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Thread: The RPG Sanctum #2: What Makes an RPG

  1. #1
    Host of The Sectorcast Rosestorm's Avatar
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    The RPG Sanctum #2: What Makes an RPG

    The RPG Sanctum #2: What Makes an RPG
    Notes:
    Do you know what of JRPG, WRPG, SRPG, TRPG, ARPG, CRPG, or the now infamous expression "game with RPG elements" truly means. In a debate that will bring out your inner fanboy(or girl), our panelists will duke it out in a no holds bar turn based cage match too bring you the answer.
    Sub Topics: What defines an RPG, What are the differences between the various sub-genres, and are RPGs becoming losing their depth and becoming more streamlined.
    Guests: Phillip Willis (JCServant), Nathan Schlothan (TwinBahamut), Andrew Long (Castomel)
    Date: Tuesday February 1, 2011 9pm US Eastern Time

    http://www.rpgamer.com/rpgsanctum/sanctum02.mp3

    The next show's topic will be The Relevancy of Square Enix.
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  2. #2
    Transcends lowly masses
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    There are games all over the place with "Element X" and "Element Y" that people have been discussing forever, but the most consistant to be is experience-based growth. I don't necessarily mean experience *points* (though that's a common manifestation), I mean the act of killing something over and over makes a character gradually stronger.

    (Xenogears) Fei fights 300 monters and gets stronger in several ways. He fights 400 more and gets stronger again. He fights 500 more and gets stronger again. If the player is willing to fight 600 more monsters, Fei will level up again. RPG.
    (Zelda series with the exception of Part 2) Link kills a million billion gazillion goblins. Does he get stronger by doing so? No. Not an RPG.
    (Yakuza) The more thugs Kazuma beats up, the stronger he gets by way of the player spending EXP on strength, HP, and ability upgrades, always. RPG.
    (MGS 1&2, I have not played the others) Snake's health bar gets bigger every time he beats a boss. Can he do it repeatedly, and do wins against guards also gradually increase his stats over time? No. Not an RPG.
    (Dragon Quest) Fight more slimes, level goes up. RPG.
    (Mario platformers) Mario stomps on Goombas all day. Does he get stronger in any way? No. Not an RPG.
    (Super Mario RPG) Mario fights Goombas all day. Does he like, get stronger in any way? Yes. RPG.


    In an RPG, by the most technically accurate definition I can muster, progress might slow down at some point of fighting the same crap over and over, but it is always possible. You know that if you want to spend 72 hours fighting the same level 2 monsters just to get 1 level up, you still have that option and ability.
    Not all RPGs will implement this in an all-stat-growing "Level up," system. There are other systems in place, but 99% of them depend on the character reaching a milestone based on experience.
    I think once you lose that, eh, the door gets way too open for way too many games to be called RPGs. A lot of RPGs also have other things in common, but those aspects tend to be far less RPG-specific and if I have to pick one single defining factor, it'd be a system of mostly player-controlled, experience-based growth.

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    - Fancy Title - RPGamer Staff risingsun's Avatar
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    Glenn should have been on this show. Now he has some controversial stances on what makes an RPG and RPG.

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    New Member New Registered User moenki's Avatar
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    Good show. Some of my thoughts on the subject:

    - Dragon Quest was an attempt by the developers to transpose the elements of a western Role Playing Game like Dungeons & Dragons or Ultima onto the NES, with its limited technology and possibilities. So it could not be as deep as D&D in terms of player interaction or customization or anything that make what are now termed WRPGs [note: Look how awful the D&D game on Nintendo was]. However in doing so they set an aesthetic standard which was immediately copied and improved upon by Final Fantasy. Zelda had more focus on action gameplay than these two which included a lot more D&D-like elements (buying weapons and armor, learning magic, turn- and choice-based combat, statistics, etc.). In order to define them as their own thing and apart from action/adventure games, they were called RPGs.
    - As the years have gone by and we've watched the evolution of this genre, we're more inclined to call them JRPGs, or think of them in that style. Because it is a style that is unique to console video games. There are branches off the tree but they still go back towards some original inspirations.
    - I'll quickly add that a storyline is an essential part of a good RPG, in order to immerse yourself in the world and to justify the (admittedly kinda boring) actual combat gameplay. Also, RPGs were very unique in the 80s but especially the 90s in the level of storytelling that happened, which further defined the genre. Another point is that they were generally set in some medievel, or hybrid futuristic, fantasy world.
    - Western RPGs have always been defined closer to the meaning of the phrase behind the acronym, rather than running close to the styles previously set by Square, Enix, and Nintendo. Even look at Ultima IV on the NES, which was definitely close to the typical RPG style, but at least attempted to give more weight to your choices.
    - Now, who knows. We repeat the phrase "Role Playing Game" over and over again and see where it sticks. If a game has a ton of customization options and experience points and you get to choose where to go, it might be fun. It might even be considered a Role Playing Game. But I don't want to see the identification with an ideal meaning overtake the possibilities of what makes games actually fun. [I'm having trouble putting that thought into a sentence.]

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    I still refer to RPGs in the traditional sense: games with turn-based menu combat. The label was originally assigned to these games to separate them for the action combat of adventure games. Due to constant nerd battling over the genre, and the fact that more of the popular games of the type were on consoles, they became referred to as "console RPGs". Originally created in the U.S., they became very popular in Japan. Since the design-type saw it's "hay-day" under Japanese developement, they are now commonly referred to as "JRPGs". They are also referred to as "traditional RPGs" by long-time gaming nerds like myself.

    Unfortunately, there was a group of adventure gamers that prefered that their "more D&D-themed" video games be called RPGs as well. During the same nerd battling mentioned above, and the fact that the more popular games of the type were made for computers, they became referred to as "computer RPGs". These games are now referred to as WRPGs due to their dominantly western developement. They are basically Adventure games with "RPG elements" integrated into them. Sometimes referred to as "Action RPGs" by gamers who like both types, or those who feel uncomfortable calling a Japanese developed game a WRPG.
    Last edited by LokeSTL; 02-03-2011 at 10:08 AM.

