"The RNG giveth, and the RNG taketh away..."
—Common saying in roguelike circles
Roguelikes are a subgenre of Role Playing Games
, so named for being like Rogue
, a very early
was a dungeon simulator originally played on text terminals in the early 1980s, which used ASCII characters to abstractly represent a tile-based game world. For example, your character is an @
, walls are represented by lines of |
is a potion, and the various letters of the alphabet represent different monsters (H
is a hobgoblin, while D
is a dragon). You're effectively looking at an overhead view of a dungeon composed of text characters.
Every game, the dungeon would be arranged differently, with different items to find, and the various monsters would appear in different places. All of this meant that the game was never the same twice, giving it unprecedented replay value. The game was turn-based, with everything in the world moving only when your character did, meaning that no quick decisions were required - you could play it like chess, thinking carefully about your options when you needed to. You could also save the game's state at any time and return to it days, weeks, or months later.
Adding to the addictive nature of the game was the thrill of permadeath
- the fact that the death of your character would end the game, forcing you to start again from the beginning no matter how far into the dungeon you got. This ensured that players were very attached to their characters, and would play with tactical caution, weighing up their options whenever things became dangerous.
This combination of random generation, turn-based combat, and permadeath is the defining characteristic of Rogue
. Players relished the risky, rewarding challenge offered by the game, and it wasn't long before copycat games began to follow, thus giving birth to a genre which came to be known as the Roguelike
, in honor of Rogue
One factor that almost certainly contributed to the rise of roguelikes was the fact that they have no graphical requirements. Any coder can create one without having to worry about graphical or audio resources - the only requirement of a roguelike is the ability to manipulate a grid of text characters, which any computer system can do trivially - especially the terminal-based systems in common use during the 1980s, when the first roguelikes began to appear.
Because of the lack of reliance on graphics, roguelikes tend to focus far more on game mechanics instead, with the result that they are often extremely intricate, and allow for complex strategies and interactions.
Today, a truly enormous family of roguelikes exists. Many are written as labors of love, or as experiments to try out new and interesting game mechanics. (The 'experimental roguelike' is practically a genre in itself.)
The most traditional roguelikes have the following characteristics:
- Roguelikes are centered around Dungeon Crawling through randomly-generated environments randomly stocked from a list of monsters and items. Some (such as ADOM) also have a static overworld and/or special levels, but even those games rely on random content in other places. This means that memorization is not enough to win a roguelike, and walkthroughs as such cannot be made for them, but they have high replay value. On the downside, this means it is possible to lose in a roguelike purely by bad luck, although most roguelike designers attempt to avoid unfair situations.
- Roguelikes take Final Death to the extreme. When your character dies, that's it - they're dead for good, with no chance of recovery, no matter how far they may have gotten or what fabulous treasures they may have accrued. Saving the game is often possible, but it is only used for having a pause from playing, and when your character dies, the save file is deleted. Save Scumming is thus flatly disallowed (even if it may be possible through outside means). The result of this is that roguelike players are very invested in their characters, and are forced to learn the essential skills for survival.
- Roguelikes typically have only a single controllable character, with a turn-based engine in which everything moves at the same time. Some allow you to have allies or pets, but they can't be directly controlled, only given general orders.
- Roguelikes generally feature an enormous menagerie of monsters and enemies, which will have various abilities, resistances, weaknesses, and defenses. Part of the game strategy will be learning the best ways to fight particular monsters, and how to protect yourself from them.
- Roguelikes generally have a 'food clock' - characters will hunger over time and have to eat, which means they cannot stay in one place forever - they have to push on to get food at the very least. This forces them to confront the increasingly difficult parts of the game. This is usually a measure to attempt to prevent the player from level grinding. The original Rogue, for example, required you to eat food every so often or starve to death, and it was nearly impossible to find more food on a dungeon level once you'd cleaned it out — but going down to the next dungeon level meant fighting tougher monsters.
- Most roguelikes have randomized appearances for items that do not persist from one game to the next. In one game, for example, 'a green potion' might be a potion of healing, but in the next game, it might be a potion of poison. Because of this, identification is often a key aspect of gameplay, and there are many different techniques a player can use to learn the identities of objects they have acquired: identification spells, careful observation (for example, seeing a monster drink a potion and noting what happens), elimination, or even just blindly using them and seeing what happens. It's typical, after dying, to be revealed that you had an item which could've saved you, but was unidentified at the time. Roguelikes might also make use of Randomly Generated Loot.
- Roguelikes, especially the well-known or popular ones, have often been under continual development for many years (sometimes a few decades), making them extraordinarily large and complex. Many have to use both capital and lowercase letters to have enough inputs for their commands, and some go even further. Interactions between gameplay elements are also often very intricate, so much so that roguelike players have a saying: The Dev Team Thinks of Everything. (This catchphrase originated in the NetHack community, but has seen wider use since then, and also named the trope.)
- Roguelikes are notoriously difficult. This is generally by design. Death is expected to be fairly frequent, enough so that the community has developed the acronym "YASD," for Yet Another Stupid Death. It is easily possible to play some roguelikes for years without even coming close to victory.
