In the video game industry, there are dozens of genres that categorize what kind of experience a player can expect from a game. The selection ranges from countless sports games to the exciting action-adventure setting, and we as gamers develop preferences by exploring various titles and recognizing what grabs our attention. Presently, most of us who play video games regularly know what we like, and what we don’t care for.

Personally, I have always enjoyed adventuring through a highly developed story in what are known as role-playing games, or RPGs. Although there isn’t a right or wrong answer to what the best video game genre is, I stand tall and proud behind RPGs for countless reasons. For me, they’ve continued to surpass every other category throughout the years.

Let’s begin with a little history lesson. Back in the early 1970s, Dungeons and Dragons was published, claiming the distinction of the first commercial RPG. Released as a tabletop game, Dungeons and Dragons introduced what is standard in most modern RPGs, including abilities, monsters, levels, and armor classes. Sound familiar? Other fantasy games succeeded this innovative experience, some of which transparently mirrored all that Dungeons and Dragons came to be: nothing short of awesome. About ten years after its release, video game developers realized how popular RPGs were and imitated their general mechanics, transferring them to early computer systems. Thus began the revolution of RPG video games.

So what is it that makes RPGs so kickass?

RPGs typically revolve around a hero, and everybody loves a hero. There’s something revitalizing about walking in the virtual shoes of a protagonist whose ideal mission is to save the world from domination. Maybe it’s because we romanticize the idea of being a savior and changing the world. Or maybe we even identify with them on a personal level. Despite the reason, we can never get enough of the hero’s badass disposition.

Sometimes this hero is either a set character or can be modified to one’s personal taste. Regardless, this hero is meant to lead its players through one hell of an expansive and captivating journey with a variety of twists and turns. It’s like playing a riveting novel, but experiencing everything through your own hands with your eyes fixated on a computer or television screen.

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Many RPGs have a set storyline. There may be some character choice, but nothing that would substantially rework the core plot. An example of this is the Final Fantasy franchise. Many have come to adore Final Fantasy due to the memorable and diverse cast of characters, their rich backgrounds, and of course, the love story that is embedded in each game. I mean, who doesn’t adore Tidus and Yuna? They’re quite the lovable dynamic duo.

In Final Fantasy X, Tidus is instantly drawn to the innocence and purity that Yuna radiates. He can’t help but fall in love with how compassionate she is, even with those who don’t deserve much sympathy. Tidus, on the other hand, is lost and seemingly out of place, but finds serenity in the company of Yuna. Throughout the incredible journey of FFX, they reveal their personal thoughts to one another and inevitably fall in love. Even though Tidus’s laugh is horrendous, it’s nice that Yuna can look past his minor flaws.

In retrospect, RPGs that have varying storylines based on player input are usually the most inventive. Such games revolve around character choice, which can be incredibly exciting. Throughout these journeys, players can frequently personalize their character, and decide whether or not they’ll be good or evil.

In more complex RPGs, character choice doesn’t strictly land on a black or white scale. Other actions can determine the integrity of their character, creating a morally grey area. For example, Divinity: Original Sin begins by solving the murder of a town councilor. Divinity offers opportunities for players to break into someone’s home to acquire a key item to unveil truths behind the murder. Sure, doing so may bring bad karma upon your character, but at least you know who committed the crime.

The trilogy of Mass Effect is a prime example of character choice. It’s pretty amazing, because you can periodically choose who lives and dies, how Commander Shepard responds, who he/she falls in love with, and so much more. Considering I was always a female Shepard, Kaidan was the love of my life in the Mass Effect trilogy. You get to know these varied characters through numerous interactions. As silly as it may seem, you create a virtual relationship and become attached to them based on how you respond. For example, during the first installment of Mass Effect, the fate of Wrex is determined by choices previously made. It’s a brilliant system and it is undeniably captivating.

Mass Effect was so treasured that when Mass Effect 3 concluded in a way that wasn’t satisfactory to its fans, people began saving up money and starting petitions demanding BioWare change the ending. Though BioWare didn’t modify it much, they did end up releasing an extended version of Mass Effect 3’s ending explaining some questions that were left unanswered. Though fans didn’t exactly get what they wanted, it was something. It set a good chunk of my sadness to rest. Mass Effect 3 just goes to show how devoted players are to these extraordinary and well-developed stories.

Of course I was one of the many who was disappointed by how BioWare decided to wrap up Commander Shepard’s story. I spent an embarrassing amount of hours with my protagonist only for her to perish in the end? Come on. Though it was bittersweet, it made my heart hurt. I must admit though, it sure ended with a bang.

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Additionally, many RPGs present a numerous (if not an infinite) amount of side quests. Side quests are an excellent addition to already extensive plots, giving RPGs a significant amount of replay value. Of course, in cases such as Dragon Age: Inquisition, many side quests were, dare I say…boring? It’s a hit and miss, for there are side quests that are utterly pointless and add nothing of significance to the core plot.

Additionally, side quests can offer extra content such as backstories of secondary characters. In Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, players have the option to explore the history of each party member. Generally, this depends on the conversations that are exchanged and whether or not the main character responds positively or negatively. For instance, if you earn Carth Onasi’s trust, you learn his son has been admitted to the Sith Academy. Once you and your party stumble upon that area, you can choose to use evidence scattered throughout the academy to prove to Carth’s son that the Sith are pure evil. He then flees the scene and assures Carth he’s going to change his way of life.

I must admit though, it’s a lot of fun joining the dark side.

Not only do RPGs offer stimulating stories and lovable characters, they also present unique combat systems, imaginative crafting capabilities, and comprehensive methods to level up characters. For example, in The Witcher 3 crafting has become an addiction for many players, more-so than following the story of Geralt and his multiple lovers, ahem.

Overall, there is nothing quite like following the rapid character growth of Cloud Strife in Final Fantasy VII or voyaging through a beautiful open fantasy world in Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. Role-playing games present us with a compelling story that steals us from reality and tugs at our heart strings. Almost every RPG I have sunken into has made me fall in love with dynamic characters and their growing relationships with one another. Role-playing games are like visiting an alternate reality, but in the most perfect way.

  • nox

    ..

  • DaveyD

    If you like RPGs with choices with consequences, I’d highly recommend Age of Decadence. Literally every choice you make matters (including what class your character is). And the side quests are arguably more interesting than the main quest.

    Also recommend Dead State, Wasteland 2, Expeditions Conquistador, and Shadowrun: Dragonfall (or Hong Kong) for great recent RPGs with some C&C.

    And don’t forget the classics like Fallout 1 & 2, and almost everything developed by SSI.

    • revanbh

      I’d also just like to add Arcanum, VTM: Bloodlines, Planescape: Torment etc. There are of course a lot more great RPGs, but these are off the top of my head.

  • Zloth

    There’s a big one missing: exploration. That was a really big deal in Dragon Age: Inquisition! I don’t really remember any dull quests but I really loved exploring all over those huge zones. I’m guessing some of those non-storyline quests were there to encourage people to go explore the whole map.