With the evolution of the gaming industry, the once known MUDs, or multi-user dungeons, have undergone significant changes. In fact, the role-playing aspect of the MUDs gave rise to a whole new genre. Role-playing games (RPGs) are now a fairly common videogame genre that is rather difficult to understand or define. Role-playing games can be divided into different types and sub-genres, while some games can, in fact, integrate some RPG mechanics without classifying the game as an RPG.
Before diving into modern RPG titles, educating ourselves on the history of the genre is imperative. The origins of RPGs can easily be traced back to the average tabletop experience. Since Dungeons & Dragons was officially published in 1974, the tabletop helped first bring forth the RPG concept.
Dungeons & Dragons brought forth a diverse and sophisticated set of rules for tabletop games, allowing players the ability to create their own characters, while also providing the option to allocate their stats. Stats in RPGs primarily refer to a character’s strength, health, intelligence, dexterity, and other similar traits. The game is then narrated and led by the Dungeon Master, who plays the role of directing the game’s flow and story.
As RPGs were introduced on computers and other devices, a similar set of rules were and mechanics were also implemented in the games. However, this time, instead of rolling a dice to determine the character stats, modern video games allow players to handle their stats with the luxury of programming.
What defines an RPG?
Role-playing games can be defined using a few key pointers that roughly every RPG must fulfil. First off, the game must have certain character development or progression system, enabling players to strengthen their characters the more they play the game. This mainly refers to improving the health pool, stats, EXP, and other traits.
Next up, the combat experience in RPGs should also be tied to your character’s stats. For instance, if a player possesses extensive amounts of strength and agility, they must deal more damage and evade most attacks. However, this also means that this glass-cannon build will also be susceptible to receiving immense amounts of damage.
Moving on, the game must provide a roadmap for progressing the game and expanding your inventory. The game must allow players to obtain a variety of weapons, spells, armour, and other items.
Japanese RPGs and Western RPGs
The earlier set of RPGs for PC differed quite significantly from console titles, such as Dragon Quest. Thus, with time, the industry and gaming community began to refer to the RPGs as either Western RPGs, or Japanese RPGs (JRPGs). Understanding the distinction between the two is quite crucial as both archetypes can be quite different than what you may expect.
Developed by American or European development teams, Western RPGs are quite open-ended. These games provide a significant degree of freedom and immersion when it comes to the approach taken to complete quests. In fact, players can create their own characters and are also capable of the game’s storyline, depending on the set of choices they make. Moreover, Western RPGs integrate a more serious tone and include mature characters, as compared to JRPGs and high-school characters. Some of the most prominent Western RPGs include The Witcher 3, Mass Effect, and Skyrim.
JRPGs tend to differ from Western RPGs in more than a few aspects. The average JRPG features a younger, more charismatic protagonist, with a pre-baked storyline that offers little to no diversity. The pacing of the games is also quite linear and streamlined.
The combat system for JRPGs is also very different. Instead of featuring real-time combat, JRPGs commonly feature turn-based combat, where players have to choose a command from a provided menu each turn. JRPGs also include a lot of random enemy encounters, thus hinting towards more grind-heavy gameplay. These games often feature a whole party of characters, accompanying the player throughout their travels.
Some of the well-known JRPGs include the Persona series, the Final Fantasy games, and the Dragon Quest franchise.