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Role-playing shooter (RPS) is an umbrella term covering video games that have elements from both role-playing games (RPG) and first-person shooters (FPS). The term was first coined by Borderlands, a role-playing game with an emphasis on shooting, although the sub-genre existed before the release of that game.


Many role playing games released in the late 70's and early 80's were presented in a first-person view, but employed turn-based combat mechanics, such as Akalabeth (1979) and Wizardry (1981). The focus of those games was on meelee combat, offering to the player a different number of close-range weapons. Due to the limitations of the hardware the games ran on, movement in first person was usually sluggish and slow-paced. A myriad of games following this same structure made their way to the market during the late 80's, including The Bard's Tale (1985),Might and Magic (1986), Phantasy Star (1987), Dungeon Master (1987) and Megami Tensei (1987).

As a revolutionary step, Looking Glass Studios released Ultima Underworld: The Stygian Abyss in 1992. This innovative game was a technological marvel, using a fully 3D first-person perspective combined with real-time action and a surprisingly deep role-playing experience. Even though the game offered freedom of movement and a combat system that was relatively fluid and dynamic, the combat was still focused on meelee action. In 1994, the same studio developed System Shock, a first-person action role-playing game similar to Ultima Underworld. The game's cyberpunk setting inspired developers to implement fire weapons that can be accessed and used by the player as he/she progresses in the game, allowing the game to be played as a first-person shooter. The player, however, is not required to use fire weapons and can actually choose not to have access to those weapons. Since the use of long-range weapons was not the focus of both Ultima Underworld and System Shock, these games can arguably be considered first-person role-playing games instead of role-playing shooters.


The first game that perhaps can be considered a role-playing shooter is Crime Crackers, a launch title for the PlayStation, released only in Japanmarker in 1994. At the time of the release, the game was described by reviewers as Doom RPG for effectively combining, throughout the majority of the gameplay, elements of both first-person shooter and electronic role-playing genres. As a side note, ironically Doom RPG was released for mobile phones eleven years later, in 2005, but can not qualify as a role-playing shooter since the combat is turn-based.

In 1995, Panther Software released Space Griffon VF-9 for the PlayStation. The game was a first-person mech game that played similar to a first-person shooter. The game's main distinction was to offer a level-up system, similar to most systems found in traditional electronic role-playing games. Space Griffon VF-9 was later released in the USA by Atlus and later remade for the Dreamcast in 2002, although this version ditches the role-playing elements and plays like a first-person shooter. The PlayStation version can only be loosely considered a role-playing shooter, since it is not the main character that evolves, but "the Griffon's computer that does the learning". Nevertheless, "the effect of a higher level is to decrease the time required by weapons to recharge before firing again", a permanent improvement achieved through defeating enemies, what is essentially a characteristic originally from role-playing games.

Three years after the release of Crime Crackers, Media.Vision released the sequel for the game, Crime Crackers 2, only in Japan. The game was considered generally better than its predecessor and incorporated new elements to the gameplay, such as height, which affected the first-person shooting gameplay, and a "route" system, allowing the player to progress to different stages according to his/her actions, in a fashion akin to pen and paper role-playing games.

Expansion of the sub-genre

While early advancements in establishing the sub-genre were made in Japan, it was in North America that the sub-genre expanded more notoriously. In 1999, Irrational Games and Looking Glass Studios co-developed System Shock 2, a sequel to the original game released in 1994. The sequel retained most of the role-playing elements presented in the first game, but this time the focus was in using fire-weapons in real time. After the release of System Shock 2, the sub-genre expanded widely. Several role-playing shooters were released in the last decade, including Deus Ex (2000), Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines (2004), Dirge of Cerberus: Final Fantasy VII (2006), Mass Effect (2007), Hellgate: London (2007) and Fallout 3 (2008).

Borderlands (2009), developed by Gearbox Software, was the first game to be marketed as a role-playing shooter. The official trailer of the game suggests that "the RPG and FPS made a baby", indicating the hybrid nature of the game. In this same trailer, the term "role playing shooter" was used to refer to the game's genre, while previous role-playing shooters were usually referred to as "FPS/RPG" hybrids .


After the release of Borderlands, there has been an intense debate about whether role-playing shooter should be considered a sub-genre of role-playing games or just a marketing term for Borderlands .


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