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RPG video games

The role-playing video game genre began in the mid-1970s on mainframe computers, inspired by pen-and-paper role-playing games such as Dungeons & Dragons. After the success of console role-playing games such as Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy, the role-playing genre eventually diverged into two distinct sub-genres, computer role-playing games and console role-playing games, due to cultural differences which arose due to RPGs being produced primarily for personal computers in the Western world and primarily for games consoles in Japan.[citation needed] Finally, while the first RPGs offered strictly a single player experience, the popularity of multiplayer modes in these games rose sharply during the early to mid 1990s with games such as Secret of Mana and Diablo. With the advent of the Internet, multiplayer games have grown into massively multiplayer online role-playing games such as Final Fantasy XI and World of Warcraft.[citation needed]


Mainframe computers

The earliest computer role-playing games began in 1975 as an offshoot of early university mainframe text-based RPGs on PDP-10 and Unix-based computers, starting with Dungeon and graphical CRPGs on the PLATO system, pedit5 and dnd, games inspired by role-playing games. Other influences during this period were text adventures, Multiple-User Dungeons (MUDs) and roguelike games. Some of the first graphical CRPGs after pedit5 and dnd, were orthanc, avathar (later renamed avatar), oubliette, dungeons of degorath, baradur, emprise, bnd, sorcery, moria, and dndworld, all of which were developed and became widely popular on the PLATO system during the latter 1970s, in large part due to PLATO's speed, fast graphics, nationwide network of terminals, and large number of players with access to those terminals. These were followed by (but did not always lead directly to) games on other platforms, such as Akalabeth (1980) (which gave rise to the well-known Ultima series), and Wizardry.

Personal computers and graphical RPGs

In 1980, a very popular dungeon crawler, Rogue was released. Featuring ASCII graphics where the setting, monsters and items were represented by letters and a deep system of gameplay, it inspired a whole genre ("roguelikes") of similar clones. Of particular note was 1987's NetHack, an update of Rogue that arguably surpassed the original's popularity by its advanced complexity and sense of humor, as well as through continuous extensions and updates to the game for nearly two decades.

Early Ultima and Wizardry games are perhaps the largest influence on the later console RPGs that are now popular. Many innovations of Ultima III: Exodus (1983) eventually became standards of almost all RPGs in both the console market (if somewhat simplified to fit the gamepad) and the personal computer market. Later Dungeon Master (1987) introduced realtime gameplay and several user-interface innovations, such as direct manipulation of objects and the environment with the mouse, to first-person CRPGs.

The mid-1980s saw the emergence of action role-playing games on computers. The company at the forefront of this was Nihon Falcom. Their 1984 game, Dragon Slayer, was a simple real-time treasure grab game. However, its 1985 sequel, Xanadu, was a full-fledged RPG, with character stats and a large quest. What set Xanadu apart from other RPGs was its action-based combat.

The Might and Magic series has also had an important impact upon computer role-playing games. Beginning with the release of Might and Magic: The Secret of the Inner Sanctum in 1986, Might and Magic games featured a high complexity of statistics, many weapons and spells, and enormous worlds in which to play. The Might and Magic series has spawned nine games (the most recent of which was released in 2002) as well as the popular turn-based strategy series Heroes of Might and Magic.

Starting in 1988 with Pool of Radiance, SSI produced a series of "Gold Box" CRPGs based on the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons rules. These games featured a first-person display for movement, combined with an overhead tactical display for combat. The Gold Box series was published up until 1993, when the game engine had finally become outdated. The Forgotten Realms Unlimited Adventures game published in that year allowed users to create their own adventures that could be played using the Gold Box engine.


Standing before the Gecko power plant in Fallout 2 (1998).

In the late 1990s, Interplay Entertainment produced several RPG titles through two new developers: Black Isle Studios and BioWare. In 1997, Black Isle released the groundbreaking Fallout, set in an alternate history American post-apocalyptic future wasteland. The game was notable for its open-ended, largely non-linear gameplay and quest system. The player was afforded many moral choices to shape the world and how NPCs reacted to the player, reminiscent of the original Ultima games. One of the few successful video game RPGs not set in the swords-and-sorcery genre, Fallout was greatly inspired by Interplay's own Wasteland (1988). Black Isle followed up with a sequel and the critically-acclaimed Planescape: Torment (1999).

