RPG Reload Glossary – The Origins of Action-RPGs

RPG Reload Glossary – The Origins of Action-RPGs


Hello, gentle readers, and welcome to the RPG Reload, the regular feature where we fight by slamming our bodies into things. To be specific, welcome to the RPG Reload Glossary, where we get all up in fussy semantics, history, and other things that polite society will shun us for. Having covered both social RPGs and tactical RPGs in previous installments, we now turn our attention to perhaps the most popular and hard-to-define sub-genre of RPGs: the action-RPG. You can expect this one to be another three- or four-parter, as trying to do it all at once would require some keen editing, and that is not a thing that I am good at. In today’s installment, we’ll be looking at the origins and early years of the genre, loosely covering the 1980s. Let’s get ready to rumble!

So, like before, I’m going to try to give a loose definition of what makes an action-RPG, in my opinion. You may disagree, but at the very least, you’ll know the filter through which I’m including things or excluding them. It’s a fairly short list compared to others, which may explain why this is such a slippery sub-genre in general.

Action-RPGs typically involve these traits:

  • Real-time combat
  • The character can be moved around freely by the player
  • Attacks are mapped more or less one-to-one with clicks, taps, or button presses
  • Defeating enemies yields experience points, which in turn earn character level-ups
  • Leveling up increases the character’s stats and/or capabilities
  • Character level should be an important part of success for the average player
  • There should be a requirement for some degree of reflexive skill
  • A persistent inventory system of…



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