Avatar image for smeatbass
#1 Posted by Smeatbass (36 posts) -

So, my 18-year old son and I have a massive disagreement on what an RPG is/constitutes.

When I think RPG in video games, I think of games like Final Fantasy, Skyrim, Persona, and even Dark Souls. He says games like GTA V, Red Dead Redemption, Saint's Row, and the like are also RPGs because we are playing the life of a character(s).

I told him that I see RPGs as games with skill trees, leveling systems, and most often magic systems, and some form of turn-based, or real-time combat. I see the games he mentioned as action, adventure, or open-world games. I don't know if I could ever, in my head, say that Red Dead Redemption 2, and Persona 5 are in the same genre.

Thoughts on this debate we are having?

Avatar image for cure_optimism
#2 Posted by Cure_Optimism (81 posts) -

It feels hard to nail this down because RPG systems have become so ubiquitous across video games. Personally I define an RPG as whether or not a game has the underlying math, freedom of choice, narrative, companions and progression system similar to a tabletop RPG. Simply playing as a character in a game doesn't make it an RPG, and neither does numbers going up because literally every game does those two things. I don't blame your son for getting it mixed up, though. Games are weird now.

Avatar image for facelessvixen
#3 Posted by FacelessVixen (2604 posts) -

I mean, he's not technically wrong. When playing a game, more often then not, you're given a set of objectives, or a role, of which you need to play out in order to reach the game's conclusion, thus fulfilling the role of which you were assigned. So I can see the semantical meaning to it despite Grand Theft Auto not adhering to the usual Dungeons & Dragons mindset that people associate with The Elder Scrolls or World of Warcraft.

Your son seems okay as long as he's not a flat-earther.

Avatar image for acharlie1377
#4 Posted by acharlie1377 (127 posts) -

I think RPG is a broad enough genre that it can encompass something like RDR2. I don't think Skyrim or Persona 5 are similar in any way, shape, or form, for example, but they are definitely both RPGs.

For me, RPGs are split into two types: build-a-role RPGs, and fill-a-role RPGs. The first category is what most western RPGs would fall into; you start with a blank slate character and build them out exactly how you would like. The most obvious examples of this would be Skyrim and Fallout, but games like Pillars of Eternity and Divinity: Original Sin do it too.

The second category is what most JRPGs are; you don't get to create your own character, you just get to play the role of an already existing character. This would be your Final Fantasies or Xenoblade Chronicles, in that your character's interaction with the story is already set in stone, and your only personalization comes in your interaction with the world (combat and the like).

Going with this broad characterization, I think GTA, RDR, and Saint's Row could all be characterized as the second category of RPGs. You don't get to modify much about your character (aesthetics aside, your character faces pretty much the same arc no matter how you play them), and instead your own personality comes through in how you play. There aren't "builds" in the same way there would be in Persona or Skyrim, but there's still leveling (in the case of GTA and RDR), skill trees (in the case of Saints Row IV, if I remember right), and even morality (in the case of RDR). In fact, even using your criteria, I think these games satisfy more of the criteria than they don't satisfy, ignoring the magic criteria (which I think is unfair, since Fallout is decidedly an RPG without any magic).

The problem with genres is they generally don't give you enough information about a game, even if they're not technically wrong. There's no reason to expect an Elder Scrolls lover to enjoy Final Fantasy VII, for instance; there's no similarities between something like Baba Is You and Picross, even though they're both puzzle games; and a Division 2 player may not find much to like in Diablo 3, even though they're both action RPGs.

I think it's awesome that games are varied enough to make genre descriptions almost meaningless, but it is also odd to think that two RPG fans might have no common ground between them.

Avatar image for rejizzle
#5 Posted by Rejizzle (1122 posts) -

If you can't spend dozens of hours baking bread then it's not really an RPG.

Avatar image for onemanarmyy
#6 Posted by Onemanarmyy (4398 posts) -

I just checked my rulebook and found that a game deserves the RPG label when you can ask the question: If i beat this random enemy, will i get my HP back because i hit enough xp to level up?

Avatar image for justin258
#7 Posted by Justin258 (15651 posts) -

"RPG" has become an ill-defined, meaningless term. I mean, way back in the day, it was kinda meaningless, too - it could refer to Baldur's Gate or System Shock or Eye of the Beholder or Final Fantasy - but these days, if you try to put it in concrete terms, then everything with a story becomes an RPG just because of the way games are made these days. Upgrades, levels, all that fun stuff.

