What is an RPG?

in Gamer Thoughts

I love RPGs. Video game RPGs, Tabletop RPGs, just roleplaying games in general are a huge hobby of mine.

But, what IS a roleplaying game. Many people have different opinions. And I have mine. Mine are obviously the RIGHT opinions though, so let’s get started. Let’s start first with some ideas of what RPGs aren’t:

RPGs are games where you play a role! Its right in the title!

UUUUGH. Just ugh. You hear this one every once in a while. Its usually put forth by someone trying to tell me that the Legend of Zelda series is an RPG.

I'll give you Zelda II, but the rest of the series, just no.

I’ll give you Zelda II, but the rest of the series, just no.

This argument is beyond stupid. The idea that any game in which you play a role is a RPG means that every game, barring a few abstract games like Tetris, are RPGs. I play the role of Master Chief! I play the role of Mario! Its just a dumb idea. Any definition of RPG that encompasses 99% of all video games, obviously CAN’T be the proper definition of RPG.

Any game where you upgrade your character is an RPG!

OK. At least this is a little closer. It gets towards the right track, but its still waaaay too broad. There are many genres that have had upgrades almost since the beginning, the biggest of which is the Action Adventure genre! In which we have yet another appearance of the Legend of Zelda Game series, which people still insist are RPGs.


If that was the case Metroid would also be an RPG. Resident Evil is an RPG series. Tomb Raider is an RPG series.

I'd actually argue that RE4 is much closer to being an RPG than Zelda ever was.

I’d actually argue that RE4 is much closer to being an RPG than Zelda ever was.

Tons of game genres either already had upgrading as part of their MO, like the Adventure genre in general, or borrow some mechanics from other genres to do it now. That doesn’t make it an RPG.

Any game where you can make choices that affect the story is an RPG!

This one is usually thrown around by Western RPG fans, as a way to invalidate Japanese RPGs, which tend to be more linear.

They like to claim that without the choices to affect the story, they aren’t roleplaying, and therefore, aren’t playing a roleplaying game. Which, I can see their point, but they are missing the reason the genre is called what it is called, which I’ll get to in a minute.

But even ignoring the history of the term, they are again, opening the genre up to games that are clearly not in the genre, most obviously the Visual Novel genre.

The visual novel genre is well known for multiple branching endings, even more so than the RPG genre, so how can that be the defining feature of RPGs?

So what is an RPG?

I’m tempted to say that I’ll know it when I see it, but that is a cop out. The truth is, that the term RPG isn’t really what it sounds like it is. It comes from the history of the term. The history of the term with video games didn’t come from Roleplaying, it came from EMULATING TABLETOP RPG MECHANICS.

We owe it all to these.

We owe it all to these.

It came from emulating the stats and growth and focus on that. Saying that it is based on roleplaying is just wrong. You can have roleplaying in a video game RPG, but that isn’t the defining feature. The defining feature is a focus on character power via stats and some form of growth/leveling. Not just that it features it at all, because tons of games do that now, and some genres have always had it in minor amounts, but that that is the FOCUS of the gameplay.

The focus of the gameplay in Persona is in fusing new, stronger Personas with better stats, better skills, and better defenses. The focus of the gameplay in Borderlands is finding better gear and leveling to spend skill points to pump out better stats that pump out better bullets. The focus of the gameplay of Pokemon is breeding, catching, and RAISING monsters to have better stats to beat up other monsters stats.

This isn’t to disparage any game that I claim is not an RPG. The Zelda series is solid. Resident Evil 4 is amazing! Its about the fact that if someone loved Zelda, I wouldn’t say “oh, well you should play Final Fantasy, its the same genre”. Because it isn’t. Now, they might like both. I tend to at least enjoy both, but that just isn’t a guarantee. They are vastly different styles.

What do you think makes an RPG an RPG? Join us in the comments below.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Mmo Person

    I have to agree with you about this, I’ve always seen Zelda as an adventure game instead of RPG. It’s hard to define RPG, but I guess when it emulates D&D that’s an easy description.

    • Christina Freeman

      Of course, it pretty much depends what direction and criteria D&D happens to be going in. The various editions of D&D have seen changes in the GNS (Gamist, Narrativist, Simulationist) position, and many different D&D groups have different balances of these three key areas of gameplay.

