Action RPG

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

A Role-Playing Game mixed with Action-Adventure. In practice, "action RPG" (ARPG) usually means that the RPG in question gives the player direct control over the Player Character in real-time battles, as opposed to 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 RPG gameplay think of it as more of a "genre modifier" (see Video Game Genres).

The ARPG genre, as well as the term "action RPG", largely originated from the Eastern tradition. The earliest ARPG examples, most notably the 1984 titles The Tower of Druaga, Dragon Slayer and Hydlide, were produced in Japan in response to the turn-based and menu-driven combat featured in role-playing games at the time. This eventually culminated in The Legend of Zelda, an influential Action-Adventure influenced by Druaga and Hydlide. The rival 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 became firmly separate in the East, before eventually blurring the line between the two in more modern times.

The Western RPG tradition, on the other hand, had a much more complicated history with action elements. The earliest WRPGs, just like the earliest ERPGs, were turn-based Dungeon Crawlers, and it wasn't until 1987 that real-time combat elements began entering the mainstream, with The Faery Tale Adventure (as well as Dungeon Master in a semi-real-time form). From the late 1980s, The Legend of Zelda gradually influenced Western RPGs to lean more towards real-time combat, inspiring titles such as Times of Lore, which in turn inspired later Ultima titles. At the same time, the notion that RPGs Equal Combat was being challenged by Ultima IV (1985) and its sequels, which showed that the genre can be much more than that. Thus, instead of splitting along the line of turn-based vs. real-time combat, WRPGs gradually phased out the former in favor of the latter over the following decade, while exploring other aspects of RPG gameplay, such as interactive narrative and simulated worlds. Western RPGs eventually went Multi-Platform during The Sixth Generation.

By the time the move to real time (and, as it happens, to 3D) was completed, the term "action RPG" came to describe several specific types of gameplay:

Combat-oriented games that did not fall under any of these 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. In the early 2000s, so-called "RPG Elements" started bleeding into 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 combat success depends equally on player skill and Player Character skill. But the loose and more commonly accepted definition of ARPG (at least, of the contemporary ones) basically boils down to "the fights in this RPG occur in real time and you can play it with a controller". 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), Diablo III, Dark Souls I, and Final Fantasy XV all get labeled "action RPG", despite being barely comparable in terms of gameplay. This is, perhaps, indicative of how meaningless the label is, where it's becoming 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.