Trying to answer the age old question - What is an RPG?

The reason I have initally pondered and finally created this topic is to try and create some guidelines on the ever agonizing question, What is an RPG.

The personal reason for this topic is my disagreement of some games being labelled as RPG’s when I quite frankly believe they just are not.

Now, we all must have some basic understanding and acceptance in our minds of what constitutes as an RPG, be it western or JP based. Sadly as the topic never seems to go away and we seem to go in circles of what counts, I thought it might be a good idea to create a topic to try and funnel as much related discussion as possible.

What I (me) personally feel counts as an RPG (after much internal thought) can be characterised by three points:

"Role" (or JOB) - Does my character(s) have or generally fit into a predetermined role or more of a flexible structure. sneaky thief, galliant warrior ect.

Now these role examples aren’t static as every game will have it’s variants in relation to the ingame setting and / or time period.

Choice” - we should all know what this means. Do my actions have consequences within the game, such as alliances, available story routes and their prerequisite requirements, or an overall alignment structure (good / evil) with outcomes.

Scale” - Does my character(s) get stronger throughout the game either linearly or through a weird leveling mechanic (attribute / equipment gains).

If we collectively think about most (not all) of the greatest RPG’s over the last 30 years, I strongly feel that they easily tick two of the three boxes above at least.


Mass Effect (1)
Dragon Age
Breath of Fire
World or Warcraft (MMORPG)
Pillars of Eternity
Kingdoms of Amular
Dragon Quest
Final Fantasy
Yakuza 7 (Like a Dragon)
Soulsborne series
and obviously many more.

Now i’m aware not every game collectively identified as an RPG will fit into the mold above exactly (there are always outliers), but I would really like to hear the communities opinion’s on the matter at hand as well as if my points are concrete enough to use as a general qualification for future games.

1 Like

Just to be difficult, how is Yakuza LAD different from previous entries outside of the turn based combat?

To add further to the disscussion and give an example, i DO NOT feel that the latest AC games are RPG’s, why?

Whilst the character in the game gains levels “Scale” there is no real choice to found in their stories and they don’t play with roles (bayek can murder with any weapon and only gets stronger with them, Stealth is a button press and not really a growth choice to be made).

Thus AC only ticks the Scale box and not the other two.

1 Like

Great question… There seems to be a lot of williingness to stick an RPG label on everything for some reason.

I honestly can’t define exactly what makes a game an RPG, but it is usually a combination of:

  • Choices and consequenses, multiple way to handle situations either via dialog or something else. Different solutions, not every playthrough is the same.

  • The ability to play a role. Make your character into what and who you want them to be.

  • Attribute scores and stats.

  • Skills and levelling.


it has roles you can assign to the cast like a final fantasy ( their just unique to the game). (healer , warrior, samurai ect. The characters and by extension you are playing ROLES per say)

Lol still planning on doing a video for this subject.

I’m honestly not too concerned about defining the genre itself because they all expand and evolve over time, one of my cohorts is more of the traditional opinion though.

agreed, it just feels like so many games get labelled as RPG’s lately when they are really just RPG lite action games with skill trees that only enable the character to do the things they already do but better as the game goes on.)

1 Like

oh agreed, its so hard to define properly at it’s core when what constitutes as a racing game, platformer, strategy game are.

Honestly i just go back to the definition “Role Playing Game” and what counts as playing a role ala D&D

1 Like

Games I consider RPG’s:

  • Divinity: Original Sin
  • Baldur’s Gate
  • Fallout
  • The Elder Scrolls
  • Wasteland
  • Neverwinter Nights
  • Dragon Age
  • Pillars of Eternity
  • Tyranny
  • The Outer Worlds
  • Cyberpunk 2077
  • Planescape: Torment
  • Bard’s Tale
  • Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines

And many more.

1 Like

I Agreed on most right away but had to think about Cyberpunk for a sec but are right.

V Scales, Has choice and you do have to build / commit skills to them throughout the game, the builds are just unique to the game type but it still ticks all three boxes.

Yeah, it could have been much more of an RPG than it is and I think that was the original intent, but it still ticks a lot of boxes.

To me, an RPG is the ability to craft your own narrative with a nameless character, OR mold the story of a character that already exists. Choice is key for an RPG. A game that follows a fairly linear path that allows stats and light moments of choice is not an RPG.

While it’s different now compared to say the SNES/PS eras, if a game has leveling, XP, HP/MP, skill tree and weapons/gear that either have a rating/score or have the normal class of common, uncommon, rare, epic and legendary along with dialogue trees/options is what I consider to be an RPG. Combat system can either be action real time which is what I easily prefer or turn based.