      In fact, the latest edition(s) can be said to have been heavily influenced by CRPGs and other video game concepts, that there is becoming an increasing blend of the two types. This is another reason why the RPG genre seems to be covering a larger range of games and genres – because even with the easy criteria of “emulating D&D”, that criteria is being increasingly widened and diluted, so that it covers more and more games.

  • David Ruckman

    I remember two years back when we argued about Zelda being an RPG, looking back I feel like an idiot. 😛
    But I agree, RPGs can mostly be narrowed down to stat-based games. (Does that make Harvest Moon an RPG then?)

    • Nick Palmer

      Harvest Moon I’d say is in the simulation genre, but it has a lot of RPG and visual novel elements as well.

    • Christina Freeman

      As the lead designer of the Legend of Zelda Roleplaying Game, I can state with clarity that the Legend of Zelda IS only a roleplaying game by the loosest of definitions, because I was involved in taking that loose definition, and then bringing it up to par with more rigid definitions.

      In essence, the Legend of Zelda is only an RPG in the narrativist sense (setting, story, character), a loose action RPG in the gamist sense (upgrades, combat, secrets, advancement), and barely an RPG in the simulationist sense (mechanics and UI).

    • Cotel LTDA

      Harvest moon is simulation game,
      Rune factory however…

  • Chris S

    Why can’t a game have multiple genres?

    If you say that rpg is a game that focuses on stats and growth then wouldn’t forza be an rpg? Acquiring and upgrading a cars stats is no different than Pokemon for example or if you want the use the excuse of care being objects then borderlands.

    • Nick Palmer

      I’d say the focus in Forza is driving cars. And buying and customizing parts isn’t really growth. Its customization but not growth.

      And yes, games can have multiple genres, but most games aren’t. Borderlands does. It is very much an RPG/FPS hybrid, but most games just borrow a few mechanics, and some games are so entirely outside of the RPG genre because the genre they are part of ALREADY HAS THOSE MECHANICS (Zelda).

      Of course, if you can come up with a better definition of RPG that doesn’t end up including about half of all existing games, I’m interested to hear it.

      • Chris S

        Well I was an actual rpg player before gamer, so to me there are very few games that I would consider to be true RPGs.

        I know you dismissed it outright but to me an RPG is a game where you the player are the main character. Most RPGs fail at this, instead giving you a pre made character or party to control. For me a true rpg is one where I can create my own persona in the game. Games like fallout and skyrim do this very well, but surprisingly many mmos are fantastic at it. In my opinion final fantasy is no different to a graphic novel. They both feature fixed characters moving along a mostly fixed story.

        In a way that’s why there is a commonly accepted sub genre of j-rpg and w-rpg.

        It’s called ROLE playing game for a reason wether you agree with it or not.

        • Christina Freeman

          By definition, CRPGs will always fail to be true RPGs by the tabletop standard. This is because CRPGs will always lack something that tabletop RPGs have – a human GM.

          The role of GM is part games designer, part rules engine, part storyteller, and part UI – all of which are extremely flexible. Much more flexible than any CRPG will be. In essence, the GM is like having an entire games development team working on the game as it is being played.

          Everything in a CRPG needs to designed, created, scripted, and programmed beforehand, and the gameplay itself is always restricted to what is included as part of the game. Even MMOs suffer from this drawback – you can’t do anything that hasn’t already been developed.

          Even those CRPGs that allow for GM interaction have limitations in this regard, because most assets take time to create. Sure, tabletop RPG campaigns often take time to create, but they don’t have to. The basic formula of a tabletop RPG is that the GM says something, and the players respond (or the other way around with more proactive players). Tabletop RPGs work at the speed of thought.

          Once you accept this limitation, then the definition of RPG-ness within a CRPG becomes more of a case of exactly how high, or how low, you set the bar. If the bar is too high, very few games qualify as an RPG (if any), and if you set it too low, almost every game qualifies (including the Legend of Zelda). Ultimately, the argument becomes more about where you set the bar than anything else.

      • Christina Freeman

        This logic is slightly faulty, Nick. The Legend of Zelda is not an RPG, because the Action Adventure genre contains RPG mechanics is quite illogical. By definition, if you are arguing on the basis of the mere presence or absence of RPG mechanics, then any action adventure game containing any of those mechanics is, by definition, an RPG.

        I understand what you are saying, though, and this is because scale is a much more important criteria to go by. In essence, the question to be asking isn’t whether or not a game is an RPG, but how much is the game like an RPG. In this case, the Legend of Zelda is a very limited RPG.

        Plus, it will become increasingly harder to come up with a definition of an RPG that doesn’t include a majority of games, simply because increasing numbers of games are including RPG elements and mechanics in their games. The degree that they do this varies, but such overlap is not only possible, but increasingly common. This renders logic that a game is not an RPG because it belongs in another genre moot – genres are not mutually exclusive.

        • Nick Palmer

          Genres are always going to have some crossover in mechanics. You wouldn’t say that a First Person Shooter game is part third person shooter because it includes shooting. Both genres already include that mechanic.

          Just like both Action Adventure games and RPGs commonly include upgradeable equipment as part of their wheelhouse of mechanics.

          • Christina Freeman

            However, you would say that both the first-person shooter and third-person shooter are part of the same, larger, shooter genre. The first-person and third-person is the key differentiation for these two genres.

            Action Adventure games and RPG are, likewise, two parts of the same larger genre, which is shared with a common ancestor – the action RPG.

            For most people, the question of exactly how much differentiation is a necessary factor for any discussion. otherwise, you get people arguing that apples are not oranges, while others are busy arguing that they are both types of fruit.

          • Action Adventure games really predate Action RPGs.

            And like I said, if you consider Zelda an RPG, do you also consider RE4 an RPG? Because RE4 has just as much if not more RPG mechanics than Zelda generally does.

  • Katherine Logan

    I think another way to say this is that RPGs are about character DEVELOPMENT, not just customization. It’s a mixture of story and gameplay that can be difficult to really define. I’m the DM for my D&D group and play primarily tabletop RPGs (with at least a decade of experience under my belt), but I have enjoyed quite a few videogame equivalents.

    • Yeah, focusing on the stats aspect alone is not enough. I’m an active GM also, and there are a lot of tabletop RPGs that don’t have any character stats progress at all. In tabletop RPGs, the point of the game is telling a story through character actions (both combat and non combat), while using specific game mechanics.

      The cRPG (computer RPG) genre on the other hand is a bit different. It started with D&D, as stated above, which has IMO one of the most complicated and cumbersome mechanics to be used at the tabletop , it’s almost as if it was designed for a computer game (there are worse examples though). Because of this as soon as home class computers came around, they were seen as something to help this issue. Another old gaming thing is that over 20 years ago, most tabletop D&D games were dungeon crawls. A group of characters going through dungeons using a map and figures. This was very nicely translated to computer games with a nifty fps perspective. Vide the early cRPGs like Dungeon Master and Eye of the Beholder, or Legend of Grimrock from the newer ones.

      That – first person perspective, turn based or semi turned based, dungeon, party, D&D ruleset with character advancement and levels and not much of a story – defined the cRPG genre. This genre is totally different today, it evolved a lot through the last 3 decades. Specifically jRPGs changed the perspective to top down view, because it was easier to handle it on consoles (there are some old first person perspective console cRPGs, though). This influenced roguelikes, they in turn spawned action cRPGs, and coming back to the main cRPG genre, games like Baldurs Gate appeared. The rest is probably widely known.

      In effect, the modern cRPG doesn’t have much anything to do with the tabletop RPG. It’s even hard to define the cRPG, cause they expanded so much and spawned so many subgenres. The only thing left seems to be some kind of reminder of the D&D ruleset.

      • Katherine Logan


        On a side note, D&D has become much more user friendly in new editions. I started in 3.0 (which was very complex, I agree, and not even as bad as 2nd edition), and now run a 5th edition game. 4th edition played a lot more like a computer game, but was maybe oversimplified for a tabletop game; 5th edition is a nice middle-ground between the two.

        • Christina Freeman

          Mechanically, D&D became much more unified and cohesive since 3.x – although this was accompanied with a shift towards a more gamist, tactical combat approach than previous editions.

          AD&D 2nd Ed was actually much more narrativist in it’s approach, where settings and storylines were more important than encounters.

          Going back even further, OD&D, D&D BECMI, and 1st Ed. AD&D were more simulationist, with a focus on exploration, adventure sites, and looting dungeons.

          You can see this fact in the way the various editions handled character growth through experience rewards for various types of goals.

