What defines an RPG?

What are the main elements that constitute an RPG?

I’m assuming moving around in a world, interacting with NPCs, having missions are some essentials. But are there other aspects or gameplay that belong to the core of an RPG?

And what about the style? Is a dungeon crawler a type of RPG? Or does it have to have open areas? Does it have to be top down type view, or can it be a side-on, platform style game? Zelda is an RPG, but it’s appearance has changed a lot since it first came out.

Or does the visual style not matter, and it’s the gameplay style determines it?

I’m curious to your take on this.

I think it is a game where you progress through the story and do some side quests, gain experience and resources and level up.

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RPG is the initials for role playing game. As long as your game is about you controlling a character of a world that is well defined, I guess it fits the name.

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Oh no, MrMen, you’ve wandered into the realm of Game Genres. Welcome to my nightmare.

High Level:

“Classical” definitions of RPG:
A game where you control a character or a party, including experience from fighting/doing objectives, leveling, quests (main or otherwise), and an overarching narrative. Usually with a full equipment system, and some kind of turn based or tactical combat.

Example: Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest, Ultima, Eye of the Beholder

Action RPG:
Take the majority of the above (not necessarily all), but make the combat direct control and not turn based.

Example: Diablo, Kingdom Hearts, Dark Souls

Strategy RPG:
Take almost all of the standard definition, add some form of controlled movement, usually a much larger number of controlled characters.

Examples: Disgaea, Final Fantasy Tactics, Troubleshooter, X-Com: Chimera Squad

However, these are all loose guidelines, and there’s probably thousands of permutations.

For your questions: Is a dungeon crawler a type of RPG? Sure! A good example would be Eye of the Beholder. Thats 100% an RPG and a Dungeon Crawler, even though it’s almost EXACTLY the same perspective/set up as Might and Magic, despite Might and Magic having an open world as well.

Most people are conflicted on the Zelda games, though. Zelda 2 (Adventure of Link) is absolutely a side scroller RPG as it has most of the main definitions. The Legend of Zelda, and A Link to the Past, are viewed much more as Action Adventure games rather than RPGs.

However, most people DON’T view, say, Simon’s Quest (Castlevania 2) as an RPG, even though it’s near identical to Adventure of Link. I don’t agree with that viewpoint (I think Castlevania 2, Symphony of the night, and the millions of Metroidvanias with equipment and leveling, are all RPGs), but that’s me.


I’m not sure what the proper definition of an RPG is, I’m not a Game Guru but my personal opinion is that an RPG is about you, your story and your personal choices. If the game allow me to:

  1. experience my own personal story in a world.
  2. as I progress in my personal story, I can make decisions what direction to go, how to progress in the story, and what skills to develop if there is any, what tools to carry if there is any.
  3. my decisions do have direct impact on my story, my selected skills and equipment do have direct impact on my experience, how I can progress in the game.

In essence this is what I personally call an RPG regardless what type of game it is.

But I can imagine many people could argue a football manager a warlord and a city mayor and a Formula 1 driver is also a “role” that you can play and can be personal as the manager, mayor, racer you make decisions but those type of games usually is not about your personal experience, your personal story but more about your team, your army, your country, your city and not about “you”. So I don’t personally consider those RPG unless you can play the role of a character within your world and experience your personal story and make personal choices.

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