By definition, a “role playing game” within the video game realm can differ from live action role playing games, so for the purpose of this editorial, we will stick primarily within the context of video games. Therefore, it is my stance that within video games, the genre of role playing game (RPG) and its mechanics and traits has bled itself into multiple genres to the point that I struggle to consider it a full-fledged genre anymore, and simply a game mechanic.
By a simplistic definition, a role playing game centers around a central character, most often teamed up with other characters, embarking on a series of quests in order to stop a world-ending calamity, or some larger than life evil that threatens the land or main characters within the game. Regardless of the setting (most often than not these settings take place within a medieval-like world) there are many core mechanics that blend within RPGs; character growth and development in stats like strength, endurance, health, et cetera achieved by completing missions and quests through experience, as well as gaining currency to upgrade and purchase new equipment and materials, and complex character interactions that not only push the overall narrative of the story, but also into character relationships. Some examples of these are the Final Fantasy series, the Dragon Age series, Fallout 3, Divinity: Original Sin, and many more.
While RPGs are much more complex than what I described, it is a simplistic and overall description. Despite the nuanced mechanics in RPGs, they have transcended themselves into other genres to the point that they’ve separated from the definition of “genre.” I will proceed to present examples that further strengthens my argument.
Forza Horizon 5
Forza Horizon 5 is a racing game through and through, however it shares many gameplay mechanics and features that transcend the RPG genre. For starters, much like an RPG title, it is set in an open world and you can travel to any point on the map you see. While some places may be blocked off from the start of the game, much like a traditional RPG, they can be unlocked by completing a series of quests, or race competitions, to gain experience points that can culminate into furthering the overall story and exposing more of the map. You start the game with a basic vehicle, and as you gain more experience and win more competitions (which gets you more money) you can purchase upgraded materials and parts, as well as purchase new and more powerful, faster cars. Much like a traditional RPG, there are areas of the game that are unachievable without the proper equipment and level, which is similar to Forza Horizon 5, where many races are unwinnable without the proper vehicle.
The Last of Us 2
RPGs tend to construct narratives based on an overarching theme, like love, loss, and revenge, and The Last of Us 2 (TLOU2) is no different. Revenge and hate are the two primary themes the game delves into between the characters Elle and Abby as they dedicate their lives to causing pain to one another. Not only does this title focus on these narrative themes, they also feature a constant need to upgrade your equipment and weapons. Action RPGs are more streamlined and focused than traditional RPGs, which is where TLOU2 fits. Not only are you gaining and improving your equipment and weapons, there are also many puzzle elements involved that are required to progress, like manipulating the environment to expose a pathway, lock picking, and multiple branching paths to avoid combat all together. These mechanics and features are paramount of the action RPG genre.
The Grand Theft Auto series
Whether you’re a fan of the series or not, the Grand Theft Auto titles borrow heavily from the RPG genre in its quest and narrative structure. While the game does not require you to “level up” or gain experience to become stronger in a traditional sense, the overall narrative and story within the world opens up from completing a variety of “main quests” and “side quests.” Main quests traditionally move the overall story forward that can unlock more parts of the map and can introduce new characters, and side quests, while not required to reach the end game, breathe life into the world the developers paint, whether it be fetch-type quests and/or character development plots. These quests can be done however the player chooses; do you focus aggressively on side quests, skip them all together to move the plot with main quests, or a combination of both? Whether you’re in Liberty City or San Andreas, the Grand Theft Auto games feature a larger than life plot that centers around a character not only building a name for themself within the world, but also battling against either a main antagonist or an organization hell bent on destroying everything about the main character and their world.
God of War: Ragnarok
While RPG purists would balk at such a classification, it is undeniable that the latest installment in the God of War series has been heavily influenced by the RPG genre. By all accounts, professional media outlets simply deem this as an “action-adventure” title, denying the obvious game mechanics that separate it from such a simple classification. Besides the overall “world-ending” story that is featured within the game’s title, the game tasks you with not only completing main quests to advance the story, but also sprinkling in various side quests that breathe life into the various realms within the game, all the while learning more about the characters Kratos travels with through dialogue and lore pick ups. As you progress within the story, you are gaining experience points and “leveling up” your characters by unlocking new skills, all the while upgrading their equipment, gear, and weapons with materials you find throughout the world. There is also a defined currency in the game that allows you to purchase new materials, armor and runes. As one can see, God of War: Ragnarok is more than just an action game.
Regardless on where you stand on this argument, one cannot deny the influence the RPG genre has had on the video game medium. RPGs started out as tabletop and story-telling devices, with multiple people involved in living inside a fully fledged world created by Dungeon Masters (DMs), and with the advent of video games, RPGs became more than they ever could be imagined decades ago. As video games grew more complex, not only in graphical fidelity and sound, but also in gameplay mechanics and story development, traditional genres like action games, racing games, and more borrowed heavily from the RPG genre that improved value, experience, diversity in gameplay, and overall length to players. No other genre has had such an influence on other genres like RPGs have had, and it has come to a point where maybe it begs the question if RPGs can even be a genre by itself.
What do you think? There are many more examples I’m sure, so let me know which games are more RPG-like than they let on! Comment at the bottom of the page, or head over to our Boss Rush Network Discord server, or use the QR code at the bottom of the page.
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