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The RPG is dead! Long live the RPG!

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Arizona Cardinals' Larry Fitzgerald has an Acceleration rating of 89, which means he's fast, but not as fast as the Texans' Andre Johnson, who clocks in at 93. Despite this five point discrepancy, the two wide receivers share the same overall rating, mainly because when it comes to Awareness--an important trait for a professional athlete whose job it is to be aware of his surroundings--Fitzgerald is ranked higher than Johnson. Awareness and Speed are just two of the 45 statistics every one of the 2368 players in Madden NFL 13 are rated on.

These stats might as well be Initiative and Perception, two checks D&D gamers know all too well. And Madden's not the only not-even-remotely-RPG release to co-opt defining characteristics of the role-playing genre. Take a look at Call of Duty: Black Ops II, where players earn experience for kills and level up, unlocking new abilities and weapons. Or what about Darksiders, and its use of loot and leveling? Getting a new armor upgrade in Dead Space isn’t really all that different from equipping a +3 suit of plate mail, is it?

When we met to discuss our Game of the Year awards and landed on the role-playing game category we realized that, technically, nearly every game that came out this year qualified. Far Cry 3 contains experience, loot, skills, abilities, and crafting. Dishonored is full of story elements we typically associate with role-playing games (not to mention loot, skills, abilities, and so on). Heck, look at the strategy-centric XCOM, a game so entrenched in RPG mores that we couldn't help but actually categorize it as an RPG. It might as well be Dungeons & Dragons: Alien Defense Edition.

That opens up another point. The games we actually included in our RPG of the year section were also almost entirely hybrids. Mass Effect 3 has as much to do with shooters as it does epic storylines. Guild Wars has loot in abundance, but the combat is as engaging as any action game. Paper Mario is a hilariously well-written platformer. And, again, XCOM, where your squad can be leveled up and equipped with items, and combat is filled with modifiers and terrain rules that eventually boil down to a roll of the die.

And it’s weird, because just as the number of games with RPG elements rise, the number of “true” RPGs is dwindling--and also becoming less convincing. Final Fantasy XIII-2 was lauded by many, but it still didn’t win over anyone jaded by the new direction of the series. Or look at the much-anticipated Diablo III, whose successes were overshadowed by a cocktail of technical issues and a large step away from the stat-heavy gameplay of the series' past. And that's to say nothing of its lack of innovation--or even iteration--on Diablo II's gameplay.

In fact, some of the best true RPGs to come out this year are actually remakes or localizations from years past. Why are so few RPGs in development? How is it that the best-selling games of the year can include huge RPG elements while actual RPGs are struggling to even get made?

But that's exactly the reason. RPGs are dying because, at this point, everything is an RPG. The basic, boilerplate, turn-based RPG is largely a thing of the past because developers have discovered that the things most people love about them--leveling, loot, compelling stories, and the like--can be transplanted into other genres with great success. If anything, RPG systems operate better as a complement to other genres. Sure, you’ll still get occasional Pokemon and Final Fantasy games that’ll remind you of afternoons spent grinding against random encounters, but the days of developers throwing $50 million into a turn-based game? They’re pretty much over.

While I'm sad to see traditional RPGs fade into obscurity, I'm happy to see how much more influential its become. The genre hasn't really gone away, but splintered off, enhancing almost every major game released every year. Next year's BioShock Infinite has numbers flying off the heads of shot enemies, and Tomb Raider includes some elements that, 15 years ago, wouldn't have typically been found in western action games.

Now every game you play, regardless of genre, is built with the same framework that made Final Fantasy so popular for the NES. Developers of shooters have realized that the satisfaction of a headshot is amplified by a “Level up!” notification. Adventure game developers have admitted that there’s more reward in equipping a newly-looted item than simply being handed one by a boss’s death. Even the crews responsible for creating sports games approach players with the same mindset that you take with you when rolling up a new Dungeons & Dragon character. RPGs haven’t lost, they've taken over. They've won.

You know that kid at parties who talks too much? Drink in hand, way too enthusiastic, ponderously well-educated in topics no one in their right mind should know about? Loud? Well, that kid’s occasionally us. GR Editorials is a semi-regular feature where we share our informed insights on the news at hand. Sharp, funny, and finger-on-the-pulse, it’s the information you need to know even when you don’t know you need it.

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36 comments

  • vbsnowsurf - December 19, 2012 7:01 p.m.

    Developers have traded great story telling for beautiful graphics. This trade-off has hurt the RPG the most. It doesn't have to look great to be a great game, story goes such a long-way and developers have lost that pulse on the market...
  • jackxxx123456789 - December 18, 2012 1:55 p.m.

    The problem is entirely on the side of the developers who have failed to develop anything worthy in the past ten years. The last good single player campaign fantasy RPG was Neverwinter Nights and Hordes of the Underdark developed by Bioware. If someone could create a solid fantasy single player campaign world and epic story like that using the modern technology available today they would have something. The most important quality I look for in a game? REPLAYABILITY!!! Replayability means you want to go through the same story again and again using a different class and race because you like the story and find it fun to try to do it a little differently over and over again. Very very rare to find such a thing anymore.
  • TheDudeFromNowhere - December 17, 2012 12:44 a.m.

    The last "RPG" I played was Lost Odyssey. RPG to me has always been about turned based game and its lovable characters and engaging story. Everything else seems to be a "hybrid" of RPG and other genres. Not that its a bad thing. I just miss the feeling of playing an epic turn based game.
  • ultimatepunchrod - December 16, 2012 11:35 a.m.

