November 20, 2007 - Role playing games, or RPGs as they are more commonly known, are among the oldest and most revered genres in videogame history. Ranging from old-school classics to current-day progressive titles, RPGs are an ever-changing group of games.
Many people look upon Final Fantasy, released for the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1990, as the original RPG. It laid the groundwork for the genre and set standards that nearly all RPGs today possess. Perhaps the most important aspect of any RPG, and one that all RPGs today feature, is a stat building system.
Initially, the role playing aspect of the genre involved making your character however you want to make him -- like you are that character. Because of this, nearly every RPG then and now consists of a level-up system. Gaining experience by fighting and defeating enemies, or just implementing certain stats (such as strength, speed, or defensive) will then lead to an increase in said stats.
This staple of RPGs brings up another popular and very common convention: some sort of quest. While this dabbles into the idea of a plot, there is a separation that must be carefully differentiated. Again, let us take Final Fantasy as an example. We can easily see the presence of a stat system; levels up occurred after a predetermined amount of experience was obtained. Additionally, while the game lacked a plot, there is clearly the presence of a plot-oriented motive for playing.
Another key factor in determining a game to be an RPG, both then and now, is a certain level of customization. Continuing the trend Iíve already begun and using Final Fantasy yet again as an example, customization is clearly there. While it may not consist of the in-depth choices that later games implemented, there are still many options that you have. From selecting which characters will be part of your party to deciding upon weapons, armor, and accessories, customization played a large role even in the earliest RPGs.
Before progressing, itís important to differentiate above-mentioned quest mentality from a full-fledged plot. Modern RPGs donít do well without solid plots, but such was not the case in original games of the genre. Nowadays, many gamers rely upon a deep, complex story with twists and turns thrown in, along with well-developed and multi-dimensional characters to keep themselves engaged with a game. Before dismissing this as mere boredom or impatience on the part of gamers, instead consider it a slightly depressing statement regarding the quality of games today.
Let me explain: If players are relying upon a well-written story to stay engaged in a game, then there must be something thatís lacking in the game. And the most obvious aspect of the game to point the finger at seems to be the gameplay. If gamers get easily bored with games (and specifically RPGs) these days, could this suggest that the gameplay mechanic is lacking?
To truly answer that question, itís necessary to take a look at the gameplay mechanics implemented by RPGs over the years. The gameplay mechanic of the original RPGs was undeniably simple. While there is some customization present, the basic game style remains relatively similar. Turn-based gameplay is pretty much all there was; the gameplay mechanic implemented by Final Fantasy is what was the norm. Enemies and party members take turns completing actions, such as attacking, defending, or using items. Needles to say, while very fun and addicting at first, this simple, slow-paced battle system wouldnít satisfy gamers for long. So, to survive, the genre began to evolve.