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Role-Playing Game : The History and What Defines A Game As RPG

Tidus saw blitzball stadium - FFX

When you heard a word “Role-Playing Games” what is the first thing pop out in your head?

According to Wikipedia, A role-playing game or as we often called it RPG,  is a game in which players assume the roles of characters in a fictional setting. Most of us must be already familiar with Role-Playing video games such as Final Fantasy Series, World of Warcraft, The Elder Scrolls, Kingdom Hearts, and the list keep going on and on. But despite how many Role-Playing Games today are in video games form,  the origins of it, was not in video games.

Tabletop Role-Playing Games

People playing tabletop RPG

Role-playing games were originally a Tabletop game. Where the game conducted through discussion in a small social gathering. The GM describes the game world and its inhabitants. The other players describe the intended actions of their characters, and the GM describes the outcomes. The first available commercially RPG was “Dungeon & Dragons” which inspired by fantasy literature.

Live Action Role Play (LARP)

People playing LARP

After that it RPG got popular and went “live”, I mean literally. Live Action Role Play or LARP is the next form of RPG. When sitting in your living room pretending fighting a dragon isn’t cut it anymore. You put your best medieval costume and bring your sword of destiny to a real live environment. And duration of this game, would be around hours to days. It’s a good exercise if you ask me

RPG on electronic devices

Diablo 2 game

And we finally come to an age where RPG is playable on electronic devices. If you feel like why Dungeon & Dragon is sound very familiar, it’s because in 1974 this Tabletop game has translated into electronic format by Gygax TSR. In fact it was one of the first RPG game ever released and has expected to sold around 50.000 copies.

From here on, Role-Playing Game keep continue growing into many wide variations. And in 1980’s, translation make Role-Playing Game possible to play in many different country. Many more variation are born after that, for example :

  • Roguelike

Roguelike is a subgenre of role-playing video games, characterized by procedural generation of game levels, turn-based gameplay, tile-based graphics, permanent death of the player-character, and typically based on a high fantasy narrative setting.

Example : Rogue, Faster Than Light(FTL), The Binding Of Isaac : Rebirth

  • Action RPG

Action RPG feature each player directly controlling a single character in real time, and feature a strong focus on combat and action with plot and character interaction kept to a minimum.

Example : Diablo, Dark Souls, Fallout, Borderlands

  • Tactical RPG

This subgenre of role-playing game principally refers to games which incorporate elements from strategy game as an alternative to traditional RPG system.

Example : Final Fantasy Tactics, Disgaea: Hour Of Darkness, Valkyria Chronicles


MMORPG or Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game, allows players to play Role-Playing with large number of people in the same environment online.

Example : World Of Warcraft(WoW), Rift, Tera, Ragnarok, Tree Of Savior

The Important Elements Of RPG

Geralt vs monster

We have learned the history of it, the variations of it, and now it’s time for the big question, “What makes a game called RPG?”

A game have to contain 2 of these elements in order to able to be called RPG, Story & Character Development. These 2 are basic aspects in what makes a game called RPG. For example, if we play as Jin in Tekken series, would that make Tekken an RPG game? The answer is no. Yes Tekken have a great storyline within the game, but the character within it’s absolute. There are no experience points that would make us able to obtain certain skill or item that would make us stronger, and despite having a story we can only wait for another release of newer game to progress in the storyline. As for RPG, they have what we called Character Development and they usually represented by numeric measurement such as STR, DEF, HP, MP, etc.

Some of you might wondering, what is the example of RPG? Well here is some of it’s notable ones :

  • Pokemon Series, The best selling RPG series, first release in 1996 for GameBoy platform with 260 sold copies (March 2014) And please do read more article related to Pokemon here.
  • Dungeon, The first ever released RPG by Don Daglow in 1975
  • Final Fantasy series, with 110 million sold copies in total as March 2014, one of the best selling RPG series. And please do read more article related to Final Fantasy here.
  • Dragon Quest,  with 64 million sold copies worldwide as March 2014, one of the best selling RPG series. And Please do read more article related to Dragon Quest here.
  • World of Warcraft, with 11,5 million subscribers as May 2010, one of the biggest MMORPG
  • Diablo II, Fastest selling video game ever with 1 million copies sold within 2 weeks of it’s been released.

Right now RPG are still popular and keep growing among gamer community. Especially in an era where we could make our very own indie RPG with only basic knowledge about gaming and programming. Also with many big company name such as Square Enix, Bethesda, Capcom, Nintendo, Atlus, etc. RPG genre is unlikely to go vanish in near future.

Read more about Role-Playing Games here.

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