Fri. Jun 21st, 2024

The world of gaming is vast and diverse, with numerous genres catering to different tastes and preferences. One such genre that has captivated gamers for decades is the Role-Playing Game (RPG). But what exactly defines the RPG genre? Is it the character customization, the open-world exploration, or the turn-based combat? In this comprehensive look at classic RPGs, we will delve into the key elements that have made this genre a beloved staple of the gaming world. From the earliest RPGs to the modern-day masterpieces, we will explore the features that set this genre apart and make it a beloved favorite among gamers. Get ready to embark on a journey through the world of RPGs and discover what makes this genre truly special.

What is an RPG?

The Evolution of RPGs

The RPG genre has undergone significant changes since its inception in the late 1970s. The evolution of RPGs can be divided into three distinct phases: early text-based RPGs, the rise of graphical RPGs, and the impact of consoles and handheld devices.

Early text-based RPGs

The first RPGs were text-based and focused on player interaction with a game world through text commands. These games typically featured simple character creation systems and were focused on exploration and combat. One of the earliest examples of a text-based RPG is the 1978 game “Colossal Cave Adventure,” which was a hybrid of a text-based adventure game and an RPG.

The rise of graphical RPGs

With the advent of personal computers in the 1980s, RPGs began to incorporate graphical elements, such as character sprites and background images. This allowed for more immersive gameplay and enabled developers to create more complex game worlds. The first commercially successful graphical RPG was “Ultima III: Exodus,” released in 1983. This game introduced a non-linear world map and allowed players to explore a vast, open world.

The impact of consoles and handheld devices

In the 1990s, the release of consoles such as the Super Nintendo Entertainment System and the Sega Genesis led to a surge in RPG popularity. These consoles offered more advanced graphics and sound capabilities, allowing for more sophisticated gameplay and storytelling. The rise of handheld devices such as the Game Boy and the Nintendo DS also had a significant impact on the RPG genre, enabling developers to create smaller, more accessible games that could be played on the go.

Today, the RPG genre encompasses a wide range of styles and mechanics, from classic turn-based combat to real-time action. Despite these changes, the core elements of the RPG genre remain consistent: a focus on character development, exploration, and storytelling.

Characteristics of RPGs

Role-playing games (RPGs) are a unique genre of video games that allow players to assume the role of a character in a fictional world. These games typically feature complex characters and storylines, turn-based or real-time combat, leveling up and character progression, and quests and side missions.

  • Complex Characters and Storylines: One of the defining characteristics of RPGs is the depth and complexity of their characters and storylines. Players are often given the opportunity to create their own character, choosing their attributes, skills, and abilities. They then embark on a journey through a rich and detailed world, interacting with other characters and making choices that affect the outcome of the story. The storylines in RPGs can be highly varied, ranging from epic fantasy quests to science fiction adventures, and from gritty crime dramas to whimsical fairy tales.
  • Turn-based or Real-time Combat: Another key characteristic of RPGs is the combat system. While some RPGs feature turn-based combat, where players take turns attacking and defending, others use real-time combat, where players must act quickly to dodge attacks and strike back. Some RPGs also feature a mix of both turn-based and real-time combat, depending on the situation.
  • Leveling Up and Character Progression: In RPGs, players earn experience points (XP) by defeating enemies and completing quests. As players accumulate XP, their characters level up, gaining new abilities and becoming more powerful. This system of leveling up and character progression is a hallmark of the RPG genre, allowing players to customize their characters and tailor them to their preferred playstyle.
  • Quests and Side Missions: RPGs often feature a variety of quests and side missions that players can undertake. These quests may be required to advance the main storyline, or they may be optional side missions that provide additional rewards and bonuses. Players may be tasked with slaying monsters, retrieving items, or solving puzzles, among other tasks. The variety and complexity of quests and side missions in RPGs add to the genre’s replayability and allow players to explore the game world in greater depth.

