Action RPG

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Action RPG or Action role-playing games are a sub-genre of role-playing video games that incorporate elements from the action-adventure genre into their gameplay. They "eschew menu-based play for more direct input from the player"[1] emphasizing more real time consequences for each maneuver, unlike turn-based RPG. They key to their development is adding depth without sacrificing the action [1]. As such repetition is often a problem with this genre.

Growth of the Genre

Early Beginnings

In the beginning, early action games used turn-based movement, where there was a 1:1 ratio of player movements to that of the enemy. Such dungeon crawl narratives involving the navigation and exploration of intricate labyrinths preceded any real time action elements of game play [2]. Japanese game developers pioneered the combination of the RPG genre with aesthetics and qualities of arcade games and action-adventure contexts. This new niche market debuted characters that were able to grow and acquire new long-term capabilities on a permanent basis [3]. The earliest portrayal of game stores where the player could opt to buy certain power ups or supplies were also introduced [3]. Distinguished as the original model for this new genre was the Dragon Slayer series, produced by Nihon Falcom [3]. Unlike its predecessors, this dungeon crawl RPG incorporated real-time combat requiring direct input from the player, facilitating a more immediate response to each maneuver. To assist in the dungeon crawling, an in-game map[4] was included, as well as an inventory, in order to manage items and supplies. In addition to the action-combat battles, action and item-based puzzles[4] were integral gameplay elements, influencing the renowned The Legend of Zelda. Alongside these game components, Dragon Slayer's overhead perspective[4] of the action-RPG gameplay became fundamental for many future games of this genre.

In 1985, Namco released another early action-RPG called Dragon Buster, another dungeon crawler premiering a life meter showing avatar health in-game, a side-scrolling platform, as well as a "world view" map akin to that featured in Super Mario Bros.[5] Other innovative evolutions were Hydlide's ability to shift between attack mode and defense mode, as well as health regeneration where health and magic capabilities refill while the avatar rests by standing still [5]. Perhaps the first full-fledged action-RPG was the second sequel in the Dragon Slayer series called Dragon Slayer II: Xanadu. It incorporates in-depth character statistics that individualize player experience and expertise. Within the gameplay and fictional world, it also allowed for avatar customization, and more complex personal tasks that facilitated the avatar's ability to interact with the game world [6]. For example, the player needs to be aware of avatar health beyond a combat scenario, requiring food that must be consumed slowly and over time in order to keep the character healthy and quest ready [6]. These elements of gameplay further enhance the immediate action-reaction component that defines the action-RPG genre. Personalization of the game experience through these player decisions expand the opportunities for plausible story narratives. Hydlide II: Shine of Darkness takes this to a new level via introduction of a morality meter, where each player decision determines whether the character is aligned with Justice, Normal, or Evil, further dictating how the fictional game world interacts with the character [7].

Influence of Zelda

A screenshot showing Link's animated sword in The Legend of Zelda[8]

The late '80s were important developmental years defining the action-RPG genre. Released in 1986, The Legend of Zelda, while not considered a true RPG game served as a template for following action-RPGs. Unlike Hydlide and Dragon Slayer, The Legend of Zelda introduced an attack button that animated a weapon for combat scenarios.


Dragon Slayer


  1. 1.0 1.1
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Adams, Roe R. Westward Ho! (Toward Japan, That is): An Overview of the Evolution of CRPGs on Dedicated Game Machines. Computer Gaming World, November 1990. Issue: 76, 83-84
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2
  5. 5.0 5.1 Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Source 5" defined multiple times with different content
  6. 6.0 6.1
  8. Image from: