Just what makes an RPG...An RPG?

Ekanselttar

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I've had this poking my think bone a while ago.


What makes an RPG an RPG for you?


The thrill of discovering a new location...?       Character Developement and Progression...?   The story...?     The world...?       It being an RPG...?


discuss
 
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LightningLord2

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It's mostly the experience of having a group to do adventure with for me.


However, it's not something to dwell on when making a game - attempting to categorize your game can stifle your progress. No matter what absolute you set for an RPG, there's an RPG out there not doing it.
 

Victor Sant

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What is an rpg? RPG is Role-Playing Game, such as Dungeons & Dragons, GURPS, Vampire and many others.


For me an RPG video game is a game that has it's core based on the core elements of tabletop RPGs, such as turn based system, parameter development (level, experience, stats), exploration and a decent story progression. It don't need to have all of them, as long most part of them are present is some form..
 

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I've always had a little trouble defining RPG's for myself too. It was always a game where there was a group of people that had to some sort of quest. Along the way they have some sort of an adventure and I think this still stands as the basis for what an RPG is. There doesn't need to be that major bad guy, there doesn't need to be any fighting, there doesn't need to be any character development.


Discovering new maps is kind of necessary, but I generally don't think it defines an RPG because basically if you have a game where your characters are going some place, the next area/map is always going to be new, no matter what kind of game you are making. Same thing really for the world. The maps and the world in general in which you set your game make the game more interesting and unique, but again I don't consider them to define what an RPG is.


The story I guess leans more towards defining your game. I mean your game could be about a group people travelling to another region to try and prevent another war from breaking out. It's basic and you can't tell what kind of game this is, but it's an accumulation of all the extra details you put into your game. Are the group army men? I'd lean more towards an Action game. Are they elves battling orcs? Probably a Fantasy.


Now the difference between Fantasy and RPG (to me anyways) is always tough and rather like splitting hairs. Fantasy has "Fantasy creatures", your typical groups of Elves, Orcs, Ogres, Humans, Dragons, Dwarves, and maybe some other creatures thrown in there. RPG's have weird or made-up creatures and/or fantasy creatures like Slimes, Demons, Behemoths, and Elemental beings. The difference between fighting styles also plays a part. If the battle is real time, ie. you move your character around the battle field freely, tapping buttons to swing weapons and the ability to attack any enemy you see fit, I count this as a Fantasy-Adventure. If the battle system is a static screen and you choose your characters' actions, well I consider this an RPG. Character development, at least in the personal sense, does make the game more of an RPG than a Fantasy game too, but both games can have character progression/development in the fighting sense of the definition.
 

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In another forum we had a discussion about what a "traditional RPG" is.  I think the answer I gave has a lot of applicability to "what is an RPG" in general (at least in the sense of video games), so I would define an RPG as any game that has most of the following:

  • Menu-based combat (especially on a separate screen)
  • Turn-based combat that centers around numbers
  • Relatively linear storyline as a major aesthetic of the experience
  • Stat building through level ups and/or equipment
  • Clear separation between towns/safe areas and dungeons/dangerous areas (especially if different controls are used in each)
  • Relatively equal gameplay control over three or more party members

Most video game genres are tough to define.  A few (like FPSs, Rhythm Games, and Racing Games) are pretty clear-cut, but you'd probably get a lot of different answers if you asked "what is an Adventure Game?" or "what is a Strategy Game?"
 

Oddball

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i always thought of an rpg as a game which shows growth and charecter progression somehow. Zelda is a rpg too
 

jwideman

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RPG has come to mean a wide range of things. The Fallout franchise is a perfect example of this, starting as a turn-based traditional RPG then becoming more of an FPS/RPG/Sandbox hybrid. In fact, there are few games these days that don't have some RPG features.
 

Dr. Delibird

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Don't worry too much about defining what label a game will have. Doing that won't directly help make your game better.


Worry about making your game as good as it can possibly be. Then, after all is said and done, ask your play testers what genre they would call it. 
 

Balako

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ok on a serious note, the idea is simple enough, RPG is almost every game where you can make decisions for your character...


i know a lot may disagree but thats what it feels like, you ROLE PLAY A CHARACTER!!! hence the name, the sub genre however, is a whole different story!!!


for example i would consider harvest moon an RPG, you are role playing this farmer and doing everything that YOU like...so ....just trying to rant here dont mind me >.>
 

encapturer

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This kind of thing is kind of tough, as RPGs have come to mean a bunch of different things.  As a thought exercize, I came up with some ideas, though obviously different people have different ideas of what an RPG is.  So don't take this as an absolute, more like... food for thought.


1) The 'character' and the 'player' are distinct, and success in the game requires a cooperation between both.


