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A console role-playing game is a video game genre that has its origin rooted in video game consoles and includes game mechanics and, frequently, settings derived from those of traditional role-playing games. The term also applies to role-playing video games on handheld video game system, such as the Nintendo DS and PSP.


For historical, cultural, and hardware-related reasons, console role-playing games have evolved a very different set of features that mark them distinct from other electronic RPGs. Because the vast majority of CRPGs originate in Eastern Asia, particularly Japanmarker, CRPGs are often referred to as Japanese role-playing games or JRPGs (although there are non-Japanese console role-playing games in existence).

A role-playing game on a computer may be marked as a "console-style RPG" by the gaming community if its gameplay and design philosophy is similar to that of most console role-playing games. Examples of such games that actively pursued an Eastern style of RPGs include Anachronox and Septerra Core.

The categorization between console and computer role-playing games is sometimes ambiguous for cross-platform games such as the Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic series, or for games that are ported from one format to another, such as the Ultima series, the Wizardry series, Eye of the Beholder or Final Fantasy. In the case of Final Fantasy however, since it is arguably the most popular (in terms of sales) Japanese RPG series, this should only include the MMO-inspired Final Fantasy XI.


Most CRPGs place a strong emphasis on storyline-driven arc and character development, with the payoff almost always based on storytelling instead of experiencing a more dynamic world via nonlinear gameplay.

In CRPGs, overall character competence or power is often represented by a statistic called a "level". Typically, characters raise their level by gaining experience through combat or by performing other actions. When the experience reaches a certain number, they gain a level, enabling them to attain greater attributes, abilities, and spells. In the process of gaining these levels characters may gain more useful types of equipment, such as weapons and armor.

Unlike most computer role-playing games, at the beginning of a console role-playing game the player is usually not given the option of customizing a character or making decisions on his/her nature or background. Instead, he/she is offered one or more predefined characters to play as for the rest of the game.

Attributes commonly represented as statistics in console RPGs include Hit Points, Magic Pointsmarker, Strength, Defense, and Speed, alongside other characteristics which typically correspond to the ways in which the game expands on the average CRPG formula.


A CRPG often provides several different layers of travel in the form of localized maps in buildings, towns, or dungeons, as well as an overworld with a world map, often used for traveling between countries, continents, or planets. At the beginning of the game, obstacles on the world map such as mountains, rivers, and deserts may prohibit the player from visiting an area until the player has obtained appropriate skills or vehicles. Many CRPGs eventually allow the player rapid movement within the overworld, using such methods as riding, flying, sailing, or teleporting to previous locations. For some games, the player never actually travels on the world map, but rather selects an adjacent location, which repositions the player to that location.


A CRPG plot is often crafted in an intricate fashion into a highly dramatic, strictly directed and linear construct, relying on the viewer to experience most of its twists and turns at predetermined specific times and certain ways. In this sense, a CRPG's execution is quite akin to that of a movie or a novel, using scripted sequences.

Few games in the genre offer branching plots, though some titles such as Final Fantasy VII and Tales of Symphonia do feature alternate storylines depending on the player's conversational choices regarding characters in his party. Other games such as Chrono Trigger and Chrono Cross were notable for offering a multitude of decidedly different endings. Another example is the Knights of the Old Republic games, which have both Light and Dark Side endings. Another Square Enix game, Star Ocean 2, has over 100 different endings depending on the player's choices in anything from conversation to how you treat people.

Console RPG plots tend to resemble anime or manga adventures, often colorful and bright with light-hearted, self-identifiable characters. The storyline in these games usually involves an epic battle between the forces of good and evil, with the player's characters fighting on the good side to avert an apocalypse.


Console RPGs are typically set in fictional worlds, which the hero then explores and ultimately saves throughout the course of the game. In most cases (especially in early CRPGs) the game takes place in a medieval fantasy setting, and feature common elements such as combat with mythological monsters, such as dragons, magic for the characters to learn, and kingdoms to save or conquer. Other settings include but are not limited to steampunk, science fiction and post-apocalyptic, or a combination of these and other sub-genres. Exceptions include the Shadow Hearts series, which takes place in the early 20th century, the Shin Megami Tensei series, which mostly takes place in modern Japanmarker, and the EarthBound series, which, being parodies of the genre, take place in the late 20th century.


Much like traditional adventure games, most RPG gameplay is built around quest structures. The player is typically required to go through a series of challenges shared from pen-and-paper RPGs, such as clearing a dungeon of monsters, defeating an evil boss, or rescuing a princess. To do these tasks, one might be required to talk to an NPC to receive the quest. Other missions may include engaging in dialogue, item fetch quests, or locational puzzles, such as opening a locked door by means of a key or hidden lever.

The bulk of most CRPG gameplay is in combat with AI monsters. Traditionally, most games feature turn-based battles, though several series feature real-time fighting (such as Square Enix's Final Fantasy Adventure series and Namco's Tales series). Active Time Battle and Conditional Turn-Based Battle System are examples of popular turn-based systems. There are other hybrid battle systems where the player can affect the outcome of battle through reflex timing. Examples of hybrid battle systems can be found in the games The Legend of Dragoon, Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga, Paper Mario and Shadow Hearts.

Combat in CRPGs is often heavily abstracted in comparison to other video games. Player actions, such as attack or defend, are chosen through a series of menus. The results of a battle are regulated through statistical probabilities based on the characteristics of the opponents, such as a sword's strength level rolling against the armor class of an enemy monster. Combat in tactical RPGs is more closely related to that of traditional wargames. Combat in action RPGs is based on the reflexes and quickness of the player.

Strategizing also plays a larger role than in most video game battles. Nearly every CRPG has the player controlling a party consisting of several characters, each with unique abilities, and managing each character's powers and deciding when and where to use these resources adds to the complexity.

The majority of battles in traditional CRPGs are generated from random encounters. In modern titles, combats are increasingly becoming scripted with persistent monsters other than the requisite boss monsters.

Console RPGs are famous for their inclusion of "minigames," usually small puzzle or arcade games embedded within the main game itself to provide brief diversions and moments of relief from the main plot. Minigames may also be used to advance the plot or complete a quest. In Knights of the Old Republic II, the protagonist may free a Twi'lek slave by winning a game of Pazaak, while in Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga, the player must score in a Yoshi's Cookie-inspired crate pushing game to clear an area.

Notably, early games such as Dragon Warrior forced the player to repeatedly fight monsters unnecessary for completing the storyline in order to level up their character(s) to a point where the next challenge can be overcome, a process typically called level grinding. Though grinding persists as a way to obtain powerful characters or items earlier in the game than is intended, CRPGs have gotten easier, partially in order to appeal to a larger audience. This has led to criticism by fans and detractors of the genre alike. Others contend that video games as a whole have gotten easier along a roughly similar timeline. However, later in the development of the CRPG genre, games have often balanced these easy segments with the inclusion of optional and challenging boss battles and puzzles to appease more seasoned gamers. Some examples include the battle with Emerald Weapon from Final Fantasy VII, Omega Weapon from Final Fantasy VIII, and the Crossbone Island challenge from Golden Sun. In these cases, the battles are typically more challenging than the game's true storyline-based ending.



The earliest RPG on a console was Dragonstomper (1982) on the Atari 2600. The computer role-playing game, Black Onyx (1984), would later be cited as the inspiration for Chunsoft to create the 1986 NES title Dragon Quest, called Dragon Warrior in North America (the series would retain that name until the eighth game), regarded as the starting point for the console role-playing game genre. It borrowed heavily from Black Onyx, which in turn was inspired by Ultima; for example, saving must be done by speaking to the king, and in order to rest and get healed, the characters must visit the king or stay the night at an inn. The combat style was borrowed from the Wizardry series of computer RPGs, and its medieval setting is also reminiscent of Ultima. Some of the major differences were the anime-style art by Akira Toriyama and the top-down view in dungeons, in contrast to the first-person view used for dungeons in earlier computer RPGs. It also featured elements still found in most console RPGs: "upgradable weapons and armor, major quests interwoven with minor subquests, hit points and magic points," and an incremental spell system. Dragon Quest did not reach North America until 1989, when it was released as Dragon Warrior, the first NES RPG to be released in North America and thus one of the major influences on early CRPG development. The release of Dragon Quest was followed shortly by NES ports of the computer RPGs Wizardry and Ultima III.

In 1987, the genre came into its own with the release of several highly influential console RPGs distinguishing themselves from computer RPGs. Shigeru Miyamoto's Zelda II: The Adventure of Link for the Famicom Disk System was one of the earliest action role-playing games, combining the action-adventure game framework of its predecessor The Legend of Zelda with the statistical elements of turn-based RPGs. Faxanadu was another early action RPG for the NES, released as a side-story to the computer action RPG Dragon Slayer II: Xanadu. Atlus' Digital Devil Story: Megami Tensei for the NES was the first RPG to abandon the common medieval fantasy setting and sword and sorcery theme in favour of a modern science fiction setting and cyberpunk theme. Its demon-summoning system, which allowed the player to recruit enemies into their party, was the earliest example of monster-breeding in a game. Sega's original Phantasy Star for the Master System established a number of genre conventions, with its "strong plot that involved quest for revenge and corruption by power, background stories for party members, individual spells that required magic points," and combined fantasy & science fiction setting. Another console RPG at the time to depart from the common medieval European-based setting was The Magic of Scheherazade, which was instead based on Arabic culture and the One Thousand and One Nights. Square's original Final Fantasy for the NES introduced a unique experimental character creation system that allowed the player to create their own parties and assign different character classes to party members. It also introduced the concept of time travel in video games; side-view battles, with the player characters on the right and the enemies on the left, which soon became the norm for numerous console RPGs; and the use of transportation for travel, "by ship, canoe, and even flying airship." Some of these games proved popular and went on to spawn their own influential RPG franchises, namely the Megami Tensei, Phantasy Star and Final Fantasy series. In particular, the Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest series remain popular today, Final Fantasy more so in the West and Dragon Quest more so in Japanmarker.

In 1988, Dragon Quest III introduced a character progression system allowing the player to change the party's character classes during the course of the game. Another "major innovation was the introduction of day/night cycles; certain items, characters, and quests are only accessible at certain times of day." Its contemporary, Final Fantasy II, is considered "the first true Final Fantasy game", introducing an "emotional story line, morally ambiguous characters, tragic events," and a story to be "emotionally experienced rather than concluded from gameplay and conversations." It also replaced traditional levels and experience points with "gradual development of individual statistics through continuous actions of the same kind."

In 1989, Phantasy Star II for the Genesis established many conventions of the genre, including an epic, dramatic, character-driven storyline dealing with serious themes and subject matter, and a strategy-based battle system. Tengai Makyō released for the PC Engine CD that same year was ahead of its time, being the first RPG released on CD-ROM and the first game featuring animated cut scenes and voice acting. It was also the first RPG to be set in feudal Japan and the first to feature humour. Capcom's Sweet Home for the NES introduced a moden Japanese horror theme and laid the foundations for the survival horror genre, later serving as the main inspiration for Resident Evil (1996).


The console RPG genre distinguished itself from computer RPGs to a much greater degree in the early 1990s. In 1990, Dragon Quest IV introduced a new method of storytelling: segmenting the plot into segregated chapters. It also placed a greater emphasis on characterization, with each chapter of the game dedicated to a particular character's background story. Its contemporary, Final Fantasy III, introduced the classic "job system", a character progression engine allowing the player to change a character's class, as well as acquire new and advanced classes and combine class abilities, during the course of the game. The first RPGs to be set in a post-apocalyptic future were also released that year: Digital Devil Story: Megami Tensei II and Crystalis. That same year also saw the release of Nintendo's Fire Emblem: Ankoku Ryū to Hikari no Tsurugi, the first tactical role-playing game and the first entry in the Fire Emblem series. Meanwhile, Koei's Bandit Kings of Ancient China was the first attempt at combining the RPG and management simulation genres.

