What is an RPG?
The exact definition of a Role Playing Game, or RPG, is argued by gamers.
In an article on RPG’s, Mathew Tschirgi said “An RPG is a game in which the player controls one or more player characters in order to complete an overall quest. The game is won by solving puzzles, interacting with Non-Player Characters (NPCs), and gaining experience points by defeating enemies in turn-based or real-time combat to increase their characters' various statistics (Strength, Stamina, Agility, Intelligence, and so on.)”
While this is a good working definition, there are a few elements found in Most RPG’s.
Story line – the player controls a character or group of characters through a story. Story line is typically much more important in single player game and table top games. In MMORPGs and Muds a storyline will normally exist, but it is secondary to other game aspects.
The Final Fantasy and Chrono Cross series are known for their complex and enthralling story lines. In particular Final Fantasy VII’s story line was so powerfull that it is known to make players cry during some of the more emotional parts.
Story line control – The player is able to choose where the characters go and what they do. The amount of control varies from game to game, from small choices of which way they want to go in a maze or where to go in a town, to large choices in which a character has the ability to move through an entire world. In most RPGs, the player will eventually have a large amount of control in where they visit.
MMORPGs and Muds are known for their complex worlds. In the MMORPG World of Warcraft the players have an entire world to explore, quest and kill each other in. The world is so large that two players could play the game for months without entering the same areas.
Changing story line – through the course of the game the players choices of action affect the world. In some games this shows as different endings, different actions cause different endings. In other games this becomes an integral part of the game with the character choosing between good, evil and more.
Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic (KOTOR) forces it’s characters to choose between the light and dark sides. Not only must they choose, but depending on how evil or good the character is causes not only different endings, but also affects how the other characters in the games treat the player’s characters. Characters that were somewhat light are given an accommodation by the Jedi Counsel, characters that were extremely dark take over the universe and rule it with an iron fist. I liked playing the dark side character.
Character creation – the player creates each character from scratch, choosing it’s name, race, class, appearance, skills and abilities. This doesn’t show up as much in RPG’s with detailed story lines but is very important in Muds and MMORPGs. Depending on the RPG, these choices might differ in the change on game play. Typically Racial and class choices cause the biggest differences, and in many the Race changes what classes are available.
In most Muds, which were only text based, the characters appearance was up to the player. The player was responsible for writing up the characters description. The more creative the player, the more impressive the characters appearance would be.
In World of Warcraft, the player is asked to choose between Human, Night Elf, Dwarf, Gnome, Orc, Undead, Tauren and Troll. The player picks between male and female. The player also chooses what class his character will be; Hunter, Warrior, Shaman, Priest, Mage, Paladin, Druid or Warlock. Finally the player is shown a base character model and then asked to change the way it looks. The player is given options for hair style, hair colors, facial features and more.
Character advancement – the characters in the game become more powerful and gain new abilities as the game moves on. Most RPG’s have a leveling system where characters gain experience for completing quests and killing enemies. Typically the characters advancement and abilities are in some way controlled by the player. Players might have total control, giving them the ability to completely create each character as they wish, or partial control, giving the player a small group of options on how to advance the character.
In final fantasy X all the characters start off with set abilities. Tidus specializes in speedy, but less damaging attacks, Lulu is a black mage casting damaging spells on enemies and Yuna is a white mage casting healing spells. As the game progresses though, the player gets the option to choose what skills the characters gain. By the end of the game Tidus can still be a speedy fighter, but he will be able to heal a bit, Lulu could be a powerful fighter who has a few dark magic spells and Yuna could be completely specialized in healing.
Mathew Tschirgi’s article
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