- Basically, player skill must not be the only deciding factor in clearing a challenge.  The character you play must have some sort of effect on the outcome of the challenge.  Sure, the player may have some influence over the character via grinding, equipment, etc., but there needs to be a point where the player will feel limited by the character's abilities - this is the essence of 'Role Playing'.


2) The characters must be distinct from each other.


- In most games this means that the different characters have different stats and specialties, strengths and weaknesses.  Each character must feel different.  If playing a game where you only control a single character, then that character must have different variations - so called 'character builds'.


3) The characters must change throughout the course of the game


- I'm not talking about equipment and the like.  In most RPGs, this is called 'Leveling up', and basically involves the characters themselves getting better at what they want to do.  In a single-character game, this is often how the player can customize the character build, though multi-character games can use this idea as well.  Some games may also involve a tradeoff of sorts, where the character loses competency in another area in order to force specialization, which is fine as well.


This is pretty much what I have so far and describes what I like about RPGs.  Sure, many games have let the player's character gain perks and experience nowadays, but rarely do they make or break the experience; player skill still tends to trump those abilities in most games implementing 'RPG elements' without becoming a full RPG.  Still, this is something I tend to come back to from time to time, so who knows?  My definition might change
 

Victor Sant

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i always thought of an rpg as a game which shows growth and charecter progression somehow. Zelda is a rpg too

By this logic, Megaman is also a RPG, since the character has a growth and progression (he gets several powerups through the stages and gain new skills when beat a boss).


And no, Zelda is not a traditional RPG, at most an action RPG, wich is a subgerne of RPG.

ok on a serious note, the idea is simple enough, RPG is almost every game where you can make decisions for your character...


i know a lot may disagree but thats what it feels like, you ROLE PLAY A CHARACTER!!! hence the name, the sub genre however, is a whole different story!!!


for example i would consider harvest moon an RPG, you are role playing this farmer and doing everything that YOU like...so ....just trying to rant here dont mind me >.>

By this logic, any adventure game are RPGs, for example Sonic Adventure would be a rpg, Tomb Raider would be a rpg.


Also, in most rpg in fact you don't roleplay anything. You go though a pre-defined storyline with little control over the character decision. You just follow the storyline presented, likely watching a movie, the difference is only that you move the character on maps and choose their commands in battle.
 
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AwesomeCool

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And no, Zelda is not a traditional RPG, at most an action RPG, wich is a subgerne of RPG.



I thought Zelda was classified as an Action-Adventure game?  It is the section it was always under in the past.


I always thought RPGs were games that took heavy inspiration from tabletops D&D style games.


But then again a rogue-like is now anything with perma-death,  any game that is hard is inspired by Dark Souls, Tactical Fps is the same as an fps, a moba is an rts, Last of Us is a survival game and Far Cry is an RPG.  So idk anymore.


I am starting to think that people just make a games genre depending on if they like it or not (like it, part of a genre they like and if they hate it, part of a genre they hate).
 
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Victor Sant

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I thought Zelda was classified as an Action-Adventure game?  It is the section it was always under in the past.

Zelda position is very blurry as it's rpg elements vary a lot from game to game, some have more elements (like zelda 2 even having experience and levels) while other has very little.


I think the thing that is making hard to define RPGs is that many games are adding rpg's elements on themselves. But having some small elements of a genre don't put the game into that genre.


For example, on GTA you have several firearms, but this don't make GTA a shooter. The same way, having some small rpg elements (Zelda for example) don't make the game a rpg.


The origin of rpg videogames are the tabletop rpg's, so, having the tabletop rpg elements on the game's core is what defines the game as a rpg.
 

jwideman

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Well, there's a funny thing about genres: they are arbitrary labels strictly for the purpose of marketing. This is true for any medium. Now, I know someone is thinking "That's not true, I only like genre X, so genre must mean something." The publishers know you only like "genre X" so if they want to sell something to you, that's what they say it is. When people have too many choices, they feel overwhelmed and decision making becomes impossible. By labeling works as a certain genre, the number of choices is drastically cut. Now instead of 100 games to choose from, you only have to choose from 10 because you only like "genre X." Much easier to decide.
 

encapturer

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Well, there's a funny thing about genres: they are arbitrary labels strictly for the purpose of marketing. This is true for any medium. Now, I know someone is thinking "That's not true, I only like genre X, so genre must mean something." The publishers know you only like "genre X" so if they want to sell something to you, that's what they say it is. When people have too many choices, they feel overwhelmed and decision making becomes impossible. By labeling works as a certain genre, the number of choices is drastically cut. Now instead of 100 games to choose from, you only have to choose from 10 because you only like "genre X." Much easier to decide.



True, but I think it is worthwhile to examine why you like certain genres, and what you expect from them, as well as what society thinks of what the genre is.  At least it is if you really like the genre in question.