I know a lot of people will go based on “choice and consequence” but I have never liked this because it’s rarely executed properly and correctly and this usually exists because the game has multiple endings which to be perfectly honest, I have never ever been a fan of and never will be. I see multiple endings as just a total and complete waste because when you get to the next game, it’s only going based on the one main ending anyway so what’s even the point?

I also know a lot of people prefer character creation but I don’t. Not a fan of this at all and if your character is silent, it already kills any immersion and me believing any of what my character is supposedly saying because he’s just standing there silently like a jackass. I simply can’t take this seriously and even more so, it’s weird to have perhaps hundreds of voiced characters in the game but the number one character (the player) doesn’t say a single word. I simply want my character to be preset, voiced with a history and background. Character creation is so fake to me because it’s not a real character. There’s no background or history to that character. Basically doesn’t even exist.

Following up with the silent protagonist, arguably the most important aspect in an RPG is the story and characters. Enjoying that story varies and is a “to each their own” situation but for me, if my character isn’t talking, it automatically loses a point for me in the story and character category because along with the combat system, these are the two most important aspects to me. If both fail, game is a waste of my time and will most likely be dropped very early. If a game fails on one but excels in the other, then it comes down to which you prefer.

Combat system/gameplay OR story and characters? For me, im a combat/gameplay guy first and foremost. If this category is lacking, my interest is already going to decrease and would only increase if every other aspect is extremely strong.

So for example, The Witcher 3 was my PS4/XBO game of the generation but it doesn’t have the best combat/movement. I think the combat system itself is great but the clunkyness and stiffness of controlling Geralt hurts it. And the “fixed stance” when in combat doesn’t help matters. But everything else is basically perfect. For me, visuals were a 10/10. Music, sound effects and voice acting were a 10/10. Story/characters again 10/10. Optional side content was a 9.5/10 with my negatives being several side quests being connected to the Gwent card game which I hated and thought sucked as well as there being too many “?” symbols in the Skellige region being the same especially in the water. Combat/gameplay I gave an 8.0/10 because the combat system itself was great, loved the magic, countering and nothing more satisfying than cutting off a bandit’s head and watch it roll down a hill due to the wind blowing but it’s the weakest aspect of the game because it’s simply not fluid and responsive like it should be.

In general, I have seen a lot of people mention the Souls games or the upcoming Elden Ring as being an RPG so if they’re RPG’s, I don’t see how an Assassin’s Creed or Horizon isn’t. They’re all basically doing the same stuff. To follow up on what I said with The Witcher 3, Elden Ring having a silent protagonist, not the greatest visuals at least to me and what could end up being a weak story is going to hurt the game for me personally but since I care most about combat/gameplay, this is what interests me the most. I can do stealth which is great, I can do magic which is even better plus I still have melee combat which is the core combat system. But considering that the story/characters may end up being weak and factoring in that From Software’s games are usually stiff and clunky, as great as some will believe this game is, it may not hold up for me personally.

I consider games like the current Assassin’s Creed trilogy to be action RPG’s. Same for Horizon Zero Dawn and the upcoming Forbidden West and there’s a major difference between AC Origins/AC Odyssey/Horizon ZD and The Witcher 3 and most likely the upcoming Elden Ring. Even at 30FPS on PS4 Pro, those three games especially HZD were fluid and responsive in every movement and attack where as a lot of other RPG’s simply aren’t.

Of course, all of this varies depending on each and every individual and what they themselves consider to be an RPG.

Madden is my favorite role playing game because each member of the team has an important role to play.


Yeah, I see people referring to those and Nier as an Action RPG and I have to ask what they are doing differently than other action/adventure games.

It’s kinda why I think the ARPG moniker needs to go away now that RPG characteristics have blended into other genres to the point where it’s no longer meaningful.

Perhaps the major differentiator is stats? Do games like HZD, AC, or GoT have stats or are you just unlocking new abilities?

Games like HZD are literally third person action games with the ability to improve your character with stats instead of normal story based progression.

There’s no choice in that game that is in any way meaningful. I don’t consider action games that has added a skill tree and points an RPG. Halo Infinite let’s you attack objectives in any order you want and you can upgrade Chief with points. Would anyone argue that game is an RPG? @peter42O

I don’t disagree, they are effectively tomb raider (but some with an open world).

If I wanted to talk Action RPGs, id be thinking more about The Outer Worlds.

1 Like

What do you mean by stats? You mean character stats like in The Outer Worlds or Weapon/Shield stats? This varies but for HZD, there’s a skill tree and a tier system (rare, epic, etc.) for weapons/armor but have slots for mods that you acquire when destroying the machines that add benefits to the weapon/armor that you have equipped.