          Thus, the earliest editions of D&D were more like arcade games with point scoring mechanics (grab the gold!), 2nd Ed. was more about finishing the story (completing the game), and the latest editions are more Action RPG orientated than ever before (kill all the things!)

          • Katherine Logan

            I agree except on the last point: the games are only action oriented if the group plays that way. There are plenty of non-combat goodies for those who prefer more story than combat, but over all, the mechanics are designed to easily handle whichever play style. My group, for example, rarely cracks out dice except for combat; we’re a very story heavy game.

          • Christina Freeman

            This is the case in 5th Edition, which like 3.x (my favourite edition) was a Simulationist heavy game that, while having a strong focus on combat, did also have a number of strong mechanics for non-combat use, such as skills. 4th Edition seemed to streamline the mechanics entirely, so it became much more of a combat-simulation games.

            Although the rules can support any playstyle – particularly thanks to Rule 0 – you can see the emphasis of the system in two ways.

            Firstly, the rewards system for 3.x onwards is based on Encounters, with the game design being based on approx. 13 encounters per level. Although you can award ad-hoc, these tend to be related to encounters for balancing purposes.

            Secondly, you can look to see exactly how much of the rules system is ignored if you don’t use a specific type of play. For example, if you remove or reduce combat in your games of D&D, many of the rules are simply ignored or irrelevant. The same goes for magic use. Essentially, if the designers think to spend a lot of time polishing the rules for any given system, it tends to be a focus of that system.

            This is an objective view, that doesn’t take into account personal playstyles, and operates as if Rule 0 didn’t exist. Thanks to Rule 0, any system can be used for practically any purpose.

            For those who don’t know, Rule 0 is “The GM makes the rules.” That is, the GM controls and runs the game, and possesses knowledge beyond that of the players, and thus can change the rules whenever they like with no need to justify their decisions.

            It is this Rule that means that no CRPG will ever be a true RPG, since everything in a CRPG needs to be designed, created, programmed, and/or scripted, which is virtually impossible to do while actually playing a game.

            Despite the complexity of modern games based on virtual tabletops, which allow for a GM to spawn and adjust the game on the fly, such tools will always be limited by the assets available at that time.

            A GM in a tabletop RPG can always make up a description of an area if the PCs go off-piste, which can be anything that they decide to describe. A GM on a virtual tabletop system is limited to the maps that they can pull up. A tabletop GM can simply describe a volcano lair even if they don’t have one prepared – a virtual tabletop GM cannot if they don’t already have one ready to plug into their game.

          • Katherine Logan

            This comment above sums it up perfectly: Rule 0 is a major difference between computer and tabletop games. Heck, I use Rule 0 more often than not, having discovered that with my current group, making things up as I go is waaaaaaaaaaaaay better than trying to plan ahead. I’ll have a stack of monsters set aside if I need them, and a few maps made up, but as a whole, the less I plan, the smoother things run (ironic, really; you’d think it’d be the reverse). Then again, I’m also really good at winging it.

        • Nick Palmer

          I started with 2e AD&D back in the early 90s, and liked some of the cleaned up ideas from 3.x when it came out, but there are a lot of other issues with that system (system mastery, unnecessary complexity, etc.)

          4e was alright.

          5e on the other hand is really what I think D&D should be. Very very good streamlined system with still enough meat for me to find it fun.

          None of the D&D systems are first picks for me as far as running games though. I’d rather play the FFG Star Wars game, or Fate Core, or Cortex+, or Savage Worlds.

          • Katherine Logan

            As a general rule, I prefer completely narrative roleplay (like forum based games, or one-on-one storytelling), but that’s nigh impossible to translate into a video game because of the very nature of it. I’ve already had to house rule a few things for the 5e D&D game I’m running for my friends, but that’s what happens when you have a group as random as ours.

    • Nick Palmer

      I’m actually a huge huge tabletop games guy (both RPGs and board games, actually the reason I was so slow to respond to his was because I was at GenCon last week), but I think that we can’t import TOO much of the tabletop RPG definition into the video game definition. The games that were pulling it in were really focused on pulling in the mechanics, because pulling in the story really wasn’t that much of a possibility at the time (even now, trying to emulate a GM is still a touchy thing, and nowhere near as good as a real one).

      Basically, the definitions for a Tabletop RPG and a Video Game RPG just really have to be different. The definition isn’t about the literal definition, its taken from emulating the mechanics.

