06:59 AM.

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    So here's the real question, which I'm sure has been asked before is Link a RPG?




    Edit: Sitting here, thinking about it I would say no. I'm going to cause trouble here, but I'd have to say I don't even believe the hack slash action games are RPG's. This would even throw out Diablo and clones (blasphemy you say).

    I would say to be an RPG it needs to be turned based, if it has real time action it needs to be able to be paused to input commands. The only exceptions I can think of would be like Final Fantasy VII where even though it's kinda turn-ish if you don't enter a command the monsters will kill you.

    I would call the non pause ones more Adventures than RPGs. Like Zelda would be a "fantasy action adventure" or something to that line.
    Last edited by Skelix; 02-24-2008 at 12:17 AM. Reason: to add on

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    Quote Originally Posted by Skelix View Post
    So here's the real question, which I'm sure has been asked before is Link a RPG?
    No, no, no, no, no, no, and no.

    The Zelda series is firmly entrenched in Action/Adventure. Not Adventure, not action, not action/rpg, but Action/Adventure.

    Like Super Mario Galaxy getting "Adventure Game of the Year" on these boards. SMG is clearly an action game; platformer to be more specific.

    If I'm feeling bold enough I may try to do an article just like this for "Adventure" games as it's long past due.
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    Yep Bliss, I was editing my post when you responded. Action Adventure I agree. What about the Diablo-ish games? Sure you pick up items and equip cast spells, have skills, get xp. But I think it's more action/adventure over all.

    Bah what a complicated world we live in!

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    ill read this later, as its like 3 am, but ive always been interested in developing an actual criteria for whats an rpg and what is not.

    daria and i are probably the biggest RPG collectors on this forum, i cannot speak for her collection, but i am sure it is vast, even may be larger than my own (over 300 easy, yet unnacounted).

    so id like to say thanks. ill read and see what, if anything, i can add on.


    for the record, i consider Zelda an action/adventure rpg... with no specific guidelines as to how i came to that conclusion. it just "feels" like an action adventure game with so many rpg elements that its closer to rpg than pure action/adventure.

    castlevania games, to me are side scrollers action/adventure games with some rpg sprinkles...

    a huge criteria for what can even be considered an rpg to me, was always the viewpoint. rpg *must* be isometric/bird's eye style... however i do leave room for FPRPGs (first person rpg)... although lately the line has been difficult to see with games like hellgate: london and even oblivion which seem and play more like shooters...
    anyway, to me, a side scroller can never be an rpg... it can only have rpg elements.

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    Yeah Hellgate is an interesting one, another Diablo really.

    As for Oblivion just a second ago I'd say you were crazy its a RPG for sure. But change it to an isometric few as opposed to fps and it's another Diablo with a different inventory system.

    So then all of these are hybrids, maybe to be a true RPG it needs to be party based? Otherwise if single character its more of an adventure game?

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    I remember when I worked at a game store someone asked if there were any new Role Playing games out and of course I pointed ot some Final Fantasy games and the typical stuff you would associate with the term "Role Playing", but he said no I'm talking about stuff like Counter-Strike. Then I was like "oh, shooters?" yeah but the Role Playing type where it's as if you're looking through your own eyes. Where you are the character. Of course in video game terms he was talking about a FPS but I couldn't disagree with him either, because you're essentially assuming the person your playing with no visual avitar on the screen. It's one ofthose things where you're either talking to someone that knows what you're talking about or has no clue.

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    Yeah and Daria was talking about that earlier, you figure every game you're playing a role you wouldn't do in real life. Whether you're assuming the role of a captain of a ship or in your example a FPS character.

    What I said earlier about a party based, that doesn't make it in all cases though, as to the example of the classic Dragon Warrior.

    Now what about this thought, a true RPG is pretty much open to allow you to do what you want, where adventure game would be story driven. An adventure forces you down the path. A lot of the Japan RPG's you could argue do the same, but only in spots.

    Or as opposed to the experience level up concept, overall an RPG has a more complex character development. Not just xp but stats, skills. The ability to play as you want. To have an original, unique character.

    This would rule out more of your, I kill monsters they drop red orbs and my guys level up games. Hey your level 25 Alucard is the same as my level 25 etc.