So you're kind of left with the "I know it when I see it" argument. When I think of an RPG, I think of anything where you can significantly alter aspects of your character to make them your own. The problem with this is that it makes games like Assassin's Creed or Horizon: Zero Dawn or Batman: Arkham City RPG's when they don't really fit into that mold - those are all more along the lines of open-world action games. Also, this makes another problem - what about JRPG's? I have a hard time telling you that Final Fantasy IV isn't a JRPG, but also, you don't define anything about any character in FFIV. That game is essentially a turn-based action game where you grind out levels to get new powers - and it's going to be the same every time you play it, give or take finding a few summons.

Lineage can play a part in this. Horizon: Zero Dawn and Arkham City and Assassin's Creed don't come from a lineage of DnD-inspired gameplay designs, they come with a "world and action design first" mentality. RPG's, meanwhile, come from DnD and, a little later on, Wizardry and its ilk.

This argument winds up becoming a huge mess of ill-defined terms and "well, that's not what I think an RPG is!" so really I'd rather just compare games to each other if I need to explain to someone what a game is - except this also doesn't always work. I almost got into an argument earlier today when someone (in real life!) told me with a straight face that Pillars of Eternity is a lot like Diablo. So I don't know.

I don't think video game genres are pointless these days, but some of our old descriptors don't fit so well anymore and we need to be more descriptive. It's usually better to do the heavy metal subgenre thing and just string together a few well-known descriptors. Portal is a first-person puzzle-solving game. Skyrim is a first-person open-world fantasy game. Doom is a fast-paced first-person shooter. That's much more descriptive and much less confusing than "Portal is a puzzle game, Skyrim is an RPG, and Doom is an FPS", because you could also say, "Tetris is a puzzle game, Final Fantasy XIII is an RPG, and Call of Duty is an FPS" and those are all very different things.

Also it's late at night and now I'm rambling so I'm just going to post this and go.

Avatar image for efesell
#8 Posted by Efesell (4506 posts) -

I think it's more a matter of whether or not there is a more narrow and fitting genre already in place to describe those games. If so then I think it's silly to go around calling it an RPG or even talking about vague RPG mechanics.

AC Odyssey has piles of RPG mechanics on it but it's not an RPG because we have Action/Adventure and that makes way more sense. Meanwhile there's no other appropriate box you could place something like Persona in.

Avatar image for ares42
#9 Posted by Ares42 (4359 posts) -

Almost every game has you taking the role of a character and lets you decide what actions that character does. What sets RPGs apart in my eyes is that the systems and mechanics of the game facilitates character choices, and that this is a primary focus of the game. As you say, it has skill trees and leveling etc. It's a separation between the act of role-playing and the gamification of role-playing.

Avatar image for frodobaggins
#10 Posted by FrodoBaggins (2060 posts) -

Most modern games have rpg elements to them but it doesn't necessarily mean they are rpg games.

Avatar image for imhungry
#11 Posted by imhungry (1126 posts) -

The simple fact is that video games have changed significantly since the advent of the idea of an RPG video game. The delineation was much clearer and made more sense back when you were comparing games like Ultima and Dragon Warrior against games like Galaga and Frogger. It was precise beacuse RPGs were pretty much the only games that had any focus on narrative or the character(s) at all. With how games have evolved since, there is a greater depth to stories and characters even in games where the main focus is elsewhere which makes your son's broader definition of 'games where you play a role' applicable to almost any game. Neither of you is actually wrong, and personally I think that the actual answer is that game genres become more meaningless with each passing year, but if you insist on sticking to the concept of defining genres then I'd agree with @efesell that it's a matter of applying the most precise genre possible to a game rather than sticking it in any genre where it even slightly meets some characteristics.

Someone call the Genre Dicks.

Avatar image for brackstone
#12 Posted by Brackstone (909 posts) -

I think an rpg is something where you build a character over time, usually through choices regarding abilities, stats or equipment, with a specific function in mind. For example, you make choices regarding what kind of wizard you want to be in Skyrim, or in Deus Ex you choose skills to help with stealth and nonlethal takedowns. I'd even say Stalker possibly counts as an RPG, you're finding better equipment, choosing what weapons to carry and choosing what artifacts to equip for their bonus, but there are no skills or abilities to level up whatsoever.

The only thing in GTA or Red Dead that kind of matches up is Red Dead's gun upgrades and charm system, but it's a very light dusting of RPG mechanics. I suppose you could argue about the difference between something having RPG mechanics and something being an RPG, but that gets into a sticky situation of how central we consider certain mechanics to certain games.

Avatar image for soimadeanaccount
#14 Edited by soimadeanaccount (617 posts) -

This is one of the most "annoying" discussion you can have.