  • Ulrike

    Maybe the definition is so hard to find since its more about what a game tries to do than what it does.. A lot of the current RPGs just copy game mechanics from the old games because they are fun for the player and established .. but the really old RPGs tried to strive for allowing you to play one or sevel roles and approach quests and dangers in different ways depending on your character or party.

  • Shadowdenn

    It seems weird to me that most genres are defined by a key feature. First Person Shooter, Real Time Strategy, etc. There are games where you assume a role and make choices (like Visual Novels), and there are games that are heavily stat driven. RPG is probably one of the most poorly named genres out there.

    • Christina Freeman

      It’s not that strange – genres refer to the category definition that is most important to the medium at hand. In literature, and often with film, this is the narrative tone of the story being told, since the story is the most important feature of these mediums. For games of any kind, the defining feature is actually the classification of the gameplay – the definition of how the player interacts with the game. After all, without gameplay, it simply isn’t a game.

      The term RPGs in games refers, as Nick correctly states, to the gameplay mechanics of RPGs. The ability to shape a character, and the world, through playing a role that you have a huge amount of freedom in creating is the driving essence of RPGs.

      The Legend of Zelda franchise isn’t an RPG, despite it’s fantasy setting. It lacks the degree of freedom that defines an RPG as a game. It is actually an action-adventure game series, because this is the gameplay focus of the franchise. You play Link, who is a set character with an established set of abilities (sword and board fighter, minor magic use, archery back-up) – you don’t see Link suddenly become a sorcerer, a thief, or a cleric for a game, for example.

      The story of an RPG isn’t very important, because the story isn’t the key part of the gameplay of RPGs. Rather, it’s the degree of freedom and interaction with the storyline through gameplay that is important. This is why JRPGs are still classed as RPGs – the story itself might be linear, but the interaction with it (typically through combat, character development, and exploration) tends to have a fair amount of freedom on varying scales.

      Bear in mind that for tabletop RPGs, the genre defines the narrative tone and themes that the game itself is trying to portray, through the adventures, settings, and mechanics. This is actually a genre blend of both interactive media (games) and non-interactive media (literature), since tabletop RPGs are basically games about storytelling.

      Thus, when you are asking a question like “what is an RPG,” it is important to define the context of the question, especially since many people don’t have experience with a multitude of tabletop and computer RPGs. Their own experiences and preferences will normally define their viewpoint, and this is where the arguments tend to stem from. Likewise, it also tends to define the criteria by which RPGs are measures.

      In many ways, the Legend of Zelda franchise CAN be classified as an RPG, if you are using a very broad set of criteria, such as a binary classification of character development. Upgrades DO make an RPG, but the scale of those upgrades is what tends to be most important for the definition.

      • Shadowdenn

        I think I meant to say that I think it’s weird that RPG ISN’T defined by it’s key trait. It totally makes sense to define things that way. That’s not what I said, but it was what was in my head.
        I agree with most of your points.

        The fact that the definition of an RPG isn’t as black and white as some other genres is the issue I have. I think the main reason that people argue over the classification is that there’s such an open interpretation there.

        Defining RPGs by what it borrows from Table Top RPGs is a little weird though, in the sense that it’s super vague. Different games borrow various aspects of the source. Character customization/growth, player choice, experience points, equipment, dice rolls and stats, turn based combat, loot, inventory management. There are so many parts.
        Which of these is necessary to be considered an RPG? Pick two?

        • Christina Freeman

          Well, RPGs themselves have different balances of the GNS (Gamist, Narrativist, and Simulationist) scales, so picking just two aspects and calling them an RPG is a bit difficult.

          The Gamist aspect refers to the idea of gameplay progression, character advancement, equipment upgrades, and other aspects of improving upon your ability to play, and eventually beat, the game.

          The Narrativist aspect refers to the ability to tell stories, progress the plot, character personality development, and the ability to interact and change with the world, and thus impact upon the story.

          The Simulationist aspect refers to the comprehensiveness of the rules mechanics, and how well the game simulates the type of action that it is trying to portray. Here’s where the conflict resolution mechanics, combat tactics, and skill challenges come in, along with the influence of skill and luck.

          What aspects you consider important in an RPG entirely reflect upon your own personal preference for RPGs. As such, these directly correlate to an individual’s preference for CRPGs.

