Action RPG combat systems combine the RPG mechanics of role-playing games with the direct, reflex-oriented, arcade-style, real-time combat systems of action games, instead of the more abstract battle systems of traditional RPGs (such as turn-based, conditional turn-based, tactical turn-based, pausable real-time or active time battle).
In action RPGs, the player has direct control over a character's movements and actions in combat, and an attack button (or several attack buttons) must be pressed to attack enemies in real-time. Action RPGs most often use arcade-style hack & slash combat systems, though many also use fighting, brawling or shooting mechanics; the latter variant is known as role-playing shooter, a subgenre of action RPGs.
The action RPG genre originated in Japan in the early 1980s, as a fusion of game design elements from both Japanese arcade action games (which emphasized fast-paced movement and direct, reflex-oriented, real-time combat, such as hack & slash and shooting) and traditional RPGs (which emphasized statistical RPG elements and slower-paced, abstract turn-based combat).
The action RPG genre was largely pioneered by the following Japanese developers during the early-mid-1980s:
Nintendo's Shigeru Miyamoto adapted elements from The Tower of Druaga, Hydlide, and Dragon Buster, creating The Legend of Zelda franchise in 1986. It was responsible for popularizing the action RPG genre since the late 1980s, influencing the likes of Times of Lore, Dragon Wars, Crystalis, Bad Blood, later Ultima games (from Ultima VI onwards), Soul Blazer, Mana, Fable, The Witcher and Souls. Ironically, since the early 2000s, most of the Zelda games have been reclassified as action-adventures, rather than action RPGs, due to their general lack of statistical RPG elements (with the exception of 1987's Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, which remains a true action RPG).
Since the 2000s, the action RPG has been the dominant RPG subgenre, with most RPGs today using real-time action combat systems, usually either melee hack & slash or role-playing shooter combat.
The following diagram shows the roots and influences of various action RPGs: