It seems to be the hardest genre of games to define. Shooter, platform, puzzle, etc. are much easier to identify. Part of the problem is that role playing games are derivative of an originally varied type of game. The start of role playing games, it is widely accepted, was with the Dungeons and Dragons and similar pen and paper games. These pen and paper games, while mostly about fantasy worlds were about a wide variety of types of characters and settings. Some of these games had horror, military, western, and post-modern settings. Without getting too detailed about pen and paper games, these games allowed you to create characters and choose how you wanted to react to the story. Early RPGs went digital on the PC and started as text only stories that you would type with a trial and error method. As the technology rapidly improved, so did the games. High resolution static images gave way to animation to controlled avatars and on. These were pretty varied in the 1980s as well. There were sandbox RPGs like Ultima, first-person RPGs like Bard’s Tale and third person games like Below the Root. As home game consoles started coming out, RPGs found their way on to them as well. Games like Adventure, gave way to games like Phantasy Star, and The Legend of Zelda. These franchises continue today.
The common elements between these early games are, an ability for the player to choose how to play the game, either by the creating their character, exploration or an inventory system. There are other elements that these games share but, those are the main ones. When you use these 4 elements, Grand Theft Auto IV is arguably, more of an RPG than or Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess. That doesn’t sound right, does it? The truth of the matter is that as games continue to evolve as an art form, they require more depth. While a few games are successful without much evolution, video games are increasingly competing with movies and television for a piece of your entertainment budget. Video games now cost millions of dollars to develop and as media type are better for it. Sports games now let you create yourself, racing games let you customize your cars and shooters, like Bioshock, let you customize your weapons. Where games like Mass Effect become better shooters, games like Tiger Woods become more of an RPG. Make no mistake, Final Fantasy XIII is still an RPG and Madden isn’t. This is games getting better and the developers giving you more of a feeling of investment in world they’ve created for you. Now head to your local Los Angeles area game store to pick a few of these up.