Computer roleplaying game

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Template:RPG Computer role-playing games (CRPGs), often shortened to simply role-playing games (RPGs), are a type of video or computer game that traditionally uses gameplay elements found in paper-and-pencil role-playing games. Modern RPG games encompass a wide range of styles and types of engines and have significantly branched out.

RPG gameplay elements can be found in real-time strategy games, first-person shooters, third-person shooters, and some other types such as massively multiplayer online games. However, games that are actually called just "RPGs" are usually limited to top-down perspective point-and-click and some third-person perspective types.


An RPG 'status screen' as seen in Final Fantasy IX.

CRPGs, in general, are derivative of paper-and-pencil based role-playing games (RPGs) such as Dungeons & Dragons. For example, the vast majority of video-game RPGs assign various attributes to the characters, such as hit points (HP), magic points (MP), and levels. These games also tend to borrow the narrative structure of many paper-and-pencil RPGs; usually a group of heroes (a party) is sent on some sort of quest. Along the way, the adventurers face an endless barrage of enemies and monsters (often inspired by real-world mythology). An example is illustrated here, a status screen taken from Final Fantasy IX. It includes the character's name, portrait, level (LV), current/total hitpoints (HP), and current/total mana (or magic) points. Other information includes basic stats and what sort of weapon, armor, and accessories the character is equipped with.

Video-game RPGs sometimes involve intricate plots and character development as characters advance through a large number of statistics, items and abilities. Players must usually choose which of several possible combinations of these things to acquire for their character in order to advance, and if possible, win the game.


File:Akalabeth dungeon.png
Richard Garriott's Akalabeth from 1980 is considered to be one of the first CRPGs.

Role-playing video games began as an offshoot of early university mainframe computer roguelike Unix and PDP-10 games starting in 1975 with Dungeon and dnd, themselves obviously inspired by paper-and-pencil role-playing games. Multiple-User Dungeons (MUDs) also fed many concepts and ideas into the role-playing genre. Text RPGs evolved from text adventures, the roguelikes and MUDs. Among the first were Akalabeth (1980), which gave rise to the well-known Ultima series and dnd, developed on the PLATO System.

The early Ultima and Wizardry games are perhaps the largest influence on the later console RPG games that are now popular. Many innovations of Ultima III: Exodus eventually became standards of almost all RPGs in both the console market (if somewhat simplified to fit the gamepad) and the PC market.

The earliest console RPG was the Intellivision title AD&D Treasure of Tarmin (1982). Much later, in 1986, Enix made the NES title Dragon Quest (called Dragon Warrior in North America and would remain that way until the 8th game in the series). This was followed shortly by ports of the computer RPGs Wizardry and Ultima III, and by Final Fantasy (1987) by Squaresoft. Both of these games proved popular and spawned a series of sequels. Both game series remain extremely popular today, Final Fantasy more so in North America, and Dragon Quest in Japan.

Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy both borrowed heavily from Ultima. For example, leveling up and saving must be done by speaking to the king in Dragon Quest, and in order to rest and get healed, the characters must visit the king (Dragon Quest) or stay the night at an inn (both games). The games are played in a top-down perspective, much like the Ultima games, as well. The combat style in Dragon Quest was borrowed from another PC-based series, the Wizardry games.

Modern games

Fairly recently, more and more multiplayer CRPGs have appeared. For instance, Diablo (1996) features a system by which different players can enter the same world and cooperate against the enemies, trade equipment, or, should they wish, kill one another. Massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs), huge open-ended worlds with hundreds of interacting characters, have also appeared, pioneered by games like Ragnarok Online, Ultima Online, EverQuest, and Asheron's Call.

An interesting entry into the CRPG world is Pokémon (a.k.a. Pocket Monsters), a fairly simplistic set of games whose main innovation is the replacement of the party by creatures that can be captured, collected, and trained for fighting. Its success has been phenomenal, leading to a huge industry with many spin-off products, including other games, cartoons, and endless merchandise.

In 1997, a new Internet fad began. Influenced by console RPGs, a large group of young programmers and aficionados began creating independent CRPG games, based mostly on the gameplay and style of the older SNES and Sega Genesis games. The majority of such games owe to simplistic game development kits such as the Japanese RPG Maker series. This started the independent RPG video games movement.

More recently, with the advent of games like Deus Ex and Warcraft III, the idea of what it means to be a RPG has become blurred. Many non-RPG games are increasingly featuring aspects traditionally seen in RPGs, such as a skill system, experience, and dilemmas. The expansion of traditional RPG elements into 3D game engines is creating a myriad of hybrid game categories, crowding successors to earlier representations of CRPGs.