  6. #6
    Member Nightfox's Avatar
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    The term RPG doesn't imply turn-based at all in any form, only by association that some of the original tabletop games (and thus console/PC games) were turn-based. Live-action RPGs were actually the action RPG equivalent being played at the time, with much less restrictive rulesets (kind of like how console/PC action RPGs typically have lighter rulesets than their turn-based counterparts). "Role-playing" specifically refers to taking on a role in the same vein as acting, but then some RPGs now eschew characterization and even story for the sake of pure gameplay (typically hack-and-slash games).

    I know it's a bit controversial thought, but what isn't on this topic: I actually had written a thesis on the term RPG and the premise that it may not even refer to a genre at all. I was proposing that it may now merely be a ranking or expansion of a base genre that uses an external ruleset, typically to balance the player's actual skills vs. the enemy's skills fairly, such as FPS RPGs, the game is a first-person shooter, but tempered with RPG rules so players with less reaction time or accuracy can fairly complete the game by building their character to compensate. For example, using classic D&D, a character with INT 18 was considered a super-genius in-game. Not many (objectively) players are actually super-geniuses, but the character was supposed to be, so how do you let the character know things that the player couldn't possibly know? That's how these systems came into place. Also, to point back to the original thesis, the original pen-and-paper RPGs were merely localized strategy games that had players focus on one character rather than a squadron (D&D was an offshoot of Chainmail).

    Well, it was just an idea. But the reason I thought of it was that not every game that had RPG elements was considered an RPG (look at Scott Pilgrim vs. the World for a recent example of an XP-for-beating-enemies based game with a story that isn't considered an RPG), and not every RPG had all RPG elements. There had to be a reason for that, aside from people growing used to a certain expectation of what RPG meant to them.

    And personally, I greatly dislike the recent divide between so-called Western and Japanese RPGs. There's so many things wrong with splitting them up the way they have been, and the generalizations or "definitions" of what makes either type of game their respective subgenre all have glaring holes. Japanese-made action RPGs have been around longer than commonly labelled "Western RPGs", as well.
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  7. #7
    Certified Polygameist RPGamer Staff jcservant's Avatar
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    Salutations!

    I love seeing so many different, and well thought out, points of view on this topic that we discussed. Keep 'em coming!

    Towards the end of the podcast, I stated my opinion that I felt JRPGs really haven't done a great job of advancing. IMHO, they just haven't done a great job building upon the previous successes. Sure, there has been SOME evolution, and SOME elements of success are built upon...but its few and far between, especially when compared to other genres. I mentioned this, in correspondence, with a friend, and he agreed with my point, using Chrono Trigger as an example (a game he recently beat on the DS). The thoughts he wrote sharing my concern about JRPGs were better articulated and thought out then what I did on the podcast, so I asked him if I could share them here. He agreed. I have done a little editing to put this together.

    That is kind of my point with all this. All RPGamers agree that this game (Chrono Trigger) is an almost perfect classic. It is THE bar that traditional RPGs get held up to, just as ME2 will be the bar for western RPGs in the years to come. Why it is that only non-RPGs seem to get better and better every year? Why do all games have ONE good element in them (if that!), and not give us everything? Long dev times don’t seem to do anything, which is REALLY sad…

    To a certain degree, it must be the pacing of the games. The more they try to quicken them for the ADHD-stricken crowds, the more they pull away from what makes these games great. SE adds more “philosophy” to their games, but really… do we need it? I mean seriously, why can’t we have straightforward games like CT anymore? They were so much more enjoyable back then.

    It’s kinda why I want my SNES stuff again… I want to play some real games again! Chrono Trigger is a great example of what I am talking about here. There are many (MANY) examples of games from back then that were derivative, or just not nearly interesting enough to hold their own back then, let alone today. Just look at games like Brainlord, Brandish, and 7th Saga For me they were average, unplayed, and total garbage. Not everything holds up today. Breath of Fire had a great storyline, looked great, but I can’t call the gameplay great. It doesn’t stand up (for me at least).

    The Ys remakes, the FF ports, all these DQ games that have been coming out… they are all great games. They LOOK dated, but they feel fresh and wonderful today, especially in comparison with their newer competition.

    Want to know why there is Chrono Trigger 3? Its not that they don’t want to make one. Its that they can’t. CT is timeless, it is awesome incarnate. How can they create something today that would do it justice? Could they make such a simple storyline that would be graspable by non-literary/historical geniuses? How about the pacing? CT is quick paced for a jRPG. Very quick. But compared to what the adrenaline junkies want, it is nothing. I can’t see how a company can bring out a new Chrono Trigger… the world itself doesn’t want it.

    Which is weird, right? Everyone says they want a new CT, but no one would actually go out and buy it. The best recent effort at this was Lost Odyssey. You really need to play that game. It has everything we love, but yet it was critically lauded for exactly the reasons CT was critically acclaimed for.

    Why can’t we have nice things? I want a new Chrono Trigger. I want to love my party again, I want to care for them. I want to see them survive. Marle’s conviction that Crono could be saved once he disintegrates was very human. She had hope. The player had hope. Crono WAS the player, and having such devotion to him by the people around him felt awesome. I miss the game where the story is center stage, and the game treats itself as a game, and not too seriously.
    Why is Chrono Trigger still the bar? Could you imagine a game like Doom, Madden '96, Hero Quest VI, or Super Mario World still feeling 'fresh,' and selling like hotcakes today? Sure, Super Mario 3 remakes still sell, but the bar on platformers (or any of these genres) has been raised SEVERAL times in each of these genres. And despite the high bar each of them set, none of these other games have been the 'bar' for a very long time.