Classic RPGs: A Brief History

Key takeaway: The RPG genre has evolved significantly since its inception in the late 1970s, with early text-based RPGs, the rise of graphical RPGs, and the impact of consoles and handheld devices. Character development, exploration, and storytelling are the core elements of RPGs. The genre includes subgenres such as action RPGs, JRPGs, and Western RPGs. The future of RPGs includes emerging trends such as procedurally generated content, multiplayer experiences, and VR and AR integration. Ongoing debates include linear vs. open-world design and the impact of microtransactions and loot boxes. The rise of mobile gaming has also had an impact on the RPG genre.

Early Classics

The earliest classic RPGs laid the foundation for the genre as we know it today. These games introduced players to a new style of interactive storytelling, allowing them to take on the role of a character and make decisions that impacted the story. Here are some of the most influential early classic RPGs:

Dungeons & Dragons

  • Released: 1974
  • Platform: PC, tabletop
  • Developer: Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson
  • Genre: Role-playing, fantasy

Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) is considered the first true RPG. Created by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson, the game was originally a tabletop game that required players to use their imagination to visualize the game world. The game was later adapted into a computer game, but the core mechanics remained the same. Players create characters, go on quests, and interact with other players in a shared imaginary world.

Ultima series

  • Released: 1981 – 1999
  • Platform: PC, Apple II, Commodore 64, NES, SNES, PlayStation, Sega Genesis
  • Developer: Richard Garriott

The Ultima series, created by Richard Garriott, is another influential early classic RPG. The series began in 1981 with the release of Ultima I: The First Age of Darkness. Over the course of nine main games and several spin-offs, the series became known for its open-ended gameplay, complex storylines, and innovative character development system. The games also featured challenging combat and puzzle-solving elements, making them popular among both casual and hardcore gamers.

Wizardry series

  • Released: 1981 – present
  • Developer: Sir-Tech Software

The Wizardry series, developed by Sir-Tech Software, is often considered one of the earliest and most influential Western-style RPGs. The first game, simply titled Wizardry: Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord, was released in 1981 and was known for its challenging gameplay and intricate storyline. The series went on to spawn eight main games and several spin-offs, with each game introducing new mechanics and features to the series.

Overall, these early classic RPGs set the stage for the genre, introducing players to the concept of character creation, open-ended gameplay, and immersive storytelling. Their impact can still be felt today, as many modern RPGs draw inspiration from these pioneering titles.

The Golden Age of RPGs

The Emergence of the Golden Age

The Golden Age of RPGs is generally considered to have begun in the late 1980s and lasted through the early 1990s. During this time, several seminal games were released that established many of the conventions and tropes that would come to define the RPG genre. These games not only set the standard for future RPGs but also demonstrated the potential of the genre to tell complex, emotional stories and immerse players in rich, detailed worlds.

Influential Games of the Golden Age

One of the most influential games of the Golden Age was the Final Fantasy series, which debuted in 1987 and has since become one of the most beloved and enduring franchises in gaming history. Final Fantasy pioneered many of the conventions that would become synonymous with the RPG genre, including a sprawling, open-ended world, a cast of memorable characters, and a deep, intricate storyline.

Another notable game from the Golden Age was Chrono Trigger, which was released in 1995. Chrono Trigger was hailed for its innovative time-travel mechanics, which allowed players to explore different eras and alternate timelines. The game’s story was also praised for its emotional depth and mature themes, which dealt with issues such as death, love, and the nature of existence.

Lastly, Super Mario RPG, released in 1996, was a pioneering example of the crossover between RPGs and other genres. The game combined the traditional RPG gameplay with the platforming mechanics of the Super Mario series, resulting in a unique and engaging experience that appealed to both RPG and platformer fans alike.

The Legacy of the Golden Age

The games of the Golden Age of RPGs continue to influence the genre to this day, and many of the conventions and tropes that they established are still present in modern RPGs. In addition, the Golden Age marked the beginning of the RPG genre’s rise to prominence in the gaming industry, paving the way for the countless RPGs that have been released in the decades since. As such, the Golden Age represents a crucial turning point in the history of the RPG genre, and its impact can still be felt today.

