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Games Business

What Is A Role Playing Video Game?

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Music Gateway Team


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Welcome traveler! Won’t you sit a while and listen to me regale the tale of the Role Playing Game? A lot of famous game series are classed as RPGs – Mass Effect, Fallout, Pokémon and even Mario – the last two of which have some of the biggest selling debut games in history! 

what is a role playing game

This article will provide a probe into RPG’s: what they are, what things they involve, explanations of the different kinds, and a scattering of examples to illustrate them.  

So, without further ado, let’s get into it!

What Is A Role Playing Game? 

What Is A Role Playing Game

An RPG is defined by a few characteristics: following a story, having a noticeable and often menu-based combat type, the choice of character types, and being able to rank up and improve your character while playing the game.

Usually, the ‘world’ of the game has a lot of interaction in it – finding hidden objects, using things already there, exploring. RPG’s stories can often be different depending on the choices made by the player, and so can have good replaying value. 

RPG’s are very often set in a magical world, but some are in space and even set underground!

Regardless of the setting, RPGs are excellent for one thing: immersing yourself in a fantasy world where you are a wizard, or a fighter, or even a farmer – and let you live their lives freely for a few hours.

A Concise History Of Role Playing Games 


To understand RPGs, it is important to know where they came from – the first true role-playing game was the famous Dungeons and Dragons, launched in 1974. D&D is a tabletop game to be played with multiple players and a ton of imagination.

The game required an explanation of actions and bringing your own character to life, along with careful thought about how to act and what you would do. Fun fact: a lot of early RPG’s were heavily inspired by Lord of the Rings!

This birthed video games in the same style and it translated incredibly well. The first video game RPGs came to computers in the 1970s, and then to the Atari game system in the 1980s. These early games stuck closely to the rules of the physical games – except pen and paper were traded for AI and menus on screen. 

These games spread quickly to every kind of gaming platform – nowadays role-playing games are available no matter what technology you find yourself with. 

Categories Of Role Playing Games 

Role playing games do not fit into one type of game – there are many, many sub-genres, but there are six main types you should know about.

These are developed in different ways and incorporate various ways of playing the game including combat styles, art direction, and character choices.


binding of isaac

Originating from Rogue in 1980, roguelikes feature gameplay elements that easily define the genre. Such as randomization, dungeon crawling, and permanent death.

You die, you start again and lose everything. These can be an acquired taste.

Action RPG

mass effect

Action role-playing games are focused, as the name suggests, on the action within the game.

They often have recognizable styles attached to them – such as the use of magical signs in The Witcher or the complex moves of Dark Souls.

Tactical RPG 


Tactical RPGs really take from table-top games. The aim is to try to gain the biggest advantage on turn-based combat.

Board games such as chess, Risk and war games set the terms and structure for this type of game, the difference is, it’s on a screen. 


final fantasy

Japanese RPG’s are to games what anime is to cartoons – created by Japanese studios. The games tend to have Eastern themes – the genre began with Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy.

There is some argument that the term ‘JRPG’ pertains to certain styles of game, but there really isn’t any evidence for this.


world of warcraft

Massive multiplayer online role laying games are a mash-up of the two genres: MMO and RPG.

The aim of these is to partake in big multiplayer battles, either with each other or against. Combat can happen in real-time and have real consequences for characters. 

Single Player RPG 


Single player RPG’s often use a fixed perspective – either through the eyes of your character, or positioned behind them constantly. There are sometimes character creation screens, but more often than not you play through the single ‘protagonist’ of the game.

A noticeable feature of these is that the choices you make affect the story, and so replaying can add a lot of new experiences. 

Notable Role Playing Video Games 

Next, we arrive at a section showcasing eight popular and pivotal role-playing video games – each has its own reason for being popular, and has impacted the games industry in some way.

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

TES: Skyrim is one of the biggest video games in history. It is available on every console made after its release and has sold over 30 million copies to date. Skyrim’s popularity is down to the type of game it is – a huge open-world with seemingly endless quests and a fantastic main plot. 

Skyrim places you as a character of your choice (race, face and body type), destined to defeat a huge dragon and save the entire continent you find yourself on. This is of course a massive over-simplification, as you can choose how, when and why you accomplish this; there are many skill trees to flesh out your experience and to tailor your abilities to what you want, including alchemy, thieving, and warrior skills. These come in very handy as you plunder dungeons, clear out castles and settle yourself in cities all across the land.

World Of Warcraft  

World Of Warcraft

Now, we’ve all heard of this one. South Park even made an episode about it. But what is it? World of Warcraft is a fantasy massive multiplayer online role playing game. With a catchy gameplay loop, endless playstyles and opportunities, it makes for a very popular experience. You have the option to essentially do what you want. Join others to fight, fight others, live a peaceful life… the choice is yours.

