Forums » General Gaming

What is an RPG?

    • 700 posts
    December 8, 2015 1:00 AM EST

    With Phil's blessing (if an obvious-not obvious hint counts as a blessing), I'm posting this thread for the community to discuss something central to the games that this very site is built on. That is, RPGs. 

    Wikipedia's definition of an RPG (yes, I know, Wikipedia is not a scholarly source, but I'm actually trying to avoid writing an academic paper for once) is 

    a game in which players assume the roles of characters in a fictional setting

    Womp. I guess Mario is an RPG. Who's that interchangeable protagonist in that one military shooter? Whoever he was, his game was an RPG too.

    Clearly not though, right? That definition is obviously too broad to describe the type of game that most players are referring to when they say "RPG".  So then what is it that makes a game an RPG? I think there a few very important qualities that factor into that, but to what degree is up in the air. 

    To my mind, these RPG qualities must all be present to some degree (again, up for debate) and are as follows:

    • Stat management that allows the player to create their character in meaningful ways (meaningful meaning that the difference in stats provides the player with a unique experience in playstyle, or has a distinctly different effect on the game world)
    • In the vein as stat management, the ability to customize items in meaningful ways
    • Inventory management 
    • An open world with NPCs that can be interacted with in meaningful ways
    • Non-linear mission structure that allows players to take multiple paths in one mission, and the ability to take side missions
    • Blank-slate character (I don't actually agree with this, but it's definitely an important point of debate

    If I've understood the main disagreements about RPGs successfully, then they all more or less center around the above qualities and the degree to which each is present in a game.

    But what do you all think? Are these qualities exhaustive? At what point do these qualities change a game from one genre into an RPG? Would it just be easier to start referring to games as hybrid genres? Shooter-RPG?  Fantasy-RPG? Tabula-Rasa-RPG? All three? 

    • 288 posts
    December 8, 2015 2:52 AM EST

    I have just two main rules as to the above.

    A RPG must have:

    1) different character classes with stats/skills/abilities that can be increased as you progress, either by combat or by specific training;

    2) inventory, loot (including looting slain enemies) and an autonomous "economy" system where you can become "rich" by killing and selling the loot, buy better gear or have it drop from slain enemies.

    Of course, it is implied that the above points are tied in together with appropriate storyline and combat system.

    So, let's apply these criteria to some popular games:

    Mass Effect - only the first game satisfies both criteria, so it's a RPG; the second and third fail on the second criterion, therefore they're not.

    Diablo - all Diablos meet both criteria, so they are RPGs.

    Elder Scrolls - all ES games meet both criteria - they are RPGs.

    Fallout - all standard Fallouts (1 through 4) meet both criteria - they are RPGs.

    And now we arrive at the Witcher 3 game which was the source of this topic. Does it satisfy my criteria for a RPG? Well, to be honest, it's a borderline case. Full points on the second criterion, as for the first - it does have abilities and different skill trees, which can be developed in a different way, however there are no classes, or, to be precise, there is just one class - the witcher.

    • 1441 posts
    December 8, 2015 2:54 AM EST

    Well, there are genres like well, JRPGs and ARPGs. To me, an RPG  is a game wherein you can either play as, or create a charcter. The game allows, een basic choices that have some effect, and often have stats.

    • 288 posts
    December 8, 2015 1:21 PM EST

    Hm, I was expecting more "traffic" in this topic.......

    • 1595 posts
    December 8, 2015 3:01 PM EST

    Just to be clear, you're Saying Mass Effect 2 and 3 are not RPGs because they don't have a robust inventory management system?

    I'd say there is another important aspect of RPGs - choice and consequence. The ability of the player to effect the game world. FPS, RTS, Sports nor any other anacronym have this element as prominent as RPGs.

    In that sense it can act as a trump card. An RPG doesn't necessarily need to be open world or non linear - the early top-down Baldur's Gate style RPGs weren't open world but they still fall into the RPG category. I can't even remember them having much in the way of choice but because they had stat and inventory management that made them roleplaying games. Mass Effect 3 and 3 have much more choice and consequence than any of those early D&D games so that trump card comes into play as I see it.

    • 1441 posts
    December 8, 2015 3:05 PM EST

    Here here, or look at KOTOR, your vocal choices in 2 affects what happened in 1 in your playthrough

    • 1217 posts
    December 8, 2015 3:12 PM EST
    It's not something I would debate, personally. The genre of games won't have any impact on how I enjoy them.
    • 288 posts
    December 8, 2015 3:19 PM EST

    Phil, those are my personal rules, and my personal judgement.

    So, yes, for me ME2 and ME3 are not RPG's; they are shooters with some RPG elements. While ME1 I would call a 50:50 mix between a shooter and RPG.

    Choice and consequence - they tend to be rather popular on this site, however I would not call them necessary for a game to be RPG; at least not in the sense most people use them. RP means "role playing" after all; and playing a role doesn't really imply dialog choices and consequences. On the other hand, selecting one class or stat or skill over another is a choice of itself and bears consequences to your gameplay.

    • 288 posts
    December 8, 2015 3:21 PM EST

    The genre of games won't have any impact on how I enjoy them either, but it's a fun topic which can help one gain some insight on how different gamers see things.

    • 1595 posts
    December 8, 2015 3:23 PM EST

    The debate normally hinges on the Blank Slate vs Predefined Character. There are those (Bryn Dog) who feel games like Fallout or Skyrim are true rpgs while games like Mass Effect or The Witcher are somehow lesser due to not having as much freedom.

    The trouble is, Skyrim cannot offer as much impact on the game world with regard to choice and consequence as Mass Effect can simply because of its blank slate character system. The amount of variables are too big.

    From that perspective the argument can change to Mass Effect is more of an rpg than Fallout is.

    • 1441 posts
    December 8, 2015 3:26 PM EST

    For instance, with stats, inventory management and blank slate characters, and being able to alter events, some might say FromSoftware's "Souls" series could be an RPG

    • 1595 posts
    December 8, 2015 3:31 PM EST

    Fair enough, I can see where you're coming from. Action RPGs was the term coined for those games I believe.

    I think this debate does have merit because it has become clear that because the definition of rpg is vague many folks have decided to use their own interpretation. That's how the whole discussion started - Bryn said that Skyrim and Fallout style games were the only true rpgs because of their blank slate system. By his definition, then, there are only a handful of rpgs ever made!

    So while I respect and understand it being good to have your own definition, you can see how it causes trouble. If I said my colour green was more like your blue, we could never discuss the colour of grass and still be on the same page

    • 1441 posts
    December 8, 2015 3:33 PM EST

    Like, a lot of JRPGs often had preestablished characters, even if you can name your character.

    • 1217 posts
    December 8, 2015 3:37 PM EST
    I can see how some would enjoy it. Just doesn't appeal the same way as a discussion on game content. I'm more compelled by someone's reason to convince me that the Empire is at fault for the Civil War, or that the Institute is what's best for the Commonwealth than whether or not what I'm playing is an RPG.
    • 1217 posts
    December 8, 2015 3:37 PM EST
    Isn't Dark Souls billed as an RPG?
    • 1441 posts
    December 8, 2015 3:44 PM EST

    I think so, but it was an example

    • 700 posts
    December 8, 2015 3:56 PM EST
    Do the classes have to be predetermined? Can they be player determined? Skyrim has three basic archetypes: thief, mage, and warrior. Each is a class on its own and they can all be combined with varying degrees of involvement to make new classes. But the classes are more or less explicitly defined in-game by the Standing Stones.

    Fallout seems less defined in that respect. So what defines whether a game has a class system?
    • 288 posts
    December 8, 2015 4:20 PM EST

    No, player created "hybrid" classes were always ok for me.

  • Tom
    • 624 posts
    December 8, 2015 4:29 PM EST

    You're going to have to add my name to that list as well, Phil.

    It's sandbox versus railroad, and I ain't working on a railroad all the live long game.

    • 288 posts
    December 8, 2015 4:31 PM EST

    Ok, so there are different variations of this:

    1) you can choose your character's name, face and class (skills, stats, etc.)

    2) you can choose name and class, but appearance is fixed

    3) you can choose face and class (spec), but name is fixed

    4) you can choose only class, name and face are fixed

    Of course, the above is only for single character RPGs. For party based ones the options are a bit different:

    a) you can customize the whole party (with the 1,2,3,4 from above variations)

    b) you can customize one titular character (with the variations), the rest you can choose from pre-made characters

    c) you cannot customize any character but you can choose a party out of many

    d) a combination of the above (you can use pre-made party/characters or create your own)

    e) you cannot customize nor the characters, nor the party

    • 288 posts
    December 8, 2015 4:33 PM EST

    Sandbox vs Theme Park (what you probably call "railroad") is a totally different topic and argument. Both can be RPGs, and, honestly, both can be good or bad.

    • 700 posts
    December 8, 2015 5:49 PM EST
    This comes back to degree again. Assuming that the character's skills can be developed in such a way that allows unique playstyles (effectively classes) then too what degree can a protagonist' personality be predetermined before that protagonist's game is no longer an RPG? Sure, you're playing a Witcher, but isn't the player allowed to basically decide what kind of Witcher Geralt will be?

    I'm not familiar with the Witcher, so I don't know if the game allows impactful decisions to be made that affect the world and how Geralt interacts with it. Assuming so, my question stands.
  • Tom
    • 624 posts
    December 8, 2015 6:01 PM EST

    Hardly. One is a game and the other is an interactive movie.

    Blank slate vs. Predefined is nothing but Sandbox vs. Railroad carried back into character creation.

    • 558 posts
    December 8, 2015 6:11 PM EST

    I don't think you really need an open world for a game to be considered a (a or an, what is the correct word here?) RPG. Maybe just semi-open, like Dark Souls. But then again, the semi-open world might be why it is called an ActionRPG instead of an RPG.

    To me, an RPG is any game that has an inventory and stat management.

    One borderline game is Shadows of Mordor, it has no inventory, no classes, and no character creation. I personally think it is more of a fantasy action game. Is an action game a watered down RPG?

    • 1441 posts
    December 8, 2015 6:23 PM EST

    FOr instance, games like Until Dawn, or Heavy Rain give you choices that affect the overall outcome of the game