Modern Classics

The modern classics of the RPG genre have defined the landscape of gaming in recent years. These games have not only set the bar for storytelling and world-building but have also introduced new mechanics and innovations that have been adopted by other genres. In this section, we will delve into three of the most influential modern classic RPGs:

  • The Elder Scrolls series
  • Fallout series
  • The Witcher series

The Elder Scrolls series
The Elder Scrolls series, developed by Bethesda Game Studios, is known for its vast open-world environments, immersive storytelling, and deep character customization. The series began in 1994 with the release of The Elder Scrolls: Arena, and since then, it has expanded to include several critically acclaimed titles, such as Oblivion, Skyrim, and Elder Scrolls Online. The series is set in the fantasy world of Tamriel, and players are given the freedom to explore and interact with the world in any way they choose. The series is known for its non-linear gameplay, which allows players to tackle quests and objectives in any order they desire. The series also features a deep crafting system, where players can create their own weapons and armor, as well as an extensive magic system.

Fallout series
The Fallout series, developed by Bethesda Game Studios, is a post-apocalyptic RPG set in a world where the world has been destroyed by nuclear war. The series began in 1997 with the release of Fallout, and since then, it has expanded to include several sequels, such as Fallout 2, Fallout 3, Fallout 4, and Fallout 76. The series is known for its deep character customization, where players can create their own character and choose their own path. The series also features a unique SPECIAL character creation system, where players can assign points to different attributes such as strength, intelligence, and charisma. The series is also known for its unique setting, where players must navigate a world full of radiation, mutants, and hostile factions.

The Witcher series
The Witcher series, developed by CD Projekt Red, is a fantasy RPG set in a world full of monsters, magic, and political intrigue. The series began in 2007 with the release of The Witcher, and since then, it has expanded to include two sequels, The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings and The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. The series is known for its complex storytelling, morally ambiguous characters, and engaging combat system. The series also features a unique crafting system, where players can create their own potions and weapons using ingredients found in the world. The series is also known for its stunning visuals and attention to detail, with a world that feels alive and full of possibilities.

Mechanics and Gameplay

Character Creation and Customization

When it comes to the RPG genre, character creation and customization is a crucial aspect that sets it apart from other game genres. It allows players to create and personalize their in-game characters, making the gaming experience more immersive and engaging. Here are some key elements that define character creation and customization in classic RPGs:

Creating a character

Character creation is the first step in the customization process. It involves selecting a character’s basic attributes such as race, class, and appearance. In many classic RPGs, players are given a choice between different races, each with their own unique traits and abilities. For example, in the classic game “The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind,” players can choose from a variety of races such as the dark-skinned, humanoid Dunmer or the reptilian Argonian.

In addition to race, players also choose their character’s class, which determines their starting skills and abilities. For instance, in “Final Fantasy VII,” players can choose to be a Mage, a Warrior, or a Thief, each with their own strengths and weaknesses.

Customization options

Once the basic character attributes are chosen, players can begin customizing their character’s appearance. This may include selecting hair style, facial features, and clothing. In some games, players can also customize their character’s abilities and skills by allocating points earned through leveling up.

For example, in “The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim,” players can customize their character’s appearance by selecting from a variety of hairstyles, facial hair, and body types. They can also choose their character’s clothing, from basic peasant clothes to ornate armor.

Role-playing and character backstory

Role-playing is a key aspect of character creation and customization in RPGs. Players are encouraged to create a backstory for their character, which can include their motivations, goals, and personal history. This helps players immerse themselves in the game world and makes the character feel more real.

In “The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt,” players can create a character backstory that influences the game’s story and dialogue. For example, players can choose their character’s occupation, which affects how non-playable characters react to them.

Overall, character creation and customization is a crucial element of the RPG genre, allowing players to create unique and personalized characters that they can become invested in and role-play during gameplay.