Bioware's Baldur's Gate series was no less important, as the most significant D&D games to be released since the Gold Box era. At the time, the games created the most accurate and in-depth D&D simulation to date, along with up to six-player co-op capabilities. Baldur's Gate provided an epic story that continued through both titles. Two games were produced, along with an expansion pack for each title. An even more combat-oriented series, Icewind Dale, was developed by Black Isle.

Interplay's games during this time period often shared engines to cut down on development time and costs, and all feature an overhead dimetrically projected third-person interface. Except for the two Fallout games, the rest of their titles used various versions of the Infinity Engine. The collapse of Interplay resulted in the shutdown of Black Isle and the cancellation of the third games in both the Fallout and Baldur's Gate series.

New millennium

The new century saw a trend toward ever-improving graphical quality, combined with increasingly detailed and realistic game worlds, particularly in the move to 3D game engines.

BioWare went on to produce Neverwinter Nights (2002) for Atari, which was the first CRPG to use the third-edition Dungeons & Dragons rules with a 3D display in which the user could vary the viewing angle and distance. New game content could be generated using the Aurora toolset, supplied as part of the game release. The game was very successful commercially, spawning three official expansion packs. Bioware also went on to produced the highly acclaimed Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, which fused the d20 system with a very popular franchise.

During the production of Fallout 2, some of Black Isle's key members went on to form Troika Games, which released Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura (2001), followed by the highly anticipated The Temple of Elemental Evil (2003) based on the Dungeons & Dragons Greyhawk setting. The last game was Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines (2004) based on White Wolf's Vampire: The Masquerade soon followed. Although these games developed a fanbase, none of them were financially successful or very popular. ToEE in particular being heavily criticized for shipping with numerous bugs, causing an outcry when Atari dropped early support for the game. 2005 saw Troika Games in financial trouble, and most of the developers left for other studios, rendering the group dead.

When Black Isle closed down, several employees formed Obsidian Entertainment, who in early 2005 released Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords, the sequel to BioWare's successful game. Obsidian has created another BioWare game sequel, Neverwinter Nights 2 with 3.5 edition rules, which was released on Halloween in October 2006, then an expansion on the following year.


Since 1994, Bethesda Softworks was dedicated to developing CRPGs in The Elder Scrolls series, with 1996's Daggerfall being a notable 3D first-person RPG with an expansive world. The series began a focus on sandbox gameplay, focusing on the player's wide choices of free-roaming activities unrelated to the main game's storyline.

The series' popularity exploded with the release of The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind (2002). This game became an award-winning and highly successful CRPG due to its open-ended play, a richly-detailed game world, and flexibility in character creation and advancement. The title's sandbox gameplay often inspired comparisons to Grand Theft Auto III. Two expansions were released: Tribunal in 2002 and Bloodmoon in 2003. The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion (2006) was a much-enhanced release featuring more realistic behavior by NPCs, as well as significantly improved graphics.

The decision by the original creators of Fallout to scrap plans for Fallout 3 (noted now as the Van Buren project) and Bethesda's subsequent acquisition of the Fallout brand, Fallout's significant fan community was left in high anticipation, yet with mixed feelings towards Bethesda working on the project. Bethesda released Fallout 3 in North America on October 28, 2008.

Enterbrain, Inc

Enterbrain released RPG Maker 2000 at the turn of the century, timed with the gaming industry's huge spike in user-generated content. MTVN's Dave Williams had this to say in an interview with "Games like this [user generated] have been sort of under the radar for something that could be the basis of a business. We have the resources and we can afford to invest more... I think it's going to be a great thing for the consumer." [1]

Influence of the Xbox

With the sixth generation of home gaming consoles, many PC game developers opted to develop primarily or exclusively for consoles. For instance, both the Fallout and Baldur's Gate series produced more console-friendly, Diablo-style action titles for the PS2 and Xbox as their respective PC series ended. In particular, the Xbox swayed developers to release PC ports of console-developed titles or Xbox ports to the PC, due to the system's similarities to the standard PC architecture and DirectX programming tools.

As a result, several major PC RPG releases were affected by the system, mostly due to console-exclusivity publishing deals with Microsoft. Following Neverwinter Nights, BioWare's Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic was developed primarily for the Xbox and ported to the PC after several months. Their followup, Jade Empire (2005) was also an Xbox exclusive, subsequently followed by a Windows version Jade Empire - Special Edition released on Feb 26, 2007 that included bonus content. Obsidian's KOTOR sequel similarly was released in December 2004 for the Xbox, followed by the PC version in February 2005. Fable (2004) by Lionhead Studios received the PC port at the same time it was being reprinted as a Platinum Hit. Bethesda's Oblivion, while released simultaneously for console and PC, was considered a major title for the Xbox 360.

Sequels to many of the above titles are in development for next-gen systems: Lionhead's Fable sequel and an unnamed project by Obsidian are slated for the Xbox 360. BioWare also continued to produce launch-exclusive RPG titles for the Xbox 360, such as Mass Effect[2].

Some have criticized the change of focus from the PC platform to console systems. One notable developer, Josh Sawyer, lamented the decline of high-profile computer-exclusive RPGs, claiming that there were "no pure CRPG developers left" anymore outside of small companies like Spiderweb Software following the collapse of Troika Games.[3]

Video game consoles

After the success of console role-playing games such as Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy, the role-playing genre eventually diverged into two distinct sub-genres, computer role-playing games and console role-playing games, due to cultural differences which arose due to RPGs being produced primarily for personal computers in the Western world and primarily for games consoles in Japan.[citation needed] Though sharing fundamental premises, Western games also tend to feature darker graphics, older characters, and focus more on roaming freedom; whereas Eastern games tend to feature brighter graphics, younger characters, and focus more on scripted linear storylines.[citation needed] Because the vast majority of console RPGs originate in Eastern Asia, particularly Japan, they are often referred to as Japanese role-playing games[4] or JRPGs[5], although there are also non-Japanese console role-playing games in existence.

Traditionally, most console RPGs feature turn-based battles,[6] though a number of series feature real-time combat (such as Square Enix's Mana series and Namco's Tales series).


Dragon Quest (1986), also known as Dragon Warrior.

The earliest RPG on a console was Dragonstomper on the Atari 2600 in 1982.[4] In 1986, Chunsoft created the NES title Dragon Quest (called Dragon Warrior in North America until eighth game), regarded as the template for most console role-playing games released since then.[7] It borrowed heavily from The Black Onyx, which in turn was inspired by Ultima; for example, saving must be done by speaking to the king, and in order to rest and get healed, the characters must visit the king or stay the night at an inn. The combat style was borrowed from the Wizardry series of computer RPGs, and its medieval setting is also reminiscent of Ultima.[4] Some of the major differences were the anime-style art by Akira Toriyama and the top-down view in dungeons, in contrast to the first-person view used for dungeons in earlier computer RPGs.[8] It also featured elements still found in most console RPGs: "upgradable weapons and armor, major quests interwoven with minor subquests, hit points and magic points," and an incremental spell system. Dragon Quest did not reach North America until 1989, when it was released as Dragon Warrior, the first NES RPG to be released in North America and thus one of the major influences on early CRPG development.[9] The release of Dragon Quest was followed shortly by NES ports of the computer RPGs Wizardry and Ultima III.

In 1987, the genre came into its own with the release of several highly influential console RPGs distinguishing themselves from computer RPGs. Shigeru Miyamoto's Zelda II: The Adventure of Link for the Famicom Disk System was one of the earliest action role-playing games, combining the action-adventure game framework of its predecessor The Legend of Zelda with the statistical elements of turn-based RPGs.[10] Faxanadu was another early action RPG for the NES, released as a side-story to the computer action RPG Dragon Slayer II: Xanadu.[11] Atlus' Digital Devil Story: Megami Tensei for the NES was the first RPG to abandon the common medieval fantasy setting and sword and sorcery theme in favour of a modern science fiction setting and cyberpunk theme. Its demon-summoning system, which allowed the player to recruit enemies into their party, was the earliest example of monster-breeding in a game. Sega's original Phantasy Star for the Master System established a number of genre conventions, with its "strong plot that involved quest for revenge and corruption by power, background stories for party members, individual spells that required magic points," and combined fantasy & science fiction setting.[8] Another console RPG at the time to depart from the common medieval European-based setting was The Magic of Scheherazade, which was instead based on Arabic culture and the One Thousand and One Nights.[11] Square's original Final Fantasy for the NES introduced a unique experimental character creation system that allowed the player to create their own parties and assign different character classes to party members.[12] It also introduced the concept of time travel in video games;[13] side-view battles, with the player characters on the right and the enemies on the left, which soon became the norm for numerous console RPGs;[14] and the use of transportation for travel, "by ship, canoe, and even flying airship."[15] Some of these games proved popular and went on to spawn their own influential RPG franchises, namely the Megami Tensei, Phantasy Star and Final Fantasy series. In particular, the Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest series remain popular today, Final Fantasy more so in the West and Dragon Quest more so in Japan.