    He's clearly not the only one who feels this way. Old RPG remakes sell over and over again because gamers love them. But, what's scary, is they rate better and are played more by many gamers than more modern counterparts. Most of my friends have more JRPG remakes & ports on their handheld systems than they do original IPs... and the number of JRPGs they have on current gen consoles can usually be counted on one hand. Games like Chrono Trigger, DQ IV, FF, Ys remakes / ports do so well because the newer JRPG IPs haven't done a good enough job advancing upon what those games have laid down. Look at the top 20 console style RPGs on an aggregate review site, and you'll be hard pressed to find a handful of new IPs. In fact, only 4 games on a list I'm looking at were even games made in the last five years (discounting ports). WOW. Compare that to, let's say the action genre, which has 11 out its top 20 games being new titles from the last five years.

    Personally, I'm waiting for Japan to step up their game. While I love Dragon Quest remakes and the occasional new FF & persona game as much as the next person, it's time to take JRPGs to the next level. While RPGamers are a patient lot, and there will always be love for JRPGs no matter what, I fear that if they don't take it up a notch, they might go the way of the dinosaur... or at least go through a dark and quiet spell like the adventure genre did.
    Last edited by jcservant; 02-03-2011 at 09:27 PM.

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    One Knight Stand Spartakus's Avatar
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    Maybe you're just an old school gamer, that's cool but doesn't mean new games are bad, just means they're not your thing to begin with. On the flip side I'm sure there are plenty of gamers out there who play new RPGs to death but have a very hard time going back to pixellated SNES games.
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  9. #9
    Certified Polygameist RPGamer Staff jcservant's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Spartakus View Post
    Maybe you're just an old school gamer, that's cool but doesn't mean new games are bad, just means they're not your thing to begin with. On the flip side I'm sure there are plenty of gamers out there who play new RPGs to death but have a very hard time going back to pixellated SNES games.
    Be careful, Spartakus. You're making a few presumptions here without much support. Even though I've been playing games since the dawn of time, doesn't necessarily imply I prefer them over newer games. The fact of the matter is, I don't. I spend 80+% of my gaming time with games made in the last two years. I fire up my emulators once a year, and the last time I did was to play Super Mario 3. However, both my friend (for the correspondence above) and I are not only long time gamers, but game reviewers. And while no one is completely objective on this subject, we do bring a certain perspective to the table as we attempt to look at all games with as little bias as possible.

    I never said I don't ENJOY modern JPRGs. There are a number I could list for you that I absolutely did like... though it really wouldn't be relevant to the discussion. We're not saying we prefer old games to the newer ones. Our point is that, for the most part, the newer ones just are not doing a great job building on the success of the past like they used to. To provide objective support for this claim, I pointed out a number of facts about how well new games are reviewing on aggregate sites versus those of other genres. It's clear that there just are not that many great JRPGs coming out that aren't remakes or ports of older games. I show that this contrasts greatly with what we see going on in other genres. Don't take this to mean that there are not ANY good/great modern JRPGs. There most certainly are! I'm simply pointing out that it is our opinion that JRPGs, as a whole, don't have as high of a percentage of great, new JRPGs (especially new IPs) coming out because they fail to build on the foundation of what was done before.

    Look at FPS, sports games and the like. As new games came out, they introduced new mechanics and elements. As newer games in those genres came out, they would take those mechanics and elements that worked (even if they came from competetor/old IPs) and build upon them. You would be hard pressed to find a first person shooter today that didn't have most of the following: smarter AI, scripted scenes, cover mechanics, online Multiplayer, multiple weapons, regenerating health, record/stat tracking, multiple class choices, power ups, alternate firing modes on weapons, & melee weapon w/instant kill. If you researched long enough, you could find which game and year each of these FPS elmenents were introduced to the genre, and find that shortly after its introduction, how each of those elements became a baseline in most FPS games afterwards.

    In RPGs, when we got a new element that worked, it seemed to get tossed to the side. I'm not saying that you NEVER saw those elements again in future games...they would certain pop up here and there. But it wasn't a consistent building up upon like we see in other genres. FFVI and CT were the epitome of the console style (JRPG) RPG for their time. Future RPGs of that style should have analyzed what those games did right, use those elements moving forward, while introducing one or two new ones to see what would work well with gamers. Instead PS1 RPGs started stressing graphics over gameplay, character over story, and traditional battle systems over innovation. Instead of carefully building upon FFVI and CT laid down, they would often start a fresh, creating games that, graphics aside, would have really fit in just fine in the 80's and early 90s. There's simply no excuse for that. Again, just to point out, I'm not implying there were not ANY good or great RPGs in the more modern years, I'm simply pointing out that they are fewer and far between (percentage wise) because most of them fail to build upon what worked in the past.

  10. #10
    Staff Healer RPGamer Staff TwinBahamut's Avatar
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    Honestly, jcservant, I'm still failing to see what you are talking about. You are ignoring countless opinions and pieces of evidence to make this argument, and it just doesn't stand up.

    Sure, Chrono Trigger is a great game. But its greatness doesn't say a single thing about any "lack of progress" for Japanese RPGs. For one thing, it simply doesn't have the singular "ultimate game" role you and the person you are quoting seem to think it does. There are countless people who have favorite Japanese RPGs that were made much more recently (TWEWY, Persona 3/4 and Demon's Souls are some easy examples), and there are a great deal of more recent RPGs that deserve just as much praise as Chrono Trigger. This entire concept that a game like it couldn't be made or well-praised today seems ridiculous to me. Certainly the claim that Lost Odyssey's failure means anything is silly to me, simply because Lost Odyssey is an honestly flawed game which failed in part because it hasn't kept up with the genuine progress of the genre! It is a fun game which serves as a nice throwback, but it also blindly repeats many mistakes from the past. It is hardly worth mentioning as something in the spirit of Chrono Trigger, which was distinguished by how progressive it was...

    I mean, let's look at the Chrono Trigger example more closely. One of its most distinguishing features was the New Game+ feature. It wasn't the first game to have that kind of feature, but it did help establish that feature's popularity. Now, a great many RPGs have that kind of feature, and even western RPGs like Mass Effect have copied the idea. In fact, many later games like Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter used the concept to a far greater degree than Chrono Trigger did. There is also the fact that Chrono Trigger established the three man party whose members are picked from a list of 6 or more, which has become one of the most popular set-ups for RPG parties in the years since.