The idea is to build up your experience and materials, to upgrade your equipment, so you can level up and take on larger battles – and repeat. After 15 years, WoW is going strong and still receives updates and content.  

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt 

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

Originally based upon a book series, The Witcher is a very successful series – with the third installment, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, being monumentally popular. Simply put, the game is amazing and almost faultless. The story is gripping and emotional, the world looks fantastic and the side-quests keep you pulled in for hours and hours. You play as Geralt of Rivia – accomplished Witcher (monster hunter, essentially) who is hunting for his pseudo-daughter. Along the way you get pulled into many a mishap and have to overcome numerous foes to accomplish your tasks.

The most interesting thing, perhaps, is the combat; having two swords and a host of ‘signs’ (different types of magical spells) to beat down enemies with. Players instantly fell in love with this new and interesting combat style, and the story too.

Pokémon Red & Blue 

Pokémon Red & Blue

Pokémon started as a simple, pixely RPG on the GameBoy. You chose a character, pick a name, and off you go! Furnished with a sidekick monster, you follow a linear story and build your party with the Pokémon you find along the way, while battling other trainers and fighting through themed gyms to become the champion. You can change your own battle experiences of the turn-based combat with the different types, moves, and abilities at your disposal, and even set your own challenges within the world.

The Pokémon series has blossomed since the first installment, and has spanned 25 years and counting, becoming probably the most recognized game series ever.

Chrono Trigger  

Chrono Trigger

Chrono Trigger arrived on the SNES in 1995 – created by seasoned professionals of Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest fame. The game was a success in terms of critical acclaim and also financials – it is widely regarded as one of the best video games of all time. 

The game features the protagonist and their party, embarking on an adventure through time to prevent a global disaster. Chrono Trigger was one of the first games to feature multiple endings, and was ground-breaking for doing so. 

Persona 5

Persona 5

Stemming from the Shin Megami universe, Persona 5 brought massive worldwide success with it and won a huge number of fans for the franchise.  P5 is an interesting RPG – not only a Japanese role playing game, it uses turn based combat that relies heavily on tactical play to gain an advantage, and is also deeply focused on the story aspects and the more ‘mundane’. 

You play as the ‘protagonist’, and follow a strange story of a high schooler who finds himself able to visit an alternate dimension filled with evil spirits; accompanied by a quickly growing team of friends, you work to take down enemies and cleanse their hearts of evil. With more than 100 hours of content, Persona 5 can be played in many ways – with focus on skill improvement, relationship building or purely bashing enemies around.

The reason this game got so popular was not only the well thought out and addictive gameplay, but the style and the music to boot. This game was incredibly well produced and not a single thing was overlooked during its production, truly raising standards across the board. 

Dark Souls 

Dark Souls

Dark Souls is a classic example of a third-person action role playing game. Based in a fictional kingdom known as Lordran, you create a character and begin a journey to uncover the secrets of your kind – the undead. Along the way you will fight many, many hard battles against monstrous creatures. 

The roleplayer game encourages memorizing patterns and learning from mistakes to forge a path through its dangerous world. Dark Souls is renowned for being a hard game – there are barely any instructions and no ‘hand-holding’ to speak of – this has the players either loving it or hating it. Truly it is not a game for everyone. The recognizable style of this game has led to sequels and other similar games from the same studio following the same structure, which has almost morphed into its own genre!  



UNDERTALE is one of those rare games that ticks all the boxes, but comes from a single creator. The game is built with passion and is renowned for its simple yet very easily distinguishable art style, as well as its wacky story. “The RPG game where you don’t have to destroy anyone” (verbatim, from the website), follows you as you explore the Underground after falling in from the human world above. You work your way through fighting foes (or not) and solving puzzles to continue. Don’t be fooled by the simple art style – the story in this game goes places you would never expect and provides hours and hours of surprising entertainment. 

While being an RPG, UNDERTALE has different paths to take – you always play the same character but you can choose whether to be a pacifist, or to commit genocide and destroy all in your path. Choices really matter here. This ability to play your own way is the main reason why UNDERTALE is outrageously popular, as well as the loveable characters and the iconic soundtrack.   

Your Quest To Learn About Role Playing Games Is Complete! 

gaming setup

And so, brave traveler; you have gained all the knowledge you need to fully understand the wonderful world of role-playing video games. You are armed with a solid list of recommendations to sink your teeth into, and can pick and choose your preferred kind of game!

Be sure to check out our examples of role-playing video games and let us know what you think about them in the comment section below!

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