Zelda position is very blurry as it's rpg elements vary a lot from game to game, some have more elements (like zelda 2 even having experience and levels) while other has very little.



Zelda was actually an interesting one for me, as I kneejerked to categorizing them all as action games (as in not-rpgs)... and it was what drove me to try to figure out why I felt this way.
 

Titanhex

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This discussion falls in line with the question of "What is a game?" The core discussion of ludology. 


While there is a clear idea of what a game is (You understand this after you gain the knowledge from those who have pioneered ludology), it's important to also test and explore the definition yourself.


The same goes for an RPG.
In order to define what an RPG is, you must know the exact moment that something becomes an RPG and when it stops being an RPG.

And even then, many games have the core mechanics of an RPG, but are categorized as other genres.

Sometimes it's better to simply understand the mechanics you're working with. Defining the game (as x genre) only is necessary when communicating your idea, and nothing more.
 
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Block

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the stats, darned luck stat *shakes arm angrily*



I agree!


I consider Zelda 2 an RPG even though it barely passes for one, but I don't think any other Zelda would be. 
 

coyotecraft

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This is too ridiculous to ignore. 


It's not a fuzzy concept.  Lets get some things straight.


Games are categorized by gameplay. Not narrative. Not what they look like. And not what they're made in, rpg maker.


Action & Adventure mean something different in context to Games than to Movies. 


Action: Timing and Reaction. Swinging a sword, pulling a trigger, Dodging. Jumping on moving platforms. 


Adventure: Using tools (or skill) to do something. You pick up a key; unlock the door. Use Fire to light a torch; Water to put it out.  I want to say it's named after the 1980's Atari game "Adventure" that was the first video game to do this, but even the literature genre of Adventure is defined as "doing stuff at great risk" - setting traps,  making a rope out of bed sheets, lifting the key off a sleeping guard...ect


But again, I have to stress the context of gameplay. Avoiding detection simply by staying out of the line of sight is Action, using camouflage makes it Adventure. These are usually blended together anyways. 


The Zelda games are Action-Adventure. Hyphenated combination of the two. It's not an rpg because rpg's work differently.  


RPG: The outcome of your actions are determent by stat formulas and dice rolls. If you want to persuade someone, you need charisma. You want to kill something? Meet the conditions or roll a 10 or greater for success. 


The gameplay comes from the rules of table-top rpgs. Jrpgs use a lot of elements from Adventure games and are generally only RPGs in regard to their battle systems. Video game RPGs don't have the unlimited story potential that a table-top RPG would have, so player choices are limited.  It's a role-playing GAME, meaning rules to play by. 


The Zelda games don't work by these rules. Heart containers are not stats, they're items you pick up. Same with any skills or abilities you would need to advance,  like needing a feather to jump or a magic scroll to use fire.


SIM: Short for simulation. Whether it's Dating, Farming, or building a theme park you're managing resources. Money and Time. It's easy to view them as RPGs, in that if you don't make the right exchanges you'll fail. But I think there's a fundamental difference in that you're filling quotas. In a Dating Sim, raising a character's affection is the whole point. But in an RPG your stats are just a means to an end, you don't have to be maxed out to fight the final boss. 


I should point out that the Atelier games in Japan have the distinction of being Life-Sims and not just RPGs. 


Modern rpgs are combinations of so many other categories while being marketed solely as "RPG" I guess people can't make the distinction anymore.   


There are conventions that people will want to see in a RPG, but fantasy plots and exploration are not what define the game
 

Titanhex

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To help clarify the difference between the stats of a dating sim and the stats of an RPG, it's going to be vital to highlight this major difference.


Stats in an RPG are affected by chance. "Dice Roll" doesn't point to actual dice, but rather the mechanic of Chance.


Clearly this is different from the stats of a dating sim, where success is achieved upon completion of a quota.
This difference is notable because in an RPG success and failure is variable based off stats, where as it is is absolute in a dating sim.


A clear distinction is the role stats play in an RPG versus other games. In an RPG, stats are the core mechanic of play.


This is a clear difference from a dating sim or an Action Adventure game like Hyper Light Drifter or Legend of Zelda, where stats are simply a threshold mechanic.


A threshold mechanic stat is one where the only stat that matters is the final one. Going under or over the threshold has minimal to no effect on success.


Thus, defining game genres can be simplified as such:


The core mechanic of an RPG are stats with variable outcomes.


The core mechanic of a SIM is time and resource management.


The core mechanic of Action is timing-based response.


The core mechanic of Adventure is the application of tools in order to proceed.


It's important to note that just because a game has these, doesn't mean it's that genre. In order for it to be a part of that genre, the game has to emphasize the the mechanic as part of it's core gameplay.
 
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