Combat and Skill Systems

Combat and skill systems are essential components of RPGs that determine how players interact with the game world. Two primary combat systems are used in RPGs: turn-based and real-time combat.

  • Turn-based combat

In turn-based combat, players take turns to perform actions in a sequential manner. Each player takes a turn to execute an action, such as attacking, using a skill, or moving. The order of actions is predetermined, and players must wait for their turn to act. This system is often used in strategic RPGs where players need to think through their actions carefully to gain an advantage over their opponents.

  • Real-time combat

In real-time combat, players can perform actions simultaneously, creating a more dynamic and fast-paced experience. Players can move their characters around the battlefield, attack enemies, and use skills all at once. This system is often used in action-oriented RPGs where players need to react quickly to changing situations.

Another important aspect of combat systems is the use of skill trees and branching paths. Skill trees allow players to choose and unlock new abilities as they progress through the game. Branching paths provide players with different choices that affect the outcome of the game.

Skill trees are typically divided into different branches, each representing a different skill or ability. Players can choose which branch to follow, unlocking new skills and abilities as they progress. For example, in the Elder Scrolls series, players can choose to specialize in magic, combat, or stealth, each with its own unique set of skills and abilities.

Branching paths, on the other hand, offer players different choices that can affect the story and the outcome of the game. For example, in the Mass Effect series, players can choose to ally with different factions, which can lead to different storylines and endings. Similarly, in the Fallout series, players can choose to join different factions, which can affect the game’s story and ending.

Overall, combat and skill systems are crucial components of RPGs that offer players different ways to interact with the game world. Whether it’s turn-based or real-time combat, or the use of skill trees and branching paths, these systems add depth and complexity to RPGs, making them some of the most engaging and immersive games available today.

Exploration and Puzzles

Exploration and puzzles are key elements of the RPG genre that have been present since the early days of the genre. These elements have evolved over time, and the way they are implemented can greatly affect the overall experience of the game.

Open-world vs. linear design

One of the most important decisions in the design of an RPG is whether to create an open-world or a linear game. An open-world game offers players the freedom to explore the game world at their own pace, while a linear game guides players through a predetermined path.

Open-world games typically offer a larger game world with multiple areas to explore, and often have a day-night cycle, weather system, and non-playable characters (NPCs) that players can interact with. This allows players to fully immerse themselves in the game world and create their own story.

In contrast, linear games are designed to guide players through a specific story and often have a more structured game world. While this approach can be limiting, it can also make the game more focused and streamlined.

Environmental puzzles

Environmental puzzles are puzzles that require players to interact with the game world in a specific way to progress. These puzzles can take many forms, such as moving objects to solve a puzzle, using the environment to solve a puzzle, or using a specific item to solve a puzzle.

Environmental puzzles are often used to add depth to the game world and to encourage exploration. They can also be used to add an extra layer of challenge to the game, as players must think creatively to solve the puzzle.

Secret areas and hidden treasures

Secret areas and hidden treasures are a common element in RPGs and are often used to reward players for exploring the game world. These areas can be hidden behind walls, locked doors, or require the use of a specific item to access.

Secret areas and hidden treasures can add an extra layer of excitement to the game and encourage players to explore the game world in search of these hidden treasures. They can also provide players with powerful items or rare items that can help them progress through the game.

Overall, exploration and puzzles are essential elements of the RPG genre that can greatly enhance the overall experience of the game. The way these elements are implemented can greatly affect the game’s design and can make the difference between a game that is enjoyed by players and one that is not.

RPG Subgenres

Action RPGs

  • Real-time combat
    • Action-oriented battles
    • Timing and strategy crucial
  • Active character progression
    • Character abilities and equipment evolve in real-time
    • Player decisions impact character growth
  • Quick-time events and other action elements
    • Pressing button prompts to execute special moves
    • Mini-games and puzzles to break up gameplay

In the world of RPGs, action RPGs stand out as a subgenre that combines the traditional elements of role-playing games with fast-paced, real-time combat. These games emphasize active character progression, where player decisions have a direct impact on the character’s abilities and equipment. The combat in action RPGs is often designed to be more action-oriented, requiring players to employ timing and strategy to emerge victorious.