    Of course, there is also the fact that, even if you accept that Chrono Trigger is the single greatest japanese RPG of all time, it still says very little about the "progress of the genre". It is like saying "Shakespeare's plays were the greatest works of performing art ever, so performing art hasn't progressed since", which is something that is rather blatantly false. I mean, Shakespeare's works are undoubtably brilliant and have been rarely matched throughout the history of English literature, theater, and film, but that hardly means that the intervening centuries have been lacking in progress and refinement. The entire concept of what "theater" and "acting" mean has been thrown upside-down time and again since then, and countless styles, traditions, movements, and techniques have emerged in the years since then. I mean, the people of Shakespeare's time were still in the progress of developing the idea of fiction itself, and the ideas of science fiction or fantasy would be totally foreign to the people of that era. The individual brilliance of own creator or work says little about the developments of entire genres or fields as a whole.

    And of course, I simply don't see the relative difference in progress between japanese RPGs and western ones that you have been arguing for. If Japanese RPGs have been stagnant, then from my perspective Western RPGs would be even more so. After all, Dragon Age and Mass Effect share the same basic plot and game structure, and their sequels step back from the very innovations that distinguished the originals (namely, the variety presented by being able to choose your own backstory). Of course, the whole backstory thing was done years before by jRPGs like Seiken Densetsu 3 and Romancing Saga...

  11. #11
    Certified Polygameist RPGamer Staff jcservant's Avatar
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    There are countless people who have favorite Japanese RPGs that were made much more recently (TWEWY, Persona 3/4 and Demon's Souls are some easy examples)
    I wouldn't classify Demon Souls as a JRPG/Console style RPG. I would certain agree with Persona 3/4 being a great JRPG. However, my point is, now that other companies have seen Persona 3/4 do really good with gamers and sales, they won't do a good job figuring out what made that game work so well, and build on it. Instead, they'll try to make their own original game from the ground up, going back to the 'drawing board' so to speak. There were many things about TWENY that gamers liked...but, again, you haven't seen anyone use many of those characteristics/mechanics in future games.

    Of course, there is also the fact that, even if you accept that Chrono Trigger is the single greatest japanese RPG of all time, it still says very little about the "progress of the genre".
    Read my arguement again. It does not hinge on a hypothesis of CT being the best JRPG of all time. Its about the failure of future JRPGs to consistently build upon those elements that made great RPGs of the past, like CT, so great. The net result is that there are relative few, stand-out modern RPGs today. Persona 3/4 is certainly a great, modern JRPG (TWENY may also be considered such)... and a couple of others...but that's it. A vast majority of modern, original JRPG IPs die a very quick death in the sea of mediocrity. As far as some objective support....

    In 2010, there was one console RPG that was rated 90+... Persona 3. Between 80-90 you had Pokemon, DQ IX, FFXIII and Lunar Silver Star. In 2009... DQV (84) Pokemon Plat (83).... In 2008 SMT Persona 4 (92), CT DS (91), Persona 3 FES (87), FF IV (85), Eternal Sonata (82) and Tales of Vesperia (81)

    Do you see the pattern? There are very few original IP breaking the ceiling here...and when they do, they barely eek in. There are a decent number of sequels building off their previous successes...and there are an unusually high number of remakes/ports (relative to other genres, including western RPGs). I believe that if JRPGs built off of each other the way shooters, sports games and action games do, you would see a lot more vitality and success brought to the sub-genre.

    I leave you with this thought. No other sub genre does as many remakes/ports of older games as JRPG/Console style RPGs. Is that simply because JRPG gamers are more nostalgic then fans of other genres or possibly a failure of publishers, as a whole, to push forward, build upon, innovate and consistently offer better gaming experiences over the years as other genres continue to do?
    Last edited by jcservant; 02-04-2011 at 12:01 PM.

  12. #12
    Member Nightfox's Avatar
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    I asked a friend recently about my idea for a Chrono Trigger-influenced RPG. He said that it would be easy for me to make, but CT had such strong characters and that's why everyone loved it so much. I have a feeling that he's generally (not unanimously) correct, the charm of the main cast and story in CT was what gave it so much appeal and helped people enjoy the game itself. CT didn't do anything extraordinarily different for JRPGs except have an interesting scenario and good characters that were developed just enough for people to be able to interpret them their own way (as opposed to the overdeveloped or non-developed characters we have nowadays).

    Let's look at it this way. Gameplay-wise, CT added New Game+ (which TwinBahamut already pointed out), Dual/Triple Techs (which Suikoden series uses), reduced the world map to a small scale, almost linear affair with no danger at all (which many games since have done), three-character party (which many games have since done, and originally was thought in future games to be a detriment/cliche), made XP and skill-acquisition seperated (which almost every game has since done), drastically reduced the amount of equipment to manage (which the next major Squaresoft RPG, FF7, took to heart), and finally, removed the transition from exploration map to battle map (which has really only been done in action RPGs since then). CT borrowed the ATB system, sped it up, and kept the same basic elemental strategies that every game ever has had. CT's battle system only had that little extra depth of positioning, which the player was not directly in control of, but future games, such as Grandia, would expand on. Honestly, only the dual-techs and new game+ are brought up in most casual references to CT, and again, the characters and time-travel scenario will mostly overshadow them both.

    Japanese RPGs got a lot of bad rap for copying previous games (in the series or not) and being too similar in the PS1 era and beyond. A lot of the focus was on making stand-out characters and stories so people would be more enthralled with that, and it was working. RPGs in general have had a fickle audience, where even the best games have had strong criticisms of the actual battle/gameplay (mostly targeted at the party AI or being too easy or worse, boring, even with ATB-like systems in place). There just simply was no incentive to make a standardized genre base, because the systems were always designed with the game scenario in mind. Some games just would not work with no real exploration on the world map, or having dual-techs, or limited equipment choices, or battles happening wherever the player happened to be.

