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"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.

An Action RPG (ARPG) is a subgenre of Role-Playing Game that focuses on real-time action-based combat as opposed to turn-based or menu-based combat. In practice, "action RPG" usually means that the RPG in question gives the player direct control over the player's character in real-time battles. If you have to press a button (and/or move the input device) for every attack, it's probably an action RPG. 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 largely originated from the Eastern tradition, with the Ur Examples being the 1983 titles Panorama Toh and Bokosuka Wars, and the Trope Makers being the 1984 titles The Tower of Druaga, Dragon Slayer, Hydlide, and Courageous Perseus. This eventually culminated in The Legend of Zelda (1986), an influential Action-Adventure inspired 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.

Meanwhile in the West, the long-missing link between traditional and action RPG appears to be The Caverns of Freitag, which was developed in 1982 by the future Ultima contributor David Shapiro, featured a hybrid turn-based/real-time combat system, and directly inspired Yoshio Kiya to create Dragon Slayer, laying the foundations for Eastern ARPGs. Gateway to Apshai (1983) was an actionized take on the 1979 RPG Temple of Apshai, but was not an ARPG as it lacked RPG mechanics, making it an action-adventure like Zelda. Western RPGs largely remained turn-based in the 1980s, up until the emergence of Western ARPGs such as the 1987 title The Faery Tale Adventure (and to an extent Dungeon Master in a semi-real-time form) and the 1988 title Times Of Lore. It was not until the 1990s that Western ARPGs started becoming popular.


By the time the move to real-time (and, as it happens, to 3D) was completed, the term "action RPG" came to describe several 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 on player skill and Player Character skill with each game developer choosing if their games will rely more on the technical action or on the stats and loot gathered by the player. 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 The Witcher 3 (a choice-driven narrative open-world game), Final Fantasy XV (a choice-driven narrative open-world game), Assassin's Creed Origins (a choice-driven narrative open-world game), The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (a character creation open-world game), Diablo III (isometric online character creation game), Dark Souls I (character creation game) and Fable II (character creation open-world game) all get labeled "action RPG". Despite some of the flagship franchises having way different gameplay elements and progression systems, many games in this genres borrow gameplay elements from each other.

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    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.