One of the defining features of action RPGs is the real-time combat system. This means that battles occur in real-time, requiring players to react quickly and strategically to enemy attacks. Action-oriented battles are the norm, with players engaging in fast-paced combat using a variety of weapons and special moves. Pressing button prompts at the right time can lead to devastating attacks, while poor timing can result in the player’s defeat.

Another hallmark of action RPGs is the active character progression system. In these games, character abilities and equipment evolve in real-time, with player decisions having a direct impact on the character’s growth. As players progress through the game, they can unlock new abilities and equipment, which can be upgraded and customized to suit their playstyle. This adds a layer of depth to the gameplay, as players must constantly evaluate their character’s abilities and make strategic decisions to optimize their performance.

Quick-time events and other action elements are also commonly found in action RPGs. These events are designed to break up the monotony of gameplay and add an extra layer of challenge. Examples include pressing button prompts to execute special moves, completing mini-games to unlock new abilities, or solving puzzles to progress through the game. These elements add a sense of excitement and unpredictability to the gameplay, keeping players on their toes and adding variety to the overall experience.

Overall, action RPGs are a unique subgenre of RPGs that combine traditional RPG elements with fast-paced, real-time combat. With their emphasis on active character progression, strategic combat, and quick-time events, action RPGs offer a thrilling and engaging experience for players looking for a more action-oriented RPG experience.


JRPGs, or Japanese RPGs, are a subgenre of RPGs that have gained significant popularity in recent years. They are characterized by several key elements that set them apart from other RPG subgenres.

  • Character-driven storylines: JRPGs typically focus on the development of the main characters, often with deep backstories and intricate character arcs. The storylines are often complex and can span multiple games in a series. The characters are also often designed with unique and distinctive visual styles, making them easily recognizable and memorable.
  • Anime-inspired visuals and music: JRPGs often feature anime-inspired visuals, including character designs, backgrounds, and cutscenes. The graphics are often colorful and detailed, with vibrant environments and expressive character animations. The music is also often orchestrated and has a distinct anime-inspired sound.
  • Social simulation elements: JRPGs often incorporate social simulation elements, such as character interactions, relationships, and even dating sim aspects. These elements add depth to the characters and make the game world feel more immersive and engaging. Players often have the opportunity to make choices that affect the outcome of the story and the relationships between characters.

Overall, JRPGs are known for their rich, character-driven storylines, anime-inspired visuals and music, and social simulation elements. They are a subgenre of RPGs that continue to gain popularity and are a staple of the gaming industry.

Western RPGs

  • Emphasis on player choice: Western RPGs place a strong emphasis on player choice, allowing players to make decisions that impact the outcome of the game. This can include dialogue choices, branching storylines, and multiple endings.
  • Complex morality systems: Western RPGs often feature complex morality systems that reflect the choices and actions of the player. These systems may include good, evil, and neutral alignments, and may impact the game’s story and characters.
  • Dynamic dialogue and branching storylines: Western RPGs typically feature dynamic dialogue and branching storylines, which allow players to shape the game’s narrative based on their choices. This can lead to multiple endings and a more personalized gaming experience.

Some examples of classic Western RPGs include the Fallout series, The Elder Scrolls series, and Baldur’s Gate. These games have become iconic in the genre and have set the standard for future Western RPGs.

The Future of RPGs

Emerging Trends

  • Procedurally generated content: With the rise of procedurally generated content, RPGs are becoming more replayable and unpredictable. This means that each playthrough of the game will be different, offering a unique experience to players.
  • Multiplayer experiences: Multiplayer experiences are becoming increasingly popular in the RPG genre. This allows players to interact with each other in a shared world, creating a social and dynamic experience.
  • VR and AR integration: Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) are becoming more integrated into RPGs, providing players with a more immersive experience. This technology allows players to interact with the game world in a more realistic way, adding a new level of depth to the genre.