          For example, Nick’s assertion that a CRPG means to emulate D&D Mechanics implies that he has a strong Simulationist focus for his RPG preferences. This would indicate that he is much more of a ‘roll player’ because the outcome of combat, skills, actions, and the like is a key factor for a RPG, and a CRPG, in his mind. Luck and dice often play a key factor in rules systems, if only to take into account ‘outside variables’ that the rules system doesn’t include.

          A Gamist would refer more to the idea of basic gameplay advancement principles of power-ups as being the focus for RPGs. For example, the Legend of Zelda qualifies, because you can find secrets that upgrade hearts, abilities, and other options, even though the gameplay itself isn’t very Simulationist.

          Conversely, a Narrativist would argue that the story, and the ability to make significant choices in the story, is an important focus of RPGs. By this standard, most CRPGs fail, since many of them are linear, with a pre-determined storyline, with only minor decisions having an effect. Those CRPGs most likely to qualify are those that include complex factional politics, such as the Elder Scrolls series.

          It is hard to say what an RPG is, and what a CRPG is, simply because the ideas of roleplaying and gaming in any format are so fundamentally linked. In fact, it is often easier, and more noteworthy, to note the absence of GNS aspects, and thus what some might not consider an RPG.

          A lack of Gamism, means that the game isn’t really a game as such. Rather, it is a model or simulation. While these can be fun, it typically requires that the play add their own goals to make it a game. For example, SimCity and the Sims are examples which lack Gamism, and it is not much of a surprise that later editions added more Gamist options to make the game more fun.

          A lack of Narrativism means that there is little or not plot involved. This is the realm or casual and arcade games, for which it really isn’t neccessary. Of course, this tends to mean that there’s a lack of motivation to play the game beyond the gameplay itself, so the idea that later editions at least try to have something to make you want to progress through it to find the next step of the story, even if the player has no real choice in it.

          A lack of Simulationism means that the game itself is more abstract, with few, if any, fixed rules. Since computer games need to be programmed, it is extremely rare to see any that doesn’t have a basic system of rules and mechanics. After all, Simulationism is what makes gameplay playable. This said, low Simulationism is possible, and may “artsy” games tend to have low Simulationism, simply because this tends to equate to a mixture of comprehensiveness and realism of the mechanics.

          Ultimately, trying to define an RPG is pointless, since a binary definition is meaningless, and any sort of scale is going to be entirely subjective. I would argue that any computer game to be classified as an RPG would need to have a reasonable (mid-scale) level of all three of the GNS aspects to qualify. Anything which fails to achieves a reasonable level of any aspect is not an RPG, although it may include RPG elements if some of the aspects are reasonably high.

          For example, the Legend of Zelda is not an RPG, because it is only low Simulationist. That is, the action isn’t based on a open, comprehensive ruleset, but rather on player reactions and manual dexterity. Likewise, SimCity isn’t an RPG, because it tends to have low Gamist aspects. Finally, Tetris isn’t an RPG because there’s no story, so there’s a non-existent Narrativism aspect. Similarly, Need for Speed: Most Wanted isn’t a RPG, because while there is a plot line, player choice is largely irrelevant AND there is little or no real character development.

          However, Diablo IS an RPG, despite having a middling Narrativism aspect, as is the Legend of Zelda despite a middling Simulationism aspect. I would include the Sims (particularly the latest editions), despite having only a middling Gamist aspect. JRPGs, in my experience, tend to have middling aspects on all three, depending upon their focus, and thus I would include them too.

          What’s really interesting is that all of these types of games can be created using RPG maker, and the GNS aspects relate to various areas of the game design. It is really fun to see the development of high Simulationist elements of Akbar in Nick’s Living World posts, for example.

  • Bloodspoor

    Have you heard of deck-building games? I think at the core of most RPGs, be they tabletop, console, or computer, is character building or character development. This can be done via story, stats, battles, abilities, or any combination of them. I agree that it’s strange that we don’t call RPGs by their defining feature, which seems to be character-building.

    For games like D&D or Pathfinder, look at the numerous class-optimization documents on the net and tell me that the people making those guides aren’t literally enjoying the building of the “perfect” class. On the flip side, there are games like Burning Wheel and Dungeon World where the stories you come up with as a group define your character along with your abilities and stats. Games like Fate focus almost entirely on the story and background of your characters and the development of plots and outcomes.