    OK now for me to get flamed... so I'm playing Enchanted Arms (ick!) right now. I don't really see it as much of a RPG. Sure I level up, but I purchase stronger moves for my guy. Your guy is going to look the same as mine, same skills same fire based attacks etc for the same level. Wouldn't this game be more of an adventure?

    Sure you have limited free roam as you go from storyline to storyline, but nobody will really be unique. I can't choose different materias, skills, abilities etc.

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    re: Adventure Games

    When I think of adventure games I think of Zork, King's Quest, and Shadowgate. Thus it bugs me when people call Zelda an "adventure game."

    Whoever writes the adventure game article, please PLEASE do not fall into the common trap of creating hardware-based subgenres ("PC Adventures and Console Adventures.") Nothing is more irritating and pointless than such a useless division.

    re: Why Castlevania isn't an RPG

    Honestly I think the OP covered it well. CV: SOTN isn't an RPG because its something other than an RPG.

    Okay thats subjective, but that's how I approach the issue. When I first played SOTN there was absolutely nothing that made me feel like it was an RPG. It looked like a platformer, it played like a platformer, its a platformer. A platformer with an equipment subscreen and level-ups, but a platformer nonetheless. In fact even now, the thought of calling it an RPG doesn't even come to mind unless I will it to.

    As for the oft-mentioned case of CVII: Simon's Quest... IMO that isn't even worth mentioning, because the gameplay really is only cosmetically different from CVI.

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    Quote Originally Posted by James8BitStar View Post

    re: Why Castlevania isn't an RPG

    Honestly I think the OP covered it well. CV: SOTN isn't an RPG because its something other than an RPG.
    This is like saying Mountain Dew isn't coffee because it is something other than coffee. OR

    Folgers isn't coffee because it is something other than coffee.

    Both are tautological explanations/definitions. The point is: WHY isn't it coffee? In order to answer we have to introduce criteria which define coffee. Daria's problem is that her criteria for RPGs make Castlevania SOTN and Castlevania II indeed RPGs. The reasoning why they shouldn't be regarded as action/RPGs are not clear.

    Daria's lat paragraph (what is not an RPG) is the weakest one. To say something isn't an RPG because it isn't an RPG or never can be isn't enough. The introduced necessary standards for a RPG have to exclude games as RPGs...otherwise we remain on the level of subjective impressions and the entire article is obsolete.
    Last edited by lendelin; 02-24-2008 at 09:15 AM.

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    Default hmmm....

    Is Puzzle Quest and RPG then?

    This is really beginning to sound like nothing is an RPG.

    Oblivion is an RPG. You should start with games that are definitely ROG's and found their commonalities.

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    Quote Originally Posted by James8BitStar View Post
    re: Adventure Games

    When I think of adventure games I think of Zork, King's Quest, and Shadowgate. Thus it bugs me when people call Zelda an "adventure game."
    You are correct. Traditional straight up Adventure games are like the above. More modern examples would be Hotel Dusk: Room 315, Indigo Prophecy, and Zack and Wiki.

    Zelda, however, is Action/Adventure. The action elements are obvious enough. The Adventure elements spawn from using specifically purposed items to solve puzzles, exploration, and inventory management. I'd lump games like Castlevania II: Simon's Quest, StarTropics, Fester's Quest, and Okami into this camp.

    Diablo is, by definition, an Action/RPG. As are games like Marvel Ultimate Alliance, Secret of Mana, and Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles.

    So the next question is how/why is Zelda Action/Adventure and Secret of Mana Action/RPG? The differences are subtle but look at how combat occurs, it's heavily stat based, features a much more robust item management system, and gives you a variety of equally viable options to defeating foes. It's also decidedly more storyline driven.

    While Diablo has a pretty shallow story (Diablo II corrected this somewhat); it's system of inventory management, character creation/unique abilities, and shop system drop it squarely in the Action/RPG camp.

    Puzzle Quest is uniquish, but it's still just a Puzzle game. It does feature a lot of RPG elements (stat/level increases, itemization, grand story line) but it's ultimately just a method to get you from puzzle to puzzle. But if you were to call it a Puzzle/RPG, I wouldn't object.