    It started way back in DMC With that HALF DE-MON DANTE! That was my pathetic attempt to mimic the Beastie Boys' "Paul Revere". Anyway, I really like RPG elements, and people like to give Diablo 3 a lot of crap, but for me, it made the case that more traditional RPGs can still be awesome.
  • jackthemenace - December 16, 2012 9:11 a.m.

    I'm fairly happy with the inclusion of RPG elements in modern games, but to an extent- that is, if they do it, I want them to do it right. Like with Dishonoured, for instance; I get that there was levelling up, but it was minimal- one additional level for each power? Bleh. And I know that there were only so many Runes, but still, you'd think if they were gonna include it, they'd do it WELL. That said, I do still like the traditional old-style RPG. It's just a shame that Final Fantasy, the last real bastion besides Pokemon, is straying so far from it's roots in attempts at modernisation and evolution, and that Pokemon's only good for so long; they aren't exactly long, and there are only so many times one can replay the same region before it gets dull. I'd be seriously happy if a developer did, just once- for kicks or nostalgia, whichever- make a proper turn based RPG. In fact, I'd love to play one made my Double Fine, with their unique brand of humour.
  • kezins - December 16, 2012 7:43 a.m.

    There have been some really good RPGs this generation, but it's definitely a dying genre. I think the American fascination with first person shooters is to blame. I don't think RPGs will go away anytime soon, but it will become rarer to find good ones.
  • MetroidPrimeRib - December 15, 2012 5:31 p.m.

    The worst thing about this gen is EVERY GAME NEEDING RPG ELEMENTS HOLY SHIT STOP IT
  • jivecom - December 15, 2012 10:12 p.m.

    I agree with this. I don't need to level up my crafting stat in a game about driving commercial trucks. Either commit to making an rpg, or commit to the fact that your game is not an rpg. If you idiots really want to pull this shit, then just make the things you want to be "skills" difficult things to do (or don't even bother), and magically, behind the scenes I as a player will get better at doing those things without needing one goddamn menu because people get better at stuff through practice whether it's a tracked stat or not
  • MetroidPrimeRib - December 16, 2012 12:15 p.m.

    The games that most people think of as games that require skill (CSS, Street Fighter, StarCraft, Quake) don't even have RPG elements besides maybe rank ups and stat tracking.
  • RonnyLive19881 - December 15, 2012 9:07 a.m.

    DS is full of great RPG's and the 3DS will follow the same tradition! I hope developers will see the genius behind the Wii U's game pad and turn it into a damn good RPG machine too!
  • RonnyLive19881 - December 15, 2012 9:10 a.m.

    I'd love to see the FFX HD port make it to the Wii U! Think... using to screen to manage the Sphere grid or switch characters mid battle with out shifting. Heck changing weapons and armor would be cool too, never having to pause, main game going on the TV and messing with the menu on the fly with out interruption if you like.
  • RonnyLive19881 - December 15, 2012 9:11 a.m.

    I now really want to see an Xenoblade and FFXII port to the system after thinking about it...
  • Clovin64 - December 15, 2012 5:25 a.m.

    While I appreciate the RPG elements included in different genres, I still hope we will continue to see pure RPGs. Seems like many RPGs I've played this gen felt more like action games with dialogue trees and lite RPG elements (I'm looking at you Mass Effect 3!).
  • nintendo365 - December 15, 2012 3:44 a.m.

    I think that JRPGs can make a comeback, but first they need to change up the formula. I dont mean to become an FPS, but swap some story elements around. Im tired of havin my village destroyed or have my wife killed, or friend kidnapped. Lets get some realisim in there and see what happens. But even after that, they need to focus on more than the battle system. That was FFXIII and XIII-2s problem. They thought people wanted a new coombat system and that would cover the shitty platforming and repetitive long ass CG cutscenes. Seriously, 60% of cutscenes were Snow crying over or remembering Serah, 30% was Hope being a wuss 5% Lightning being a badass and 5% other stuff. But I digress, If JRPGs can make a change and become more than an RPG, I think the glory of the 90s can be restored. If Jean Jackets can make a comeback, so can JRPGs
  • 2weekrental - December 14, 2012 11:19 p.m.

    So many fond memories for the PSX RPG era. A golden time in my youth.
  • lancevance821 - December 14, 2012 10:31 p.m.

    I feel that every game is putting rpg elements in it just to keep people playing. So trophy whores can reach level 100. I feel that xenoblade chronicles and the last story are my hope that rpgs will never die. With ni no kuni coming out lets hope so. and by the way fallout and mass efect are NOT rpgs. Those are scifi shooters with rpg elements.
  • Eternalenki - December 15, 2012 4:17 a.m.

    I think fallout is more of an RPG than a shooter. It does more than just add levels and a skill tree, it has all the necessary elements for a real time RPG and pulls it off in a similar way. While it does have what typical shooters have to emulate RPGs, loot, perks, and guns, It also adds more RPG exclusive elements like free-roaming maps and the ability to master skill attributes. The only truly shooter elements happen to be the V.A.T.S. and the weaponry from what I can see.
  • GoldenEagle1476 - December 15, 2012 8:04 a.m.

    Fallout is definitly an rpg. Even the first Mass Effect was an rpg. The second Mass Effect was kind of pushing it, and then 3 broke entirely with the genre and turned into a shooter.
  • Bloodstorm - December 15, 2012 8:28 a.m.

    ME3 had more RPG element in it than 2 did. 2 had a severly gimped skill tree. As long as you didn't play ME3 in the theatrical mode or whatever they called it, that made all the decisions for you like a cut scene, ME3 had a better and more satisfying level progression system and skill tree, while also making the shooting aspects of it way more satisfying.

Showing 1-20 of 36 comments

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