    Whereas the argument is that Japanese RPGs need to be building off of previous successes, it's because most games are never really the same I get excited playing them more than any other genre.
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  13. #13
    Staff Healer RPGamer Staff TwinBahamut's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by jcservant View Post
    I wouldn't classify Demon Souls as a JRPG/Console style RPG.
    It is an RPG made for consoles in Japan. That is really the only way you can define Japanese RPGs, since it is far too diverse to be called a genre or subgenre. If you mean something other than "RPG made by a Japanese company", then you will need to find or create a clearer word.

    I would certain agree with Persona 3/4 being a great JRPG. However, my point is, now that other companies have seen Persona 3/4 do really good with gamers and sales, they won't do a good job figuring out what made that game work so well, and build on it. Instead, they'll try to make their own original game from the ground up, going back to the 'drawing board' so to speak. There were many things about TWENY that gamers liked...but, again, you haven't seen anyone use many of those characteristics/mechanics in future games.
    Either this is total pessimism on your part or a desire for all games to be the same. I won't agree with either. If nothing else, the very fact that Japanese RPGs always try to create new things and come up with new ideas is exactly the reason why I like them, and prefer them to western RPGs which are generally far more homogenous and derivative.

    Read my arguement again. It does not hinge on a hypothesis of CT being the best JRPG of all time. Its about the failure of future JRPGs to consistently build upon those elements that made great RPGs of the past, like CT, so great. The net result is that there are relative few, stand-out modern RPGs today. Persona 3/4 is certainly a great, modern JRPG (TWENY may also be considered such)... and a couple of others...but that's it. A vast majority of modern, original JRPG IPs die a very quick death in the sea of mediocrity. As far as some objective support....

    In 2010, there was one console RPG that was rated 90+... Persona 3. Between 80-90 you had Pokemon, DQ IX, FFXIII and Lunar Silver Star. In 2009... DQV (84) Pokemon Plat (83).... In 2008 SMT Persona 4 (92), CT DS (91), Persona 3 FES (87), FF IV (85), Eternal Sonata (82) and Tales of Vesperia (81)
    Rated by whom? Are these metacritic scores? If so, they are almost meaningless as objective data, for all manner of reasons. "Game quality" is one of those things where objective data is very hard to find, and lots of faulty data is thrown around recklessly.

    Do you see the pattern? There are very few original IP breaking the ceiling here...and when they do, they barely eek in. There are a decent number of sequels building off their previous successes...and there are an unusually high number of remakes/ports (relative to other genres, including western RPGs). I believe that if JRPGs built off of each other the way shooters, sports games and action games do, you would see a lot more vitality and success brought to the sub-genre.
    For one thing, discussion of "new IP" is a diversion from your main point, which is discussing Japanese RPGs as a group. If you are saying that Japanese RPGs as a whole are not building upon their success, then that applies equally to all kinds of games, not just new IPs. Of course, the risks of new IP has been a constant throughout the game industry's history for all genres, and this generation has been particularly bad in that respect for every publisher and genre.

    I leave you with this thought. No other sub genre does as many remakes/ports of older games as JRPG/Console style RPGs. Is that simply because JRPG gamers are more nostalgic then fans of other genres or possibly a failure of publishers, as a whole, to push forward, build upon, innovate and consistently offer better gaming experiences over the years as other genres continue to do?
    As for an "unusually high number of remakes/ports"... Seriously. Street Fighter, Tetris, and the yearly iterations of licensed sport franchises are the kings of that one, followed by things like Pac-Man, the original Castlevania, and Gradius. It says nothing, other than the fact that people like old games across the board, and good games (that don't have licensing issues) get remade or ported all the time in every genre. This is true for all console games, by the very nature of consoles. It doesn't happen much for PC games because of the nature of the medium, but that is the only difference here. Of course, how is old PC games getting rereleased on something like Steam or GOG.com, or the excitement about BioWare new console ports or GotY editions any different?

    I simply don't agree with your basic premise in any way. You'll need to actually start talking games and game mechanics if you want to start convincing me. Of course, this whole discussion is far and away the most off topic thing we discussed on the podcast, and to be honest I'd much rather discuss the topic itself: "What is an RPG?". What you brought up earlier, that Demon's Souls isn't a jRPG, is more interesting of a discussion to me. To be honest, I don't think western and japanese RPGs are even different genre at all most of the time. Trying to create that arbitrary difference leads people to ignore the many important similarities between the two and games on both sides with strong overlap.
    Last edited by TwinBahamut; 02-04-2011 at 12:59 PM.

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    I'd like to know where this "JRPGs fail to innovate" opinion came from this gen. What games are we really referring to when that statement is made? I don't hear anyone complaining about the handheld JRPGs, and console JRPGs are all but non-existent. So is all this fuss made over a few mediocre SE titles, a couple Mistwalker contracted jobs, and some niche NISA fanfare? If I was asked, I would say that the devs are trying too hard to innovate on the very few titles that they are releasing in this genre. Did many of us actually finish End of Eternity? Cross Edge? The Last Remnant?

    I'd bet if the flow of JRPGs that hit the PS2 were spread amongst the current HD consoles, they'd be just as well received. Where's this gen's Xenosaga, Persona, Shadow Hearts, FFX, Digital Devil Saga, etc....

    If anything, I would say that Japan's focus on handheld gaming is what holds back the genre. At least from an American gaming perspective. I mean let's face it, there aren't as many mass transit situations that are common in the U.S. Console gaming is still where the majority of us are at.

    I just don't see where this all started. Can anyone point me in the right direction?
    Last edited by LokeSTL; 02-04-2011 at 01:12 PM.

  15. #15
    Certified Polygameist RPGamer Staff jcservant's Avatar
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    I'd like to know where this "JRPGs fail to innovate" opinion came from this gen. What games are we really referring to when that statement is made? I don't hear anyone complaining about the handheld JRPGs, and console JRPGs are all but non-existent.
    I started it on the podcast "What makes an RPG," which I, in turn, heard in discussion with a number of firends...and basically began to see their point. And, it's not really 'failure to innovate' as much as it's a failure to really build up, layer by layer, what worked in the past, the way other, more popular genres seem to do. I believe that this basic failure is exactly resulting in the lack of console JRPGs you mention. After all, developers will make, and publisher publish, what sells well....and if a genre stagnates, like the point & click adventure genre did, people stop buying. But, yeah, listen to the podcast to hear us talk about this one.