- Most roguelikes have little more than an Excuse Plot, and are designed to be started and restarted quickly.
- Many roguelikes are incredible time sinks, which is only exacerbated by the fact that most of them are entirely free.
Roguelikes can be roughly classified into a few different Subgenres
that occasionally overlap:
- Hacklikes - influenced mostly by NetHack (a direct descendant of Rogue). They mostly focus on Dungeon Crawling, with an aggressive food clock and limited resources.
- *bands - influenced by Angband. *bands usually feature a non-permanent dungeon, infinite resources and very tough bosses, so the games are focused on taking levels in badass until the player is ready to punch dragons to death.
- Coffeebreak roguelikes - simple roguelikes with few controls that are designed to be easy to pick up and play (although they may still be just as difficult as a traditional roguelike). Sometimes these are deliberately short, rather than the sprawling affairs that traditional roguelikes tend to be. These are also known as Roguelites.
- Experimental roguelikes - these often overlap with Coffeebreak roguelikes. They are generally more like proofs of concepts, and as such can feature extremely strange gameplay mechanics. They may be unbalanced to play, possibly by design.
In the west, roguelikes are mostly a niche thing, but their influence can be widely seen in indie games of the late 2000s/early 2010s. Many games, especially open sandbox style games, are turning to random procedural generation as a way of increasing their replay value. Minecraft
developer Notch has admitted to being a huge roguelike fan, which is the reason that Minecraft
has a Hardcore difficulty mode (to reproduce the roguelike ideal of permadeath).
There are a few true roguelikes that have managed to creep into the Western mainstream, however. The best known is probably Diablo
, which was inspired by NetHack
. The genre is much less niche in Japan, and there are quite a few Eastern roguelikes; the most well-known in the West is probably Pokémon Mystery Dungeon
Indie games which make use of roguelike gameplay traits are sometimes jokingly referred to as 'roguelike-likes'. Space adventure game FTL
, and platform game Spelunky
often receive the 'roguelike-like' label. Sometimes, this coyness is dropped and people will simply refer to them as roguelikes. 'Roguelike' is not a well-defined term and there is no consensus upon what constitutes one, although attempts have been made to arrive at an acceptable definition: the 'Berlin Interpretation
' is the most well known effort.
See also Multi-User Dungeon
for a related genre of RPG with its roots in Text Adventure
- 3059, 3069, 3079 and 3089 sit in a grey area between action RPG & roguelike while continuing the theme of random quests, enemies, items (that can be customized with random parts), terrain & more.
- Alpha Man
- Ancient Domains of Mystery
- Azure Dreams
- Baroque (Sega Saturn, PSX, PS2 and Wii)
- The Binding of Isaac combines roguelike elements with Zelda-esque dungeons, twinstick shooter gameplay and gallons of Nightmare Fuel.
- Bionic Dues throws in customisation of a squad of four Humongous Mechas, while adding smaller bite-sized dungeons to be completed as a final battle approaches over time.
- Bit Dungeon
- Castle of the Winds
- Cataclysm, zombie apocalypse roguelike.
- Caves Of Qud
- The Consuming Shadow, Lovecraftian roguelike.
- Crypt Of The Necrodancer combines roguelike dungeon crawling with a rhythm game.
- Dark Cloud and Dark Chronicle
- Darkest Dungeon
- Desktop Dungeons is part roguelike, part puzzle game.
- Diablo and its sequels, which take the Roguelike formula into real time. It's also more lenient-rather than being permanently killed, you're teleported back to town with no equipment when you die, but with your level and everything in your personal chest intact. it also spawns an entity called "your corpse" on the spot where you died that has all your goodies on it. They have arguably become a Genre-Killer in that almost all new post-Diablo roguelikes take inspiration from it instead of Rogue itself. Its own clones include:
- Digimon World 2
- Dins Curse
- Dnd, the Ur Example of Roguelikes. It predates Rogue by several years, but has many features that would eventually become commonplace in the Roguelike genre.
- Don't Starve
- Doom, the Roguelike, is Exactly What It Says on the Tin.
- Dragon Crystal
- Dragon Quest Monsters, especially the Gameboy and Gameboy Advance installments. Joker eschewed it in favor of 3d, although Joker 2 added some light roguelike elements in the bonus dungeons.
- The Drop
- Dungeon Crawl
- The Dungeon Of Doom (aka The Dungeon Revealed)
- Dungeons Of Dredmor not only has sprite graphics, but also animations, sound effects, background music, Difficulty Levels and the option to turn off Permadeath, all of which are very rare for roguelikes.
- The Adventure mode of Dwarf Fortress.
- Arguably the RM Game Dungeons
- Eldritch is a Roguelike deprived of RPG Elements and with a First-Person Shooter/Platform Game/Stealth-Based Game gameplay.
- Elona is this in tandem with also possessing farming sim elements, as well as references to many of the other roguelikes listed on this page.
- Evolution Worlds, albeit with a turn-based battle system.