    Another side project from this thread would be for someone to come up with a "master" genre list. The core set of game genres that ALL games would primarily fit into.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Poofta! View Post
    a huge criteria for what can even be considered an rpg to me, was always the viewpoint. rpg *must* be isometric/bird's eye style... however i do leave room for FPRPGs (first person rpg)... although lately the line has been difficult to see with games like hellgate: london and even oblivion which seem and play more like shooters...
    anyway, to me, a side scroller can never be an rpg... it can only have rpg elements.
    That's a pretty narrow view. I couldn't see how anyone could not classify the Elder's Scrolls games as RPGs. They have nearly every criteria you'd want to assign to traditional RPGs. I suppose that a subgenre like FPRPG could certainly be established in it's place.

    Hellgate, as Diablo before it, is an Action/RPG. You could call it an Action (FPS)/RPG or something like that; because the game does feature a 3rd person Diabloish view when not using ranged weapons.

    Games like BioShock though fall into the established Action/Adventure (FPS/Adventure I suppose) so don't get trapped there.
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    Looking at it from another perspective, I think the problem is that a lot of games which aren't RPGs are being forcibly squeezed into the RPG genre by fans who perhaps want them to be labeled RPGs.

    RPGs have:

    1. An experience system to "level up" and improve your characters
    2. A statistical system to make the abilities of the in-game character independent of the player's gameplay abilities.
    3. Different items and the ability to equip and use a variety of things.
    "Real World" activities, such as the ability to shop, go sleep at an inn, rest up between adventures.
    4. Interaction with the other characters in the environment.* This is optional interaction, usually performed by walking up to the character in game and pressing a button to get a box of text. It is not mandatory cut-scene sort of interaction which always happens at a fixed point in the game. (* = Interestingly, this was a development not present in the earliest RPGs such as Wizardry.)
    5. Have some sort of storyline which has meaning to the game in some way other than merely framing the action.
    6. RPGs are turn based, or if they involve action, they are a real-time emulation of a turn based system. This is because RPGs are thought based instead of twitch based. RPGs test decision making abilities, not reflexes.

    So, under those criteria:

    RPGs:

    Lost Odyssey
    Shining Force
    Puzzle Quest
    Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar
    Enchanted Arms
    Final Fantasy VI
    Bard's Tale 1
    Eternal Sonata
    Ogre Battle (while realtime, reflexes are not the primary factor being tested, decision making is the priority)
    Growlanser Generations

    Not RPGs

    Warriors Orochi (no character interaction, no "real world" activities, not turn based)
    Zelda games (not turn based, action more decisive than statistical system)
    Castlevania games (not turn based, action more decisive than statistical system)
    Super Paper Mario (not turn based, action more decisive than statistical system)
    Culdcept Saga
    Advance Wars
    Untold Legends: Dark Kingdom
    Elder Scrolls III: Oblivion
    Marvel Ultimate Alliance

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    One of the big requirements (for me) that makes a game an rpg is gaining experience to level up. This takes out Zelda. Yes, you obtain heart containers which grant you more life, but they aren't the same as experience. I'm going to have a hard time explaining this, but here goes. Lets say you can't beat the first boss in Final Fantasy. What do you do? You grind outside the castle until you are strong enough, and then go in and finish off the bad guy. Now let's say you can't beat the first boss in Zelda. What do you do? You go in and try again. You don't grind, because you could stand outside that castle killing monsters for the rest of your life and never get any stronger. When you get a heart container you aren't gaining experience, you are getting a reward for passing a stage.

    One of your points is that both Zelda and Dragon Warrior are wide open at the beginning, and thus the character can go straight to the end. This is true, but the difference is that your DW character would die while Link could theoretically win. Your character in Zelda is just as strong at the end as he is at the beginning. He has more HP, but he hasn't upped any other stats. He could still take down Ganon (if it weren't for the equipment requirements) at the very beginning.

    And yes, Oblivion is an rpg. I can't believe I just read otherwise. It's got 5 of the 6 criteria you mentioned. Not being turn based doesn't mean a game isn't an rpg. Hell, I'd say the Elder Scrolls games are some of the most hardcore (wow what a great term) rpgs I've played.
    Last edited by carlcarlson; 02-24-2008 at 10:55 AM.

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