The representation of RPG elements in first- and third-person shooters is indistinguishable from the game simply incorporating a story with cut-scenes and traditional FPS problem solving, and developments to the incorporation of the genre's usual character building (such as getting better weapons). As FPS develop and increase in these characteristics it remains to be seen whether the games will simply be called FPS (or TPS), break off into a new category of FPS/RPG, or just adopt the RPG name.

Cultural differences

Due to cultural differences between developing companies based on their country of origin, there are now two certain "families" of graphical RPGs. The differences are primarily focused on the graphics and storyline, but also on statistics systems, magic systems and the like. At the basic level, though, both are pretty much the same, with attributes, statistics and levels dominating gameplay, and characters and personalities dominating the storyline.

One of the families is the Japanese family of graphical RPGs with the Final Fantasy, Phantasy Star, Grandia and the Lunar series as clear examples. These games are often more colorful and brighter than their western counterparts, and include the Japanese inclination to use a very loose fantasy world, not always strongly based on actual folklore or medieval times (perhaps because of a lack of familiarity thereof), but with arguably more influence from Japanese comics (manga) and cartoons (anime). Science Fiction may also have an impact on these games. Fantasy/sci-fi "hybrid" games are also common (some examples include Star Ocean and Final Fantasy). The characters in these games are usually anime-style with personalities ranging from both extremes of the spectrum. The storyline often involves an epic and final battle between the forces of good and evil, with the player nearly always fighting for the forces of good. Some exceptions include Xenogears, where there is no defined "evil" force. Character races tend to be limited to humans or completely new, created races that look just like humans; in games that do include various races, these are usually limited to a selection of humans, beastmen/women, espers (i.e. ESPers, who look just like humans but have different powers), androids and, on rare occasions (such as Tales of Symphonia), elves and dwarves, etc. It is also rare or nonexistent to be able to actually choose your characters' races; you are typically given no choice. D&D-based systems among these games do not exist; instead, Japanese RPGs often create new, unrelated "systems" for each game, even for each game in a single series. Most games use a level-based advancement with little customization involved, with level 1 as the basic level of power in the game and level 99 as the top; but recent games tend to include some customization, like occupations that can be levelled as well. Level advancement in Japanese CRPGs is also more brisk than their American counterparts, often requiring fighting only a few monsters to advance to the next level in early parts of the games.

Diablo, one of the most successful western role-playing games

The other family of graphical RPGs is the western (American) one, with Baldur's Gate, Diablo and Neverwinter Nights as good examples, but also including older games like the Gold Box series. These games are often darker, almost horror-like in design and art, and the characters featuring in these games are rendered or drawn in a more realistic way according to western styles, with armor, weapons, and so on being drawn based on actual counterparts in the Middle Ages. The personalities of the characters are more varied than those of their Japanese counterparts, without any real absolutes in morality. The storyline too is often darker, with the main theme being usually an ongoing struggle, almost never ending with a total victory over whatever enemy is given. The character races are diverse and the player is usually offered various races to choose from - often based on D&D rules - including dwarves, elves, gnomes, and halflings. These races, as well as other game characters, are based on the many characters that J. R. R. Tolkien wrote about, including dwarves, wizards, and dragons (hobbits typically being represented as the nearly identical halflings). These graphical RPGs often based their game systems on the various D&D systems used at the time, sometimes even displaying dice rolls, but it is not uncommon for completely different systems to be borrowed or created for use as well. Level advancement in Western RPGs is typically very slow, and often includes rather low level (or experience point) limits, which in some games can be as low as level 6-8, unheard of in the Japanese game market.

A minor family also exists in Taiwan and other Chinese-speaking areas. The mechanics (i.e. combat and job selection) of this Chinese family of graphical RPGs is largely the same as the Japanese one. Differences lie in the graphics and plot. Many of those games use Chinese-style graphics and the storyline is told with a wuxia style, inspired by novels. One famous exmple is Sword of Xuan Yuan.

A large difference between American RPGs and Japanese RPGs is the way the stories are structured. Western style RPGs are generally less linear and thus allow more freedom. Japanese style RPGs are usually more linear, and the player choices usually have no to little effect on the outcome of the plot. A good counter-example - a Japanese style RPG with fairly open and non-linear storyline - is Chrono Trigger and the rest of the series; Romancing Saga is a far more open Japanese CRPG famous for its non-linearity in Japan, but not released in the West.

