Where are the 'true' RPGs?

“Mommy, why didn’t they just use a Phoenix Down on Aeris?”
Don’t expect battle mechanics to carry over into the “real world.”

The Grand List of Console Role Playing Game Cliches #153

More and more these days, you can find action games that include elements people like to refer to as “RPG” or “RPG-style”. Games people label as such include STALKER, Knights of the Old Republic, and Bioshock.

Naturally, coming from people, this makes absolutely no sense. What does “RPG” stand for? Role Playing Game. Features like “levelling up”, “item menus”, “skill sets” do not make an RPG. Role-playing someone makes an RPG. Even KOTOR, which many people would say is an RPG, is technically just a fancier action game. It fits the popular description of a RPG, but not its true meaning.


Of course, by that definition, not many modern RPGs can actually be called RPGs. The description of RPG can be fitted to many games which are not “overhead-camera, out-of-body control, turn-based” games. You can even say Ghost Recon (the first) exemplifies an RPG game. You ‘play the role’ of the Ghosts, and none of the characters or equipment are set. The story is fixed, but missions are completely up to you. Meanwhile, many Finaly Fantasy games cannot be called “true” RPGs for given reasons.

The definition of RPGs has been dilluted because people have been playing turn-based fantasy games, incorrectly classed as RPGs, for a long time now. Similarly, the action games (eg. first person shooters) people have been playing recently are so featureless and bland (eg. FEAR) that developers assume that by adding features that probably should’ve been there in the first place (choosing equipment, experience points, etc… Deus Ex had them, and that’s not exactly ancient, whereas everything after didn’t seem to) their games can stand out. That’s why a studio like Valve is great – they don’t always rely on the overall market to make a ‘good’ game (eg. “There aren’t any games based on the Korean War? Hell, let’s make one!”) but instead they release/make games that they think people would find interesting.

But this might be just in hindsight, since it’s not like there aren’t games out that do follow more traditional RPG concepts. I just wish we saw more of them, and more that weren’t MMOs – which actually fit the meaning of RPG the most.

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