    It is an RPG made for consoles in Japan. That is really the only way you can define Japanese RPGs, since it is far too diverse to be called a genre or subgenre. If you mean something other than "RPG made by a Japanese company", then you will need to find or create a clearer word.
    I can absolutely agree with this. I'm probalby not the person to do it, however. Sufficice to say, I know that many people say "If it's from Japan it's a JRPG." I believe that's too simplistic, however. If the development of Fallout 4 were outsourced to Atlus in Japan, and it played exactly like Fallout 3, I still do not believe that many RPGamers would stand by the claim that Fallout 4 is a JRPG. For the most part, I refer to RPGs which are characterized by mechanics and characteristics which are typically and traditionally found in the vast majority of JPRGs. This necessitates a certain acknowledgement that, just like the question "What is an RPG", what makes a JRPG is going to be somewhat subjective. It's that subjectiveness that makes some people uncomfortable, and want to fall back on the simpler, and objective measuring stick of "What comes out of Japan is a JRPG."

    Let's look at it this way. Gameplay-wise, CT added New Game+ (which TwinBahamut already pointed out), Dual/Triple Techs (which Suikoden series uses), reduced the world map to a small scale, almost linear affair with no danger at all (which many games since have done), three-character party (which many games have since done, and originally was thought in future games to be a detriment/cliche), made XP and skill-acquisition seperated (which almost every game has since done), drastically reduced the amount of equipment to manage (which the next major Squaresoft RPG, FF7, took to heart), and finally, removed the transition from exploration map to battle map (which has really only been done in action RPGs since then). CT borrowed the ATB system, sped it up, and kept the same basic elemental strategies that every game ever has had. CT's battle system only had that little extra depth of positioning, which the player was not directly in control of, but future games, such as Grandia, would expand on. Honestly, only the dual-techs and new game+ are brought up in most casual references to CT, and again, the characters and time-travel scenario will mostly overshadow them both.
    Let's take a couple of things that were, at least to me, ground breaking at the time. No random, screen breaking random battles, and the fact that battles took place in the actual world. These were improvement to the basic JRPG formula that just about every critic and gamer really loved. Yet, look at the games that came out on PSX not long after that... FFVII, Wild Arms, etc.... They went right back to doing things the old way. Wowzers. In FPS, when a new mechanic is introduced and well received, such as bullet time, cover mechanics, regenerating health, etc... it's implemented, improved and consider a base part of most FPS games after that. In this manners, FPS games have grown and evolved. FPS players don't want to play a remake of wolfenstien 3D or Doom because those games, while absolute classics, feel positively dated to to years of improvements to the genre. Now, they can't just totally copy cat.... if you keep making your FPS exactly the same way as your predecessors, people WILL become bored with what you're doing...so they keep adding more, and streamline those things that don't really work. I'd like to see JRPGs do the same thing.

    Please don't take my examples and say that there are plenty of JRPGs which do not run random battles, or keep the battles on the same screen/map (ala FF12). I understand that. The point is, these mechanics, which just about every JRPG person really like, are not the norm. We're still making a ton of JRPGs with things like random battles, breakaway screens, save points, etc.,etc, despite the fact that gamers have told us over and over that they don't prefer them. Imagine if FPS games today came out with health / armor bar system, no MP and no cover system. Imagine a 3D adventure/platformer without camera control, double jumping, and frequent saving. They would get a 5/10 and not sell! Yet things that CT totally hit on the head 15-20 years ago are totally being missed today in newer JRPGs...over and over. If we don't learn from history, we are doomed to repeat it.

    Think about those elements that really made games like DQIX, CT DS, and Persona 3/4 really fun and stand out.... which of those elements should become foundational to future JRPGs! Those things that don't contribute to a fun or solid game experience, even if its in these games (such as spread out save points...that's SOOO 1989), need to go. Speaking of save points.... New Super Mario Bros (which, admittedly, is going for a more 'retro' feel) basically only allows you to save at certain times. It's definitely more restrictive than any other modern platformer. While most of us LOVED that game, can any of you really say that they added to the entertainment value of the game? Would you like to see that implemented in the next Kirby or Mario Galaxy? Probably not. So why do we still have them in most modern JRPGs? Random battles? Shallow NPCs? Generic plots? No voice acting? Slow, turn based systems? These are all characteristics of early 90's JRPGs that really should have little to minimal role in modern JPRG gaming.

    Seriously. Street Fighter, Tetris, and the yearly iterations of licensed sport franchises are the kings of that one, followed by things like Pac-Man, the original Castlevania, and Gradius
    Twin, I love you to death...but you're seriously supporting my point. You've chosen example from genres (fighting, Puzzle, arcade) which are struggling, at best, because or their failure to move forward, build upon what really worked, and add some innovation. In a way, the fighting genre is a really great parallel to the JRPG one. And Sports? Aside from the fact that EA basically killed their competition with the whole licensing thing, they are a great example of building on the past. While they lack original IPs, you would almost never find a sports gaming fan playing a port or remake of Madden '98 :P He's way to used to the mechanics which have built into years of football gaming over the years. If the licensing thing ever reverted back, any new company coming onto the filed would have to create something built upon what has worked in modern sports games for the last few years, like Madden '07-10, rather than try to do a remake/port of the gameplay mechanics found in a football game from the late 90's.

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    Member Nightfox's Avatar
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    JC, I agree with your primary point actually; there are some outdated mechanics in common JRPGs that could easily be remedied, especially the save point systems. And yes we all know some games are exceptions, so I don't want to detract the debate by pointing them out.

