A Rant on “RPG Elements”

By Chris

A departure from our regular review format, I wanted to dedicate today’s entry to something that has been beating me senseless with irritation. I am talking about these games that are trying to be sold as having “RPG elements”. For the uninitiated (I don’t know how you could be if you play games on a regular basis) RPG stands for Role-Playing Game. As you can probably infer from the name, these are games in which you immerse yourself fully in the player character’s role, as opposed to simply following him/her protagonist along the story.

Many elements of RPG games can be traced back to the tabletop RPGs such as Dungeons and Dragons. Here, players can select their class, increase in levels and determine their skills and effectiveness in any given station by how many stat points they have attributed to a particular skill. For example, a character with a high level of “Charisma” would gain an advantage when trying to charm his or her way out of trouble.

Elements such as class selection, attribute and skill selection, and leveling all combine to create an experience when the player feels as though they can be more than just a mover of the protagonist, they can BE the protagonist.

So, it stands to reason that a game wherein a bullet or a sword’s effectiveness is determined by player stats can boast having RPG elements, right? If my game allows you to choose a class, doesn’t that make it at least similar to an RPG?

Hell no!

Not unless these elements build towards a player-driven story. I’m letting my fanboy out here, but take a look at the latter Fallout games (3 and New Vegas). While a departure form the much more traditional RPGs like Fallouts 1 and 2, Fallouts 3 and New Vegas still allow you to attribute stats that effect how your character interacts with the world (how you solve problems, build reputations, complete quests and shape the overall course of events). This goes beyond just combat effectiveness; this determines how the story will unfold, and how your player character will develop. The key to role-play is creating an environment wherein much of the story can be told in the player’s head, but nowadays it seems as though anything with an experience bar can be an “RPG”.

Hell, Final Fantasy has long been getting away with living under the RPG umbrella despite having characters with full backstories (albeit often shitty and overcomplicated backstories), having a determined plot and character development, and having the leveling progression (you know, that actual RPG element) make no real impact on the unfolding story.

If you are role-playing as a Final Fantasy protagonist, then the Minnesota Vikings are role-playing as Nordic warriors. Tell them to some dice and fill out a character sheet.

I fully admit that I’m late to the party here, and that the term RPG has been more abused than the All Chat function in League of Legends, but I think it should be noted that there’s more to roleplaying than abilities and classes.

Oh, and Final Fantasy, let’s make up soon. Once you’re done trying to be World of Warcraft or a J-Pop opera, I’d love to run a four White Mage combo and hit a brand new faux medieval world with you again one day.

Your estranged lover,

The Captain

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