In 1988, Dragon Quest III introduced a character progression system allowing the player to change the party's character classes during the course of the game.[16] Another "major innovation was the introduction of day/night cycles; certain items, characters, and quests are only accessible at certain times of day."[17] Its contemporary, Final Fantasy II, is considered "the first true Final Fantasy game", introducing an "emotional story line, morally ambiguous characters, tragic events," and a story to be "emotionally experienced rather than concluded from gameplay and conversations." It also replaced traditional levels and experience points with "gradual development of individual statistics through continuous actions of the same kind."[12]

In 1989, Phantasy Star II for the Genesis established many conventions of the genre, including an epic, dramatic, character-driven storyline dealing with serious themes and subject matter, and a strategy-based battle system.[18] Tengai Makyō released for the PC Engine CD that same year was ahead of its time, being the first RPG released on CD-ROM and the first game featuring animated cut scenes and voice acting. It was also the first RPG to be set in feudal Japan and the first to feature humour.[19] Capcom's Sweet Home for the NES introduced a moden Japanese horror theme and laid the foundations for the survival horror genre, later serving as the main inspiration for Resident Evil (1996).[20][21]


Final Fantasy IV (1991) was a pioneer of dramatic storytelling in RPGs (alongside the earlier Phantasy Star games) and introduced the "Active Time Battle" system.

The console RPG genre distinguished itself from computer RPGs to a much greater degree in the early 1990s. In 1990, Dragon Quest IV introduced a new method of storytelling: segmenting the plot into segregated chapters.[22] It also placed a greater emphasis on characterization, with each chapter of the game dedicated to a particular character's background story.[16] Its contemporary, Final Fantasy III, introduced the classic "job system", a character progression engine allowing the player to change a character's class, as well as acquire new and advanced classes and combine class abilities, during the course of the game.[23][24] The first RPGs to be set in a post-apocalyptic future were also released that year: Digital Devil Story: Megami Tensei II [25] and Crystalis.[26] That same year also saw the release of Nintendo's Fire Emblem: Ankoku Ryū to Hikari no Tsurugi, the first tactical role-playing game and the first entry in the Fire Emblem series. Meanwhile, Koei's Bandit Kings of Ancient China was the first attempt at combining the RPG and management simulation genres.[22]

In 1991, Final Fantasy Adventure, the first in the Mana series, introduced the ability to kill townspeople, something that most RPGs still lack today.[26] The most important RPG that year, however, was Final Fantasy IV, one of the first role-playing games to feature a complex, involving plot,[27] placing a much greater emphasis on character development and personal relationships, and pioneering "the whole concept of dramatic storytelling in an RPG."[28] It also introduced a new battle system: the "Active Time Battle" system, developed by Hiroyuki Itō,[29] where the time-keeping system does not stop.[30] Square Co. filed a United States patent application for the ATB system on March 16, 1992, under the title "Video game apparatus, method and device for controlling same" and was awarded the patent on February 21, 1995. On the battle screen, each character has an ATB meter that gradually fills, and the player is allowed to issue a command to that character once the meter is full.[31] The fact that enemies can attack or be attacked at any time is credited with injecting urgency and excitement into the combat system.[30]