The term RPG has lost nearly all its meaning, and honestly it is likely to show up as a fluff term during disagreement and argument than being actually useful. You are more likely to hear the terms RPG mechanics or RPG elements than anything else in a constructive manner, but at this day and age, that's majority of the games, and those elements and mechanics are defined by the past when games were more limited and easily defined. You can run down a list of these elements or mechanics, but that isn't all that useful either as a quantifiable definition. You can try to run down the RPG sub-genre (CRPG, WRPG, JRPG, ARPG, MMO, etc), but you kind of run into a wall eventually there too.

Avatar image for rigas
#15 Posted by Rigas (828 posts) -

There are systems and systems upon systems you can attribute to RPGS.

I've found the purest and distilled explanation that usually gets across to people is that in an RPG, you are using the skills of the character and not your own. You aren't aiming down Iron sights, a skill you can practice and improve yourself, you are using the characters AIM+ skill. If your guy's AIM stat is 5, his accuracy will always be that no matter how many times it's used. Unless increased by other means. Doesn't matter if you are the best shot in the world if your character is +5 that's all your skill is in that.

You can then extrapolate this to all the trappings of RPGs, levelling, skill trees, classes, retraining, etc. But that's the core of it.

Avatar image for cikame
#16 Posted by cikame (2824 posts) -

I have found a better version of the weapon i am using, i am equipping it, and using it to level up and unlock new skills and abilities to define my playstyle.
Along the way i am making choices in dialogue or otherwise which determine the outcome of story lines or quests.
You can have RPG style systems in other games, like unlocking new abilties in Sleeping Dogs, but it's not an RPG because for the most part it's linear and the fighting, driving, shooting, are the main gameplay mechanics, and are not affected by a leveling system where you can improve stats in those areas.

It can be a bit blurry, RPG's have gotten a hell of a lot more approachable in the last decade with The Elder Scrolls and The Witcher, if it wasn't for inventory, equipment, dialogue choices and leveling there wouldn't be much difference between those games and a GTA style sandbox game, i don't even think an open world is required in an RPG but it does help sell player choice.

Avatar image for thursday1977
#17 Edited by Thursday1977 (126 posts) -

RPG has rarely been well defined, and suffers from having been used inappropriately from the start for many games to which RPG was applied. Where action games seemed to eventually get it right (action with RPG elements), there was a tendency to avoid hybrid terms early on in video games for ease of marketing, and so much of it was still new. For RPGs, that tendency seemed to stick even though the majority of JRPGs would be better defined as adventure games with leveling and stats, and even many western games that are called RPGs.

It's not as though we get it right now, though, with such nonsense terms as Metroidvania which then require defining which Metroids, which Castlevanias, and which elements of those Metroids and Castlevanias constitute appropriate elements of a Metroidvania. All of which could be avoided if we just said exploration platformer. Metroidvania isn't exclusive to this, just the one that I chose to pick on here.

So, I do feel that RPG is a poorly used term as a genre much of the time in which it is used. It isn't alone, some are worse than others, and the reason that they tend to be used at all is marketing. Personally I have largely stopped using genre names with which I do not agree or find to be silly, and all that it has lead to are better conversations in which paragraphs and real words are used.

Avatar image for sparky_buzzsaw
#18 Edited by sparky_buzzsaw (8891 posts) -

I think the correct answer is to put him up for adoption.

Avatar image for shindig
#19 Posted by Shindig (4939 posts) -

I don't think it's poorly used, it's just a very old term with a very specific origin. I traditionally see RPGs as the role-playing series that you've stated. Role-playing elements do not equate to a role-playing game. Not when RPGs rely so heavily on their systems, stats and mechanics that are so specific to pen and paper RPGs. You don't talk about 'builds' in Red Dead, GTA or Saints Row.

Avatar image for ntm
#20 Posted by NTM (11818 posts) -

To me, RPG usually means sitting in a menu upgrading your character or customizing them and moving/dropping/selling items around for a set period of time (I don't know how long really, just 'long enough'). There's lite RPG and RPG, that also depends on how much you're sitting in a menu and how deep the customization is. Also, no offense to your son, but I agree with your usage of what an RPG is, not what your son thinks is an RPG. I'm not sure, at least between you two, that that is much of a debate.

Avatar image for justin258
#21 Edited by Justin258 (15651 posts) -

@cikame said:

I have found a better version of the weapon i am using, i am equipping it, and using it to level up and unlock new skills and abilities to define my playstyle.

Along the way i am making choices in dialogue or otherwise which determine the outcome of story lines or quests.

