RPG's vs GA's

Recently in the past year or so a ton of RPG's have been hitting the market and, in general, being large successes. And yet graphic adventures seem very rare and normally do not do very well on the shelves. The funny thing is, RPG's keep getting more and more like graphic adventures...and yet GA's themselves don't sell! What's the story? Do people just like the way "RPG" rolls off their tongue?

First off we have to define what a graphic adventure really is, as well as what an RPG is, in its purest form.

Graphic Adventures:

Basically these games (my personal favorites) revolve around stories, inventory, and character development. And when I say that I don't mean gaining experience points, I mean learning about certain people, the way they behave and the way to interact with them. I would say out of every genre GA plots are always the most original. There are no cliches or overly used devices...and yet the general formula is almost ALWAYS the same. Your character is after something: help him get it by using random objects as "keys" to unlock puzzle after puzzle until you win. There are very few changes to the formula during a game; no minigames, no changing combat system--probably no combat at all. And yet these series of puzzles will often evoke something in us, be it fear, comedy or just the feeling, "Hey! I figured it out! I'm smart!"

Role-Playing Games (RPG):

Way back in the day, role-playing games were nothing more than some dice, some paper, and a helluva lot of imagination. You would roll dice to "create" a character--determining characterists such as intelligence, strength, cunning, etc. Then you would weave your way through a world created through the words of a leader, often called a "Dungeon Master." These drawn-out games would mostly consist of combat against fanciful demons such as Skeletons, Orcs, and Dragons. Defeating these being would get you better experience so you could defeat greater enemies and buy supplies from friendly Dwarves and Elves. Sounds fun, doesn't it? But of course, it wasn't long before RPG's were brought graphically to the computer: tile-based games with huge maps and lots of static NPC's with mini-quests for you to accomplish. Eventually into hip, 3rd-person, 3D interfaces. Ain't technology beautiful.

So will I get to the point already!

Now that we have the basics covered, let's see where RPG's took a turn into adventure-ville.

With third-person role-playing games turning up left and right suddenly character "creating" didn't seem quite as logical. In fact it took away from the game. For instance, in Final Fantasy 7, Cloud Strife, the main character, is a very likable character. All of his personality traits are set, so you get to know him like you get to know a character in a graphic adventure. So before RPGers were saying this:

"My character has a Charisma Level of 4. That means he'll be able to bargain with the shopkeeper for lower prices."

But now they say:

"That character sure is charismatic. I like him a lot and want to listen to what he has to say. Wait a sec...isn't that what I said when I was playing Monkey Island?"

RPG's are much less a game of numbers and much more a game of immersiveness!

So how can you tell an RPG from a GA nowadays?

  • Combat: RPG's got it, GA's don't...and if they do there is usually a way to by-pass it, like the ship combat in The Curse of Monkey Island.
  • Point System: It does still exist in RPG's, although mostly it is combat related (ie, Hit Points, Strength Points).
  • Terrain size: GA's have very contained, specified regions where you can go to, even in 3D one's like Grim Fandango. However, RPG's are usually very broad and less defined, so as to allow opportunites for combat. However, recently adventure games have been expanding terrain like in games such as Omikron: The Nomad Soul, while RPG's have decreased terrain size like in Final Fantasy 7.
  • The Inventory: GA's are full of random objects that you usually only hold on to for a small time until they serve their purpose and present a new puzzle where new objects must be used. In short, the player has no attachment to the objects, they are merely keys. But in RPG's the element of purchasing new weapons and armor make the player think much harder before adding or subtracting from their inventory.
  • Cliches: As written earlier, GA's have few cliches (if any) while RPG's are chock-full of 'em. Some include: Medieval Themes; Orcs, Goblins, Dwarves, Elves, and especially Dragons; very questy and predictable story lines (ie, search for the lost sword, save the kidnapped princess).


There's really not much to conclude besides what has already been stated. RPG's are now focusing more on character and plot development and less on numbers and stats. GA's are broadening by increasing terrain size and nonlinearity. It could be that soon RPG's will be little more than GA's with combat.

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Article by:

Alex Kriss

Date: 1999 Dec 19

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