Shared Characteristics

The following are universal staples applicable to many CRPGs of both cultures in general.

  • Death is almost always the final solution employed by the protagonists to prevent the antagonist from achieving his or her goals, often after reason fails.
  • In several cases, but not all, the lead protagonist is silent, sometimes so the player controlling them (who will likely get to name the character at the beginning) can have a greater sense of presence in the role.
  • While female characters in fighting games and certain other types are notorious for being faster than the males but less powerful, women in RPGs regularly have the potential to become just as capable at offense as their counterparts. That being said, the female healer is a stereotype in both genres of CRPG.
  • The plot often is structured around the ancient theory of the four elements: Air, Fire, Water, and Earth. Characters must find objects which will enable them to combat supernaturally using spells to cast windstorms, fire, and water attacks (often gratuitously expanded to include ice), while subterranean forces or attacks of stones suffice for Earth spirits. Because it seems a simple extension, there are also searches for that which will enable electrical attacks and those of supernatural light. But to the Japanese, these come from their supplement to the four elements (thunder, moon, mountain, and heaven).
  • Usually two lead characters of opposite sex who are seen interacting early on will end up romantically involved, or implied to be so in the future. The first game to make the characters fall in love or drift apart based on the play style of the user was Treasures of the Savage Frontier (1992).

CRPGs' relationship to PnP RPGs

CRPGs are sometimes frowned upon by PnP (pen-and-paper) players. Game designer Sandy Petersen has said that the worst PnP RPG session he had ever seen was still better than the best computer RPG play experience [1]. There are several reasons for this view, such as CRPGs' tendency to emphasise simply building a powerful character over the character's history and motivations. Many PnP players consider this powergaming, as opposed to actually "role-playing."

Perhaps more importantly, however, it has been argued that it is inaccurate to use the term "role-playing game" to describe games that feature character building but in which the player cannot actually make any meaningful decisions, ie. act "in character" and significantly influence both the character's personal and the game's overall progress. In games like these, the player is not role-playing but simply making tactical decisions.

This is a similar critique to simulated realities in general. Though a virtual world can create incredible feelings of freedom of choice and motion, players in even the most free-form CRPG must of necessity play within the rigidly defined world created by the game's authors. PnP games, similar to real life, have no such pre-defined limitations, and while PnP games do have rules, players may question and reinterpret them in ways CRPGs will never be able to emulate.

While it is true that many games that are advertised to have "RPG elements" are entirely linear and offer no more role-playing opportunities than reading a book or watching a movie, it should be noted that this certainly isn't true for all of the CRPGs on the market. While obvious technical and practical limitations ensure that CRPGs cannot be as open-ended and free as PnP games, where the only real limitation to the events that unfold is the participants' imagination, it's worth noting that numerous games allow for considerable variation in their content delivery, depending on the player's decisions and the character's personality.

Variant Terminology

Because paper-and-pencil RPGs came first in the US, it was the computer RPGs that were given the abbreviation CRPG. In Japan, however, the computerized ones first gained popularity, so RPG (in the Latin alphabet) is used for them alone, while the paper-and-pencil versions have been cited under the retronym PRPG.

Occasionally a distinction is made between console RPGs and those played on the personal computer, which can have more game saves and employ more command keys, but which do not have as high a resale value. The abbreviation CRPG is unfortunately sometimes used to refer solely to the console games, leaving RPG for games for the Personal Computer or Apple by those who do not play the paper-and-pencil sort.

Those games which during the attack phase involve the movement of characters on a grid to get best striking distance from the opponent and to flee when wounded, namely, tactical RPGs, get the abbreviation TRPG. Due to the relative rarity of the word "tactical", and the prestige of the word "strategic", these are also mistakenly termed SRPGs.

Chronology of CRPGs

Note: These are not complete lists of all computer or console RPGs, but a list of some of the most significant, influential or well-regarded CRPGs of all time. A number of titles which were initially released for Windows were later ported to the Macintosh or to console platforms. Likewise, a number of console-specific RPGs were later ported to other consoles or to the PC.

Chronology of computer RPGs

Wizardry was one of the earliest graphical computer role-playing games, debuting on the Apple II in 1981.

Chronology of console RPGs

See Chronology of console role-playing games for a comprehensive list.

List of companies

Below is a list of game developers who specialize in or have created notable digital role-playing games.

Related genres

See also

External links

Independent CRPG websites


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