In 1991, Final Fantasy Adventure, the first in the Mana series, introduced the ability to kill townspeople, something that most RPGs still lack today. The most important RPG that year, however, was Final Fantasy IV, one of the first role-playing games to feature a complex, involving plot, placing a much greater emphasis on character development and personal relationships, and pioneering "the whole concept of dramatic storytelling in an RPG." It also introduced a new battle system: the "Active Time Battle" system, developed by Hiroyuki Itō, where the time-keeping system does not stop. Square Co. filed a United States patent application for the ATB system on March 16, 1992, under the title "Video game apparatus, method and device for controlling same" and was awarded the patent on February 21, 1995. On the battle screen, each character has an ATB meter that gradually fills, and the player is allowed to issue a command to that character once the meter is full. The fact that enemies can attack or be attacked at any time is credited with injecting urgency and excitement into the combat system.

Both the "job system" and the ATB system were fully developed in Final Fantasy V in 1992 and continued to be used in later Final Fantasy games as well as other Square games such as Chrono Trigger (1995), which, along with Final Fantasy VI (1994), also helped move console RPGs away from the typical medieval setting, with Final Fantasy VI being set in a steampunk environment and Chrono Trigger taking place in several different time periods. Chrono Trigger also introduced the concept of New Game+, though this game mode has its origins in the original Legend of Zelda. Meanwhile, Square's Secret of Mana (1993), the second in the Mana series, further advanced the action RPG subgenre with its introduction of cooperative multiplayer into the genre. Another console RPG by Squaresoft, Live A Live, released for the Super Famicom in Japan, was the first RPG to feature stealth game elements. The game's ninja chapter required the player to infiltrate a castle, rewarding the player if the entire chapter can be completed without engaging in combat.

The next major revolution came in the late 1990s, which saw the rise of optical disks in fifth generation consoles. The implications for RPGs were enormous—longer, more involved quests, better audio, and full-motion video. This was first clearly demonstrated by Final Fantasy VII (1997), which was much longer than previous RPGs, featured dozens of minigames, and for the first time seamlessly blended full-motion video into the gameplay. The explosion of Final Fantasy VII's sales and the ascendance of the PlayStation were proof of this and represented the dawning of a new era of RPGs. Backed by a clever marketing campaign, Final Fantasy VII brought the first taste of CRPGs to many of the new gamers brought in by the PlayStation gaming console. The extensive use of cinematics has since become one of the genre's trademarks.

Subsequently, CRPGs, previously a niche genre outside of Japan, skyrocketed in popularity across the world. The period also saw the rise of monster-breeding RPGs which, although originating from the Megami Tensei series and Dragon Quest V (1992), was further advanced and popularized by Pokémon in the late 1990s.

In 1997, a new Internet fad began, influenced by the popularization of console RPGs. A large group of young programmers and aficionados began creating and sharing independent CRPG games, emulating the gameplay and style of the older SNES and Mega Drive games. The majority of such games owe their achievement to simplistic software development kits such as the Japanese RPG Maker series.



The best-selling CRPG series worldwide is Pokémon. It has sold over 186 million units as of April 2008. The second and third best-selling series worldwide are Square Enix's Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest series, respectively. As of July 7, 2008, Final Fantasy has sold 85 million units, while Dragon Quest has sold over 45 million units.

See also


  1. )
  2. The Greatest Games of All Time: Phantasy Star II, GameSpot
  3. Final Fantasy III Official Website. Square Enix. Retrieved February 17, 2007.

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