Today, I will wrap up this series on the anatomy of RPGs. The point of this series was to look at and analyse the many moving parts of my favorite genre of video games, RPGs. This final part takes a look at how the player interacts with the game world in an RPG. Of note, not all of the game play elements mentioned here are required in video game RPGs, but in tabletop RPGs (such as Dungeons and Dragons), these pieces are not only everywhere, but go beyond the extra mile in comparison to every video game RPG. As such, I will mention what frequently goes into video game RPGs, but will barely mention tabletop RPGs, as those games allow for every humanly possible interaction imaginable, and it would take too long to mention all of them.
First, I will start with the bare bones form of interactions seen in every video game RPG. The basics involve moving around in the game world, and pressing a button to read signs, open treasure chests, and talk to NPCs. These NPCs will have preset dialogue, and will only say the same quote each time you talk to them. Some NPCs run shops for buying goods, or run inns to heal the party for a small fee. A few other NPCs will progress the story if spoken to. The next step up allows the player to examine objects by pressing the same button, such as bookshelves, pots, crates, etc., and players may find hidden items this way.
In some cases, talking to NPCs will give the player options to respond back. In many early RPGs, it is a simple yes or no question, with some different reactions based on the choice the player makes. In some situations, this will change the story (though sometimes this just leads to a game over, false ending, or will force the player to say the correct answer in order to progress). Newer RPGs may have more choices when talking to NPCs, and in some cases it can vastly alter the route of the story. Not every game does this, but it is neat to see when executed correctly, nonetheless.
Ideally, there is some sort of puzzle solving action that the player can trigger. This can involve using an item from the party’s inventory, casting a magical spell, or using an action that only a particular party member can use. The Golden Sun games for example use all of these types of actions to solve puzzles. In some cases, you use an item, in most other cases, you have to use a spell (called psynergy in Golden Sun), which may be exclusive to certain party members. Other games, such as the first two Paper Mario games, require you to recruit a new party member to solve puzzles. Each one has a single action they can use out of battle to help you progress. New paths in old areas may open up in games with this type of feature too.
In some rare cases, certain party members can interact with NPCs in unique ways. Octopath Traveler is one such game where having certain party members allows you to interact with almost every NPC. These actions include gathering information, buying items from the NPC, stealing from the NPC, temporarily recruiting the NPC, and fighting the NPC. In this game, these actions can also help you complete side quests too.
Speaking of side quests, side quests happen to be optional tasks usually given by an NPC. They can involve finding a rare item, getting information for the NPC, or fighting a certain enemy. There can be many different tasks involved in side quests, such as in Dragon Quest 9. In this game, some side quests even require killing a monster with a certain action! Side quests always reward the player with something rare or useful, such as a nice healing item, or usually a powerful piece of equipment.
On a somewhat related note, there are some RPGs that have the option to craft new items. This usually means if you have certain combinations of items, you can combine them to make new, more useful items. In some cases, the item required has to be made through crafting as well. In many of these games, you can find item crafting recipes, so that you don’t have to try to do this blindly. Additionally, you can only craft in certain locations, such as at a blacksmith’s or alchemist’s store. It should be noted that in other cases, you can craft while accessing a menu in some RPGs, and can do so only out of battle.
Lastly, I will mention morality choices. These are somewhat rare in video games in general, but are satisfying to see done right. Often, when a game has morality choices, there is something that keeps track of which decision your character makes throughout the game. The easiest way is to give the player good, evil, and neutral dialogue options, and the game will give you good points or evil points that judge your character’s moral affinity. Games with this feature will have different story points, as well as alternate endings based on these choices. Undertale is a masterful example of this, as every choice could impact the story in large or small ways.
Ultimately, RPGs are made more rich with story and character interactions. Sure, wandering in mazes and looking for treasure is plenty of fun as you hunt down the final boss. However, RPGs are more fun if you can influence the story, solve puzzles, or simply use your party members in unique ways. There is a reason that tabletop RPGs are still played today, and it is due to being able to do anything that comes to mind. Such games paved the way for video game RPGs, and are still a model of how players could interact with a fictional game world. It may take a while before video game RPGs catch up entirely, but RPGs of all types are still fun no matter their limitations.
And that concludes my overall analysis of RPGs and the pieces that make them up. But what do you think about RPGs? Do you like the genre? What is your favorite RPG? What forms of interaction have you seen in an RPG that you really enjoyed? Are there any RPG features I didn’t mention in these articles that I should cover? Let me know in the comments below!