- Fatal Labyrinth
- FTL: Faster Than Light mixes roguelike with Real Time with Pause space battles.
- Gateway To Apshai, the Actionized Sequel to Temple of Apshai
- Gear Head
- The Guided Fate Paradox
- HyperRogue, which plays out on a non-Euclidean hyperbolic surface, giving navigation and running away some novel dynamics.
- Ironcast, which contains the permadeath aspect of Roguelikes, and combines it with an RPG/match-3-puzzle-game combat system. With Steampunk Humongous Mechas.
- Iter Vehemens Ad Necem
- Izuna Legend Of The Unemployed Ninja
- The JauntTrooper series
- Lethal Crisis Proto Sphere, a hybrid of a roguelike and an action-platformer.
- Liberal Crime Squad, A Political Cartoon roguelike.
- Lufia II: Rise of the Sinistrals' "Ancient Cave"
- Monster Gate 1 and 2, two GBA games that function very much like the Mysterious Dungeon games, but only had a Japanese release.
- The arcade game that these are based on, where you put in real currency to get game money which is used to pay the dungeon fee for each dungeon (and to cast spells). Each dungeon you start at 0 XP, but can usually take up to 10 spells with you. The game also featured a non-interactive multiplayer where you could beat dungeons to take them over, and the ability to customize your own dungeons (set the number of levels, type of enimies, and specials) and challenge other players to try and beat it.
- Monstrum mixes Roguelike elements with elements from the Survival Horror genre.
- Mysterious Dungeon (Fushigi no Dungeon) games, all but one of which are licensed spinoffs of other franchises:
- NetHack, the best-known and most influential of all roguelikes.
- Nuclear Throne
- No Man's Sky, which mixes Roguelike elements with Wide Open Sandbox and Space-flight Simulation Game elements.
- One Way Heroics, which has a mechanic that's normally found in platformers.
- Our Darker Purpose, which brings a healthy dose of Survival Horror to the mix.
- Out There, which was heavily inspired by Faster Than Light.
- Paranautical Activity, which brings the Roguelike formula into that of a fast-paced First-Person Shooter.
- Pixel Dungeon
- Powder, a roguelike developed originally for the Game Boy Advance (and now ported to other systems)
- Puella Magi Madoka Magica Portable, the PSP game for the anime, is a roguelike/adventure game.
- Recettear: An Item Shop's Tale in Dungeon Mode.
- RedRogue: A Homage to the Trope Namer involving the now widowed lover of @ guided by his revenant to retrieve the Amulet of Yendor and restore him to life. Unlike the original it is in a side-scrolling platformer format with no jumping. Combat system derives from a rudimentary casting and enchantment system with dual-wielding a main weapon and a throwable weapon.
- Risk of Rain, another hybrid of a roguelike and an action-platformer, this time in space.
- Rogue, the Trope Namer and Trope Maker.
- Rogue Hearts Dungeon, a Japan only Enhanced Remake of Rogue for the PS2.
- Rogue Legacy, a Platform Game/roguelike hybrid featuring randomly generated dungeons and player characters.
- Rogue Survivor, a Zombie Apocalypse roguelike.
- Sakura Taisen: Kimi Aru ga Tame
- Scarab Of Ra
- Second Wind
- Sil , a successor of Angband, returning to the roots lore-wise: Theme is the First Age of Middlearth
- Slayer (no relation to the band), another first-person roguelike for the Three DO Interactive Multiplayer which has the Advanced Dungeons and Dragons branding.
- Sorcery Saga: Curse of the Great Curry God
- Spelunky, hybrid of a roguelike and a Platform Game.
- The tabletop The SPLINTER, takes the tabletop RPG elements that made Roguelikes Roguelikes and brings them full circle: randomly generated dungeons, a large variety of (very bizzarre) enemies, a focus on (randomly generated) gear for survival, frequent and permanent character death... It feels more like playing a roguelike than playing a tabletop.
- Sunless Sea
- Sword of Fargoal
- Sword of the Stars: The Pit, a spinoff game.
- Timestalkers — also a Climax Entertainment Crisis Crossover.
- Titan Quest, though it lacks real death punishment or randomly-generated maps.
- Tales of Maj'Eyal, although it breaks the mold with a world map, quests, and multiple dungeons. Many of its modules follow a similar pattern, including a (slightly buggy) Dragon Ball-themed one.
- The two Tobal games and Ehrgeiz have quest modes that mix roguelike and fighter.
- Tomb of Terror
- Tower of Doom (on the intellivision) was probably the first console roguelike.
- Transcendence (combination of NetHack and Star Control)
- In many ways, ToeJam & Earl functions as a (comparatively) very easy roguelike.
- Unreal World
- Wazhack, a 2.5D sidescrolling example.
- Z Angband - a spin-off of Angband
- Zettai Hero Project - By the Disgaea team. Far more lenient that most in that dying is not only not-permanent, it's encouraged. You still lose your fancy equipment (which becomes more taxing as you go on), but dying provides the same bonuses to base stats and stats per level-up as actually beating a dungeon, in a game where you start each dungeon over at level 1.