Both the "job system" and the ATB system were fully developed in Final Fantasy V in 1992 and continued to be used in later Final Fantasy games [32] as well as other Square games such as Chrono Trigger (1995), which, along with Final Fantasy VI (1994), also helped move console RPGs away from the typical medieval setting, with Final Fantasy VI being set in a steampunk environment [33] and Chrono Trigger taking place in several different time periods. Chrono Trigger also introduced the concept of New Game+, though this game mode has its origins in the original Legend of Zelda.[34] Meanwhile, Square's Secret of Mana (1993), the second in the Mana series, further advanced the action RPG subgenre with its introduction of cooperative multiplayer into the genre. Another console RPG by Squaresoft, Live A Live (1994), released for the Super Famicom in Japan, was the first RPG to feature stealth game elements. The game's ninja chapter required the player to infiltrate a castle, rewarding the player if the entire chapter can be completed without engaging in combat.[35][36]

Final Fantasy VII (1997) is one of the best-selling RPGs of all time and remains popular to this day, spawning the Compilation of Final Fantasy VII in recent years.

The next major revolution came in the late 1990s, which saw the rise of optical disks in fifth generation consoles. The implications for RPGs were enormous—longer, more involved quests, better audio, and full-motion video. This was first clearly demonstrated by Final Fantasy VII (1997), which was much longer than previous RPGs, featured dozens of minigames, and for the first time seamlessly blended full-motion video into the gameplay.[37] The explosion of Final Fantasy VII's sales and the ascendance of the PlayStation were proof of this and represented the dawning of a new era of RPGs. Backed by a clever marketing campaign, Final Fantasy VII brought the first taste of CRPGs to many of the new gamers brought in by the PlayStation gaming console.[38][39] The extensive use of cinematics has since become one of the genre's trademarks.[8] This continued with Final Fantasy VIII (1999) which introduced characters with a proportionately-sized human appearance.

The Pokémon franchise is the best-selling RPG series to date.

Subsequently, CRPGs, previously a niche genre outside of Japan, skyrocketed in popularity across the world.[40] The period also saw the rise of monster-breeding RPGs which, although originating from the Megami Tensei series and Dragon Quest V (1992), was further advanced and popularized by Pokémon in the late 1990s.

In 1997, a new Internet fad began, influenced by the popularization of console RPGs. A large group of young programmers and aficionados began creating and sharing independent CRPG games, emulating the gameplay and style of the older SNES and Mega Drive games. The majority of such games owe their achievement to simplistic software development kits such as the Japanese RPG Maker series.


The best-selling console RPG series worldwide is Pokémon,[41] which has sold over 186 million units as of April 2008.[42] The second and third best-selling series worldwide are Square Enix's Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest series, respectively. As of July 2009, Final Fantasy has sold over 92 million units worldwide,[43] followed by Dragon Quest which has sold over 50 million units.[44]

Online RPGs

While the first RPGs offered strictly a single player experience, the popularity of multiplayer modes in these games rose sharply during the early to mid 1990s, with games such as Secret of Mana and Diablo. With the advent of the Internet, multiplayer games have grown into massively multiplayer online role-playing games such as Final Fantasy XI and World of Warcraft.

Secret of Mana (1993), an early action role-playing game by Squaresoft, was the first RPG to feature cooperative multiplayer gameplay, offering two-player and three-player action, once the main character had acquired his party members.[45][46] Diablo (1996) combined CRPG and action game elements, and featured an Internet multiplayer mode that allowed up to four players to enter the same world and fight monsters, trade items, or fight against each other.

In 1997, a new Internet fad began, owing to simplistic software development kits such as the Japanese RPG Maker series. Influenced by console RPGs and based mostly on the gameplay and style of the older SNES and Sega Genesis games, a large group of young programmers and aficionados began creating independent CRPG games and sharing them online.

Starting in the late 1990s with titles such as Ultima Online, MMORPGs introduced players to huge worlds with open-ended gameplay and thousands of interactive player and non-player characters.[citation needed]

Genre blurring

A steadily increasing number of non-RPG video games have adopted aspects traditionally seen in RPGs, such as experience point systems, equipment management, and choices in dialogue. The blending of these elements with a number of different game engines and gameplay styles have created a myriad of hybrid game categories. These hybrid games are commonly formed by mixing popular gameplay elements featured in other genres, such as first-person shooters, platformers, and real-time strategy games.


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