You can have RPG style systems in other games, like unlocking new abilties in Sleeping Dogs, but it's not an RPG because for the most part it's linear and the fighting, driving, shooting, are the main gameplay mechanics, and are not affected by a leveling system where you can improve stats in those areas.

It can be a bit blurry, RPG's have gotten a hell of a lot more approachable in the last decade with The Elder Scrolls and The Witcher, if it wasn't for inventory, equipment, dialogue choices and leveling there wouldn't be much difference between those games and a GTA style sandbox game, i don't even think an open world is required in an RPG but it does help sell player choice.

So... is Horizon Zero Dawn an RPG? What about Assassin's Creed Syndicate (I haven't played any others so I don't know if they follow the same formula)? What about Saints Row The Third? All of these games have you looking for better equipment, picking skills, leveling up in some way, customizing your character and playstyle to some extent. You could argue that the difference is in how much the customization matters (Everyone's Aloy will be good at everything, but my Aloy might be great at some tasks while yours might be great at others), but at that point you're already digging into opinions and subjectivity and it just gets blurrier from there.

The more I think about this thread, the more I think the term should either be accepted as an extremely broad term or should be dropped from gaming discussions entirely. Above, I called the term "meaningless", which (now that I've had some sleep and some time to think about it) isn't really true. We can all agree that an RPG involves controlling a single defined character or a small party of defined characters through some kind of defined setting, right? That's a massive term, though, and that's fine. "Metal" is also a massive term and two metalheads can have very different interests, yet the term is still useful as a descriptor. "RPG" can still be useful as a starting point for describing what kinds of games you like.

Of course, this description still has problems. Does "small party" actually matter? X-Com and Fire Emblem both give you a massive number of characters to pick from. You're picking party members at the beginning of every battle, right? How is that different from choosing which party members to take with you in Final Fantasy VI? The only difference here is exploration, so I guess we should fit "exploration" into that definition.

So how about this - "An RPG is any game where a player explores a well-defined setting by inhabiting a single character or small party of characters, either defined by the player or by the developers." That fits pretty much everything anyone has ever called "an RPG". That gives me an idea of what you're talking about when you say "RPG" and you can start getting more specific from there. Of course, under this definition you have to let go of the idea that Call of Duty and Doom aren't RPG's, but... so what? If you want to talk about a more specific variety of RPG, then start talking about a more specific variety of RPG (example: I like classic JRPG's, I like DnD-inspired RPG's, I like open-world games, etc.).

Avatar image for ares42
#22 Edited by Ares42 (4359 posts) -

@justin258: I think you're making this much more muddled than it needs to be. Think of it this way; Every game is built on a few "pillars", a handful of main activities that is supposed to engage the player. In something like GTA it's driving, shooting, story, in PUBG it's looting and shooting. If the majority of the main pillars of a game are in some way the gamification of character choice it's most likely an RPG. Take Souls as an example, the pillars are combat and character development, so it's an action-RPG. Or look at Skyrim, you have combat, character development, story and dialogue choices (with even more character focused supportive systems) leaning even heavier towards being purely an RPG.

Focusing on what the main draw of a game is makes it super clear in my mind what is and isn't an RPG. For games like Horizon or AC the pillars are combat, story and exploration, making them action-adventures.

Avatar image for smeatbass
#23 Posted by Smeatbass (36 posts) -

I know that my son and I grew up in different times. Back in my day *Wink*, an RPG was widely accepted as being a game where you are going through a typically fantasy setting, where you grind your party to high levels, learn new abilities as you grind, and do dungeons, and have massive boss fights.

My examples for what I consider and RPG from those days were Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest, Chrono Trigger. Ultima, etc. I would never have said that Zelda, Metroid, or Doom were RPGs. Yes, you are taking the role of a character in those, but you're not embodying them in a way you were embodying like Cecil from FFIV.

Now, I see when I play games like GTA, and especially Red Dead Redemption 2, I am embodying the character, but the actions I am taking are not what I would consider RPG style; it's me going from place to place, shooting a bunch of people, and doing sometimes mundane tasks.

I know it's probably outdated to define a genre as RPG or not, and it's a generational thing but I just could never play Red Dead Redemption 2, then jump into Xenoblade and think I played 2 games from the same genre. In my mind, one is an open-world action game where you embody a character as much or as little as you want; the other is a power fantasy where I am leveling my team and learning new things as I do.

But I guess in the end, it's subjective because Tetris and Portal are both puzzle games even though they are so different from each other.

Glad this brought a lot of healthy discussion.