    On the computer side of things, there are games like Baldur’s Gate and Pillars of Eternity that also focus on development of your main character through statistics, abilities, story, and the allies that you chose to join your cause. In the case of games like Secret of Mana, the game focuses almost entirely on story and grinding to improve your abilities in weapons. This one, most loosely fits into the RPG category due to there being very little character choice other than what weapons you’re good with.

    I think there is a certain formula to making an rpg for consoles, but it is the worst defined genre in all of video games.

  • Soma9840

    An RPG to me is usually a very story-driven, brilliantly written game, but it also requires the factors of characters, feeling, a role the player plays (Only a single role, it may be unimportant, whatever) and a certain theme. Whether it’s a horror RPG or an action RPG, it needs a sort of theme to keep it going. Maybe you’re fighting a war, maybe your hiding from demons, it doesn’t matter. I know many of you will disagree with this, but by my standards… *Sigh*… The Last of Us is a brilliant, shining example of this. Maybe LoZ..? I guess? No, it breaks the rule of, oh, I dunno, FEELING. The closest LoZ game to an RPG is, without any doubt in my mind, Majora’s Mask. That game is a pretty darn solid RPG to me. Anyways, there are exceptions to this rule, many, but those are all drowned out by one, single component an RPG needs: A story you can believe. A world with such well-woven lore that you could play it and think, “I could see this being real.” And it may be fantasy, but in order for that to be true, it needs to have a believable story. Judging by these rules my favorite RPGs are:
    The Last of Us
    Chrono Trigger
    Yeah, I don’t have many. And I would say MGS. I would. I freaking LOVE those games. They follow all the rules, except for one. They aren’t believable. And it’s all because of one of the game’s best features, and that’s breaking the fourth wall. ALOT. It wouldn’t count if it were simply a little easter egg, but sadly, it’s one of the main story elements. IT COULD HAVE BEEN SUCH A SOLID (Snake, cri cri cri) RPG, BUT IT DID THAT. WHY!!??!?!?!?!?! ….Aaaaaanyways, not Destiny, because it breaks the rule of well written story. It’s sad, for it was SO CLOSE. SO CLOSE TO BEING A GOOD RPG. And then they decided on that GOD-AWFUL EXCUSE FOR A STORY. I mean, I UNDERSTAND it, I just HATE it. Anyways, the reason I chose Journey of all games is because, despite not seeming like it, it’s a really solid RPG. It follows all of these rules, and it does a great job of doing so. I don’t CARE what people say. It’s a good, solid RPG. RPGs are a gaming staple, and these reasons are definitely why. Every RPG is made up of these three factors, whether you like it or not. So, uh, I dunno how to end this. Uh… Bye.

  • Çağrıalp Kaplan

    For me, from most important to least but essential ones,

    1. A setting that is not only about your main quest. A living world with troubled NPC’s some giving you small to big sidequests that may or may not affect the final of your main quest.

    2. Having choises in circumstances, that affect the behavior of person (NPC) you are speaking, group he and you are in, the world / setting you are living in, and the final of the side / main quest.

    3. A charater getting stronger and/or learning more by your progression.

    4. In a world / setting given to you, creating YOUR CHARACTER according to your desires how you think he/she sould live/survive with disadvantages, weaknesses (…) instead of being given a typo hero.

    5. Having a deep use of your CHARACTER SKILL, CHARACTER TRAITs, CHARACTER ABILITIEs sometimes mixing them together.

    BONUS or for some people essential: A fantasy/sci-fi based combat game..

    BONUS or for some people essential: A fantasy/sci-fi based less combat more problem solving by speaking/sneaking/tricking game.

    Diablo does not have 2nd clause so not an RPG
    Zelda does not have 4 and 5 so not an RPG
    Fallout contains all of them (And more like humor) and an RPG..
    Fallout 4 contains all of them and an RPG but because could not balance all the essentials in the list most RPG fans did not like it.

    I guess making a RPG game for computer is so hard because RPG is not a computer game genre but a game played with a “Game Master” and friends with lots of rules and gags together. No games story can be deeper than your “Game master”s imagination, no NPC can be deeper than your friends created characters and no rules can cover more problems than a conversation between you and your friends.

  • Jeremy Smith

    The informality of this post makes me cringe, but the man is a genius.