    I would like to address one thing as a "lost innovation" and why we don't see it now as much as we should: I think the reason post-CT/PS1 era games reverted to the horrible "battle screen" system was a technical restraint. 3D was being pushed heavily by Sony (and most likely the market) at the time, and the PS1 was not that powerful of a machine to begin with. The poly count available between characters and environments was generally abyssmal without years of programming experience on the console. Chrono Trigger succeeded in creating a universal switch between exploration and battle because everything was drawn to the same scale, but immediately afterwards with the release of PS1, games had higher resolutions and 3D to contend with, with low video ram and poly counts to bring everything down. Wild Arms had 2D sprites for exploration, but for battles they switched to 3D models (and even those were pretty low poly), while FF7 had very low poly exploration character models, but in battles they wanted to show off the characters so the poly count was bumped up (they had more VRAM since the 2D bitmap environments were unloaded). Just some examples. The bridge between the SNES games which had high amounts of layered innovation got knocked down with the PS1 tech, but by the time console technology caught up to support the old innovations, they had been forgotten in favor of what made PS1 games popular during PS2 era games. Of course, as with all the examples we've brought up, there are exceptions, but not the rules.

    On topic, the only universal system I can think of that makes a game an RPG is the way it handles equipment/inventory management. As lame as that sounds, every time I think of something definitive that binds all games classified as RPGs, I keep remembering a counterpoint ;( Even this last one could include stuff like the Mega Man games, so there must be something more ephemeral that makes people accept what is and what is not an RPG, hehe. It may be simply a certain level of "RPG elements" that a game containts before it passes the threshold of being included in the genre.
    Last edited by Nightfox; 02-04-2011 at 03:20 PM.
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  17. #17
    Staff Healer RPGamer Staff TwinBahamut's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by jcservant View Post
    And, it's not really 'failure to innovate' as much as it's a failure to really build up, layer by layer, what worked in the past, the way other, more popular genres seem to do. I believe that this basic failure is exactly resulting in the lack of console JRPGs you mention. After all, developers will make, and publisher publish, what sells well....and if a genre stagnates, like the point & click adventure genre did, people stop buying.
    I think you are mistaken on associating the lack of Japanese console RPGs with the Japanese RPG market being unhealthy. Sure, there are much fewer RPGs on consoles these days. This is more related to the extreme rise in game development costs on HD consoles and the explosion of the portable gaming market in Japan than anything to do with an unhealthy RPG market. There are still a massive number of Japanese RPGs coming out, just not as major HD console releases. I'm pretty sure the total number of Japanese RPG releases still is far greater than the total number of western RPG releases.

    I can absolutely agree with this. I'm probalby not the person to do it, however. Sufficice to say, I know that many people say "If it's from Japan it's a JRPG." I believe that's too simplistic, however. If the development of Fallout 4 were outsourced to Atlus in Japan, and it played exactly like Fallout 3, I still do not believe that many RPGamers would stand by the claim that Fallout 4 is a JRPG. For the most part, I refer to RPGs which are characterized by mechanics and characteristics which are typically and traditionally found in the vast majority of JPRGs. This necessitates a certain acknowledgement that, just like the question "What is an RPG", what makes a JRPG is going to be somewhat subjective. It's that subjectiveness that makes some people uncomfortable, and want to fall back on the simpler, and objective measuring stick of "What comes out of Japan is a JRPG."
    I would prefer it if you didn't insinuate that your usage made me "uncomfortable," with the implication that this is some personal flaw on my part... At the very least, if you are going to comment on "mechanics and characteristics" common to the genre then you could at least try to mention what you think those are. Even if it is subjective, it makes the discussion go much better if I have an idea of what you mean by that.

    Let's take a couple of things that were, at least to me, ground breaking at the time. No random, screen breaking random battles, and the fact that battles took place in the actual world. These were improvement to the basic JRPG formula that just about every critic and gamer really loved. Yet, look at the games that came out on PSX not long after that... FFVII, Wild Arms, etc.... They went right back to doing things the old way. Wowzers. In FPS, when a new mechanic is introduced and well received, such as bullet time, cover mechanics, regenerating health, etc... it's implemented, improved and consider a base part of most FPS games after that. In this manners, FPS games have grown and evolved. FPS players don't want to play a remake of wolfenstien 3D or Doom because those games, while absolute classics, feel positively dated to to years of improvements to the genre. Now, they can't just totally copy cat.... if you keep making your FPS exactly the same way as your predecessors, people WILL become bored with what you're doing...so they keep adding more, and streamline those things that don't really work. I'd like to see JRPGs do the same thing.
    You really have been mistaking your personal preferences for absolute improvements here... Sure, the Chrono Trigger method of implementing random battles was unique and very fun. Would every RPG have been improved by that style? Absolutely not. Variety is a good thing, and Chrono Trigger's style doesn't work well for a wide variety of game types. Of course, you are also ignoring that countless games have used those innovations to better effect than Chrono Trigger did, and that many great games would have been absolutely worse if they followed those "innovations". Of course, there are countless other innovations and good ideas that have been carried forward frequently that you are ignoring, and many of those are more subtle important and

    Of course, I also think you are giving too much praise to the FPS genre (though many of the ideas you are talking about are more common for third person shooters than FPS games, so maybe you just mean shooters?). For one, you underestimate the fandom of older game styles. And of course, you're ignoring the very fact that many popular shooters completely ignore many of those innovations, and that many of the most popular shooters don't have them at all. There is also, of course, the common complaint that a genre so saturated with similar mechanics quickly becomes stagnant and stale, as meaningful variety becomes harder to find.

