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videogames.com Presents
The History of Console RPGs

By Andrew Vestal
Design by Lam Huynh

The First Console RPG
Game Boy
Turbo Duo
Genesis/Sega CD
Nintendo 64
The Future of RPGs
Related Links
what's an RPG? This seemingly benign question has spawned countless discussions and debates - and even more flame wars. RPG stands for "role playing game"; while everyone agrees on what a "game" is, the definition of "role playing" varies widely from person to person. Some believe that anything with the vaguest semblance of a plot is an "interactive movie," not an RPG. Other folks will allow a basic plot - as long as it's not too complex and it doesn't interfere with the characters' total freedom. Marketing wizards would like you to believe that their latest shoot-em-up contains "RPG elements" - also known as "numbers." And some curmudgeonly loners say "Bah, humbug!" to any RPG using technology more advanced than a pen and paper.

But even this cursory introductory paragraph doesn't begin to scratch the surface of the question: What is an RPG? This feature will take the easy way out. For our purposes, an RPG is any game released for a console system that is generally considered to be an RPG. PC RPGs come from an entirely different (and equally rich) tradition and would merit their own in-depth exploration; by limiting ourselves to only console titles, the task becomes merely insane, instead of impossible. Even console RPGs vary widely in style and execution, and cross-genre pollination has only muddied the waters further. For example, River City Ransom offers as much skill customization, character enhancement, and even plot as many early NES RPGs! But the "generally considered" rule says that it isn't an RPG - just a great beat-em-up. Most titles covered will have been released in the US.

While every effort has been made to be comprehensive, even this limited definition encompasses more titles than the human mind can fathom, so extremely obscure titles may have gotten short shrift. If your favorite game is nowhere to be found, don't get mad - get writing! Comments and concerns are welcome and encouraged; omissions and oversights will hopefully be corrected at some future date.

Thanks to Allan Milligan and Gabe Williamson for teaching me a thing or six about obscure Duo titles; Janice Ta for tolerating my gaming habit; all the folks crazy enough to author FAQs and walk-through for 40-hour games; and RPG fans everywhere.

Now, let's hop in the Wayback Machine and travel to when it all began....

Show me the first console RPGNEXT