Ongoing Debates

Linear vs. Open-World Design

One of the most significant debates in the gaming industry today is the discussion over linear versus open-world design in RPGs. A linear design follows a set path, with the player moving through the story in a predetermined order. In contrast, an open-world design allows players to explore the game world freely, often with multiple paths and objectives.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Linear Design

Linear design offers several advantages, such as a more focused narrative and a streamlined experience. This approach can create a more immersive storytelling experience, as players are not distracted by side quests or excessive exploration. However, linear design can also result in a less dynamic and replayable experience, with little room for player choice or agency.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Open-World Design

Open-world design provides players with a vast, explorable environment, which can lead to a more engaging and replayable experience. This approach also allows for greater player agency, as players can choose their own path and pursue various objectives. However, open-world design can also result in a less focused narrative, with some players getting lost in the game world and missing out on key story elements.

Microtransactions and Loot Boxes

Another ongoing debate in the RPG genre revolves around microtransactions and loot boxes. Microtransactions are small purchases made within a game, often for cosmetic items or in-game currency. Loot boxes, on the other hand, are a form of randomized reward that players can purchase, containing a variety of in-game items.

Ethical Considerations

Critics argue that microtransactions and loot boxes can lead to predatory practices, as players may feel compelled to spend money on randomized rewards in the hopes of obtaining rare items. Some games have been accused of encouraging players to spend excessive amounts of money, leading to accusations of gambling and addictive behavior.

Industry Responses

In response to these concerns, some game developers have implemented changes to their microtransaction and loot box systems. Some have removed microtransactions entirely, while others have made significant changes to the way loot boxes are distributed, ensuring that players are not disadvantaged for choosing not to spend money.

The Impact of Mobile Gaming on RPGs

The rise of mobile gaming has had a significant impact on the RPG genre, leading to the development of new subgenres and gameplay mechanics. Mobile RPGs often feature more casual gameplay and simplified mechanics, making them accessible to a wider audience.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Mobile RPGs

Mobile RPGs offer several advantages, such as accessibility and convenience. These games can be played on the go, making them ideal for players with busy lifestyles. However, mobile RPGs also have some disadvantages, such as less immersive gameplay and less complex storytelling.

As the RPG genre continues to evolve, these ongoing debates will undoubtedly shape the future of RPGs, influencing the design choices of developers and the expectations of players.


1. What is the RPG genre?

The RPG (Role-Playing Game) genre is a type of video game that allows players to assume the role of a character and explore a fictional world. In RPGs, players make decisions that affect the story and outcome of the game, often with multiple paths and endings. The genre typically includes elements such as character development, combat, and exploration.

2. What are some classic RPGs?

Some classic RPGs include the original Final Fantasy series, The Elder Scrolls series, and the Persona series. These games are often considered classics because they helped define the RPG genre and have had a significant impact on the industry. They are known for their engaging stories, memorable characters, and immersive worlds.

3. What are the key elements of an RPG?

The key elements of an RPG include character development, combat, and exploration. In character development, players create and customize their characters, often with a variety of skills and abilities. Combat is often a major part of RPGs, with players engaging in turn-based or real-time battles with enemies. Exploration allows players to discover new areas and uncover hidden secrets.

4. What is the difference between a Western RPG and a Japanese RPG?

Western RPGs and Japanese RPGs (JRPGs) have some key differences. Western RPGs tend to focus more on combat and realism, while JRPGs often have a stronger emphasis on story and character development. JRPGs also often feature anime-style graphics and are known for their distinctive music and character designs.

5. What makes an RPG a classic?

An RPG can be considered a classic if it has stood the test of time and has had a significant impact on the industry. Classic RPGs often have memorable stories, characters, and worlds that continue to captivate players long after their release. They may also have innovative gameplay mechanics or have inspired numerous imitators and spin-offs.

What Is An RPG?

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