    Please don't take my examples and say that there are plenty of JRPGs which do not run random battles, or keep the battles on the same screen/map (ala FF12). I understand that. The point is, these mechanics, which just about every JRPG person really like, are not the norm. We're still making a ton of JRPGs with things like random battles, breakaway screens, save points, etc.,etc, despite the fact that gamers have told us over and over that they don't prefer them. Imagine if FPS games today came out with health / armor bar system, no MP and no cover system. Imagine a 3D adventure/platformer without camera control, double jumping, and frequent saving. They would get a 5/10 and not sell! Yet things that CT totally hit on the head 15-20 years ago are totally being missed today in newer JRPGs...over and over. If we don't learn from history, we are doomed to repeat it.
    First off, that would hardly be my counter argument. My counter argument is that nonrandom battle can easily be more obnoxious than random battles (dear god Romancing Saga...), breakaway battles not set in the main field are a wonderful thing if used well (hello TWEWY!), and that this whole idea that there is one true path RPGs should have walked down is little more than you expressing a personal preference (or maybe the preference of a particular group of friends you know). Despite your claims of "gamers telling us over and over" something, I simply don't see it. A certain group of gamers, maybe, but not the absolute total, and that is why variety is a good thing. And, of course, there are FPS games coming out with health/armor bar systems and no cover system (MAG, for one). Super Mario Galaxy has no real camera control and barely has a double jump at all (and I liked it better without one!). Of course, Mega Man 9 and 10 didn't have any of those either, and even though they reverted the series back to 1988, they still were considered to be good games and did pretty well for themselves.

    Think about those elements that really made games like DQIX, CT DS, and Persona 3/4 really fun and stand out.... which of those elements should become foundational to future JRPGs! Those things that don't contribute to a fun or solid game experience, even if its in these games (such as spread out save points...that's SOOO 1989), need to go. Speaking of save points.... New Super Mario Bros (which, admittedly, is going for a more 'retro' feel) basically only allows you to save at certain times. It's definitely more restrictive than any other modern platformer. While most of us LOVED that game, can any of you really say that they added to the entertainment value of the game? Would you like to see that implemented in the next Kirby or Mario Galaxy? Probably not. So why do we still have them in most modern JRPGs? Random battles? Shallow NPCs? Generic plots? No voice acting? Slow, turn based systems? These are all characteristics of early 90's JRPGs that really should have little to minimal role in modern JPRG gaming.
    Random battles are fine. Shallow NPCs and generic plots are as common in western RPGs as Japanese ones (or worse, in my opinion), and are a sign of bad games rather than a flaw of the genre as a whole. No voice acting is a matter of budget, and has very little bearing on either progress or absolute quality (and most japanese RPGs have prolific voice acting anyways!). And honestly, I'd take "slow, turn based" battle systems over the clunky, shallow, and uninspired drivel of many western RPG battle systems in a heartbeat. Heck, FFX itself proves that turn-based can be an innovation compared to real time battle systems. I might as well say I have no complaints about traditional save points, either.

    Of course, I think it also worth mentioning that Dragon Quest IX, Chrono Trigger, and Persona 3 are all very fun in ways that completely contradict each other. You can't just fuse them all together and expect to hold on to any of their true innovations at all. Good games come from the whole being greater than the sum of its parts, using the right tools and mechanics to create a particular good experience.

    Twin, I love you to death...but you're seriously supporting my point. You've chosen example from genres (fighting, Puzzle, arcade) which are struggling, at best, because or their failure to move forward, build upon what really worked, and add some innovation. In a way, the fighting genre is a really great parallel to the JRPG one.
    The fighting genre is currently going through a renaissance of new games, great ideas, and totally different experiences. Games like Smash Bros. Brawl, Street Fighter IV, MvC3, BlazBlue, and countless others are doing pretty well for themselves and bringing a great deal of quality and variety to the table. It may be a niche genre, but it is quite healthy right now, and certainly has its share of innovation and change. The same can be said for many of the others.

    Finally, it is worth noting that you have yet to prove the key elements of your argument, that japanese RPGs are stagnant in comparison to western RPGs. To be honest, I don't see it. Considering that western RPGs are relying more and more on copying elements from other genres (particularly shooters) and are filled with a noticeable lack of variety (BioWare can't seem to imagine classes other than Warriors, Mages, and Rogues, even in Mass Effect), I wonder how they are "building upon the past" in a significant way. I simply don't see it at all.

  18. #18
    Member chaoticprime's Avatar
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    I have a Nintendo published book from 1987 where they distinguish The Legend of Zelda as an Adventure game and Dragon Warrior as an RPG.

    No XP--no RPG.

  19. #19
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    Before I point out games that are obviously RPGs but don't have XP, the main reason I can't agree with the XP definition, because now we're including several games that aren't considered RPGs by sheer common sense. XP has become such a commonly used tool for balancing a game now, all genres have used it in some form or another and we're going to be seeing even more of that. When you consider how games use XP, it is not much different than a Score, and any level ups or power ups are just rewards for reaching the set score numbers. XP may be a big factor, but using it as the only factor is going to cause a lot of mistakes. This topic has never been black and white.

    That Nintendo book is old. I've had it, I still have my NP Final Fantasy strategy guide though for laughs. I have been gaming since the Odyssey 2, and first of all, definitions change, even the dictionary changes. There are tabletop RPG players that could look at our definitions of console and PC RPG games and laugh, wondering what we're smoking. Ultima Online had no XP at all, just raising skills, the tabletop counterpart was Cyberpunk 2.0, just off the top of my head - they were balanced by not letting you have too many total skill points and limiting how much you could learn at once. If anyone tried telling me either of these weren't RPGs, well, I'd politely nod and let them go on their way.

    Of course, I'm starting to believe that RPG means different things to different people based on personal experience over time, so maybe there really is no answer. Being told a game is an RPG and then having people say it's not because it doesn't have X element while others are more than happy to dive in to it is really telling of that - everyone wants to know what to expect when they see that label, but no one wants to be wrong.

    RPGs to me are just an abstraction layer over a simulation/strategy/fps/anything game. When I buy an RPG, I know there's going to be some sort of system that lets me build my character in arbitrary ways to overcome any challenge in the game, regardless of my personal playing skill, whether it be gaining levels, raising skills, finding better equipment, crafting, or anything really. It doesn't HAVE to be XP though, and since RPGs were made, several different systems, both tabletop and console/PC, have found other methods.
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  20. #20
    Certified Polygameist RPGamer Staff jcservant's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by chaoticprime View Post
    I have a Nintendo published book from 1987 where they distinguish The Legend of Zelda as an Adventure game and Dragon Warrior as an RPG.

    No XP--no RPG.
    And Zelda 2 and Castlevania 2?

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