In each Great Campaign RPG review, I’ll be creating a “Focal RPG Aspects” chart to reference in what ways a game expresses itself as an RPG. The blank version looks like this:
On this page I’ll quickly cover how I am defining each aspect, and what each number indicates as a measurement, from 0-5. This is a subjective categorization and measurement done to the best of my ability, based on research into the elements that are most core to what we conceive RPGs to be. The aspects below are in no particular order, except that aspects that somewhat relate to each other are closer in to each other in the chart.
I’d also like to note that this chart is primarily measuring how much focus and detail a game is putting into this aspect, not necessarily the quality of the aspect itself. Generally when a game focuses on a certain element, that element will be of a higher quality, but this isn’t always necessarily the case (for instance, some games with lengthy, detailed stories that are a total bore). That being said, generally quality is strongly correlated to the measurement as well.
Why these eight aspects?
The RPG genre is a large tent and is difficult to accurately describe. [Link sources below]
I feel like these 8 characteristics roughly encompass the core tenets of what an RPG is designed to be, and what we think of when we say “RPG”. Many games, including non-RPGs, have some of these elements to an extent – especially say combat, exploration, etc. But it’s the focus and combination of these elements that form the backbone of the RPG experience.
Additionally not all of these aspects likely have equal weight in terms of how definitional they are for the RPG genre. Most games have some form of combat, but character progression, customization, and choice are major tenets of RPGs often not found in other genres. For simplicity’s sake, however, these aspects are all equalized on this chart. Just know they should be weighted differently from an RPG-defining standpoint.
- The overarching story and individual stories the game tells. The stakes, the twists, the character moments.
- The quality, consistency, and substance of the writing and character dialogue.
- Alternative paths and solutions to objectives
- Ability to make choices that have meaningful consequences
- Ability to play different roles that enable or disable different choices and opportunities
- Varied playstyles to select from during character creation or during the game proper
- Freedom to tweak and customize the character(s) via equipment, attribute allocation, ability selection, etc.
- Cosmetic customization
- Taking a character from a weak state to a more powerful state through the game
- Progressive character mechanics – gaining experience, increasing attributes/skills, obtaining powers, etc.
- Implementing a combat system that combines character’s skills and experience with player’s skill and experience in an entertaining and substantive fashion
- Providing a world with attractive content to discover and an entertaining means to traverse it
- Interesting dungeons, puzzles, and mysteries to explore
- Crafting an interesting and believable backstory to the world, making it a feel more like a real place, and adding depth and richness to the world
0 – Feature is non-existent
1 – Only a trivial part of the game
2 – Focus on this feature is about average for an RPG
3 – A significant aspect of the game
4 – A fully fleshed-out and realized feature
5 – A core concept that the game revolves around