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Action RPG
"Retake the city using the classic Diablo technique of hitting everything until it’s dead, levelling up to unlock new ways to make things dead, and looting the world for items to make things dead faster."
PCGamer.com preview of Diablo III: Reaper of Souls.

A Role-Playing Game mixed with Action Adventure. In practice, "action RPG" usually means that the RPG in question gives the player direct control over the Player Character in real-time battles, as opposed to the older RPG customs of turn-based and menu-based combat. Even though you will often hear "action RPG" touted as a "subgenre" of role-playing video games, there is no consensus about that, since it only narrows down how combat works in a game. Those who expect more than combat from an RPG think of it as more of a "genre modifier" (see Video Game Genres).

Further complicating matters is the fact that historically, the term "action RPG" has been used differently in the Eastern and Western RPG traditions. The earliest ARPG examples (to boot: Dragon Slayer, 1984) were produced in Japan in response to the turn-based and menu-driven combat featured in most American and Japanese role-playing video games at the time. The Turn-Based Combat mechanics were then rigidly codified by series like Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy (though the latter eventually moved away from it to its signature more action-y, but still menu-based Active Time Battle), and ever since then, the "turn-based RPG" and "action RPG" camps have remained firmly separate in the East, despite many attempts to blur the line between the two.

The Western RPG tradition, on the other hand, had a much more complicated history with action elements. The earliest Western RPGs, just like the earliest ERPGs, were turn-based Dungeon Crawlers, and it wasn't until 1987 (The Faery Tale Adventure and Dungeon Master) that real-time RPG combat really caught on in the West. By that time, however, the notion that RPGs Equal Combat had already been challenged by Ultima IV (1985), which showed that the genre can be much more than that. As a result, instead of splitting along the line of turn-based vs. real-time combat, Western RPGs gradually phased out the former in favor of the latter over the following decade, while exploring other aspects of RPG gameplay, such as the narrative and open worlds. By the time the move to real time (and, as it happens, to 3D) was completed, the term "action RPG" came to describe three specific types of gameplay:

Combat-oriented games that did not fall under any of these three categories (such as the Icewind Dale series, which featured a tactical Real Time with Pause) were not considered action RPGs, while those that did, even when combat was just one type of gameplay they offered (such as Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines, which had FPS-like ranged combat and Hack and Slash-like melee), were. Then, around 2003, just as Western RPGs were going Multi-Platform during The Sixth Generation, the so-called "RPG Elements" started bleeding into most Action Game subgenres, leaving role-playing video games with a severe identity crisis: What is an RPG? When does an RPG become an action RPG? And when does an action RPG stop being an RPG?

By the strictest definition, an ARPG is an RPG where victory in combat depends equally on player skill and Player Character skill. But the loose and more commonly accepted definition of ARPG (at least, of the contemporary Western ones) basically boils down to "the fights in this RPG occur in real time and you can play it with a Game Pad". It's no surprise, then, that games as different as The Witcher 2 (a choice-driven narrative game), The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (a Wide Open Sandbox), and Diablo III all get labeled "action RPG", despite being barely comparable in terms of gameplay. This is, perhaps, indicative of how meaningless the label is in Western RPG context, where it becomes more and more synonymous with simply "RPG".

Compare Beat Em Ups, from which many Action RPGs derive their basic gameplay, but do not contain the RPG Elements.

Eastern-style Action RPGs

Western-style Action RPGs

The Progenitors

Western RPGs with real time combat from before the Diablo era.

Top-Down Dungeon Crawlers

...a.k.a. Diablo-clones. And, of course, the Diablo series itself.

Role-Playing Shooters

First- or third-person shooters with RPG Elements or RPGs with emphasis on ranged combat. Often sci-fi.

Role-Playing Slashers

3D Hack and Slash games with RPG Elements or RPGs with elaborate melee combat. Often fantasy.

Miscellaneous


Action GameVideo Game GenresAdventure Game
Eastern RPGRole-Playing GameStrategy RPG

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