It depends on the game and what the setup is. A game like The Outer Worlds that has all the character attributes isn’t what I prefer because majority of them never do anything or impact/change anything. Sometimes, less is more. I would prefer 5 amazing aspects/elements as opposed to 10 okay aspects/elements. And again, it depends on the game itself and what it is. Some stuff just wouldn’t fit.

Aloy progresses on stats but also based on the story progression because new weapons, abilities become available. You don’t get everything available to you from the start. There’s better weapons and armor that you gain later on by progressing the story far enough to where you can then do side quests to gain better stuff and mods which makes your weapons/armor better. It’s not an overly complicated or deep system but it’s not nothing either. It’s like in the middle. Also, the main way you build your character is how you want to play. Do you want to go head on with melee based attacks, long range with bows and arrows, sneaking and using stealth or do you want to use traps?

For example, in HFW, it has 6 skill trees and over 20 or 30 (I forgot which) different skills in each tree. Each tree also represents a category. Melee, stealth, gadgets, etc. This was recently confirmed via Game Informer. HFW is going to be at least double if not triple as deep as HZD. There’s a reason why so many including myself see HFW as being to HZD what Uncharted 2 was to the original Uncharted.

Halo Infinite has a minimal skill tree, no XP, no HP/MP and no leveling system. Huge difference between that and HZD which has everything excluding MP that I just mentioned. You can attack any mission and outpost in HZD any way you want as well. Stealth? Go ahead. Bows/arrows? Go ahead. Melee combat? Again, go ahead. Traps and bombs? Yep, go ahead. Every tool and weapon that’s available to you can be used any way you want.

Also, while majority keep saying Halo Infinite lets you attack the way you want, first, I have already done this in AC, FC, HZD and plenty of other games. Second, when you’re inside and interior, you can’t attack the way you want because you can’t use vehicles or the aircraft (forgot the name). In all honestly, I don’t see any difference between any of them in this regard except for the fact that there’s no stealth and no melee combat in Halo Infinite.

Each game allows you to go about your objectives (for the most part, some story missions or interiors aren’t going to let you do certain things because it just doesn’t fit within that mission/objective) in any way you see fit as long as it’s within the combat and gameplay mechanics that the game provides to you.

Halo Infinite allows you to go in guns blazing, use a sniper rifle from a distance, use a vehicle, use the Marines with you or fly in and attack that way or jump out and shoot as your dropping down on to the ground.

AC/HZD allow you to use stealth, melee, bows/arrows and a combination of gadgets/traps/bombs. It’s all up to you. FC does the same except replace the melee combat with shooting combat. The rest still apply.

There’s dialogue choices in HZD but there’s no choice and consequence system. But that doesn’t make any less of an RPG. There’s plenty of RPG’s back in the day that don’t have a C&C system but no one is going to say that they’re not a RPG.

Plus, most games that have a C&C system usually fail because it never amounts to anything meaningful and is usually just there for the sake of it and second, if a game has multiple endings, that’s why a C&C system exists so it can decide which ending you get when you complete the game. All of which I don’t like at all because if a game has 5 endings for example, you know the next game is only using ONE ending out of the 5 which makes those other 4 ending completely useless and pointless which in turn makes the entire C&C system useless and pointless.

Now granted, perhaps you prefer and enjoy a more dynamic RPG with C&C, character creation and multiple endings where as I honestly don’t. I prefer the story/characters to be fully preset, fully voiced with one definitive ending when I complete the game. Also, im not a fan of having to make choices in games especially if it means im missing out on side quests and other stuff in the game. This is why I hate random events in games in general. If I can’t simply access it, why is it in the game? Why do I have to jump through hoops and hope it “activates/register” based on what im supposed to do in order to make that happen? Absolutely hate all that stuff.

Obviously, to each their own but I prefer more dynamic and varied combat and gameplay even in an RPG like HZD compared to this aspect lacking or not being all that good while giving you a C&C system, character creation and multiple endings.

If anything, classifying a game an RPG or not is more based on what each individual prefers and considers to be an RPG element and how many such elements are in the game and are those elements properly executed. For me, I haven’t played a game with a created character/silent protagonist in which the story and characters were greatly executed and portrayed because when your own playable character just stands there not saying a word, it makes any C&C along with multiple endings fall completely flat to me. It’s like, okay, whatever. Can I get back to the combat? lol

It’s OK to not like RPGs though. It’s not like games get bonus credit for getting an RPG label. Why try and force it?


I know. Everyone should like what they like. lol. For example, I played The Outer Worlds for a few hours and too many negatives for me that I didn’t like so I dropped it despite buying it for $30 digitally. It’s an RPG and I wouldn’t say it isn’t. It’s just not what I preferred it to be in terms of setup and structure.