Friday, January 20, 2012

CRPG Beginnings

For those that find history interesting and those not familiar with the difference between computer and console RPGs, here's my understanding of CRPGs. Feel free to skip this if you're not into it and come back next post.

There are computer RPGs and console RPGs. One may wonder, why the distinction though? A console is just a factory made computer after all. But, the distinction (sometimes made as Western RPGs and Japanese RPGs respectively) stems from what drives these two types of games.

CRPG or CRPG, not confusing at all, eh?

It all started with pen & paper role-playing games, which got their start from table top war games. RPGs have a history of openness, exploration, and discovery. Choose to play the way you want to, this is the offering of pen and paper RPGs. Early CRPGs did the best they could to mimic this experience by presenting scenarios similar to D&D. Many emphasized exploration and discovery, minimizing choice and openness to fit the programmable nature of computers. Calculations and statistics are a computer's bread and butter, so it's understandable that early CRPGs would expose and highlight these as a driving force behind the initial offerings while focusing on a singular storyline.

Wizardry in all its 8-bit glory.

During this time American game consoles were being flooded with games, bad games. There was no control over what games could be made and released for the systems, and this led to a crash in the console market here; however, the Japanese home video game market was thriving during this same time. America was introduced to the Nintendo Entertainment System shortly before all hope is lost to console video games.

See robot? Gun? It is a toy...

Marketed as a toy or "entertainment system" the NES avoided the moniker of home video game console, which had a poor reputation currently in America. Soon after, the last remaining American video game consoles slowly gave way to the quality games released for the NES. Seeing the opportunity to compete with Nintendo in a new market, Sega released their Mark III dubbing it the Sega Master System. So, the console market becomes driven forward by Japanese companies, and this remains the case until Microsoft joins in with its Xbox console.

Why create new games based on the originals, when you can just port them?

Now while D&D was a huge influence in America for CRPGs, American computer RPGs themselves were what influenced many Japanese RPGs. Most influential in these early days were Ultima and Wizardry. Also a new genre of books emerged around this time: Replay. A replay book consists of compiled logs from a role-playing session, creating a single narrative. Given these two influences it's easy to see how console RPGs became about telling a single story instead of creating a world to explore. The four most popular console RPGs set the stage for all others that followed: Phantasy Star, Dragon Quest, Final Fantasy, and Megami Tensei (in order of release). Only the first three had ports to the US though. (Most likely due to Nintendo of America's policy to censor any religious symbols or references; a game all about recruiting and summoning demons was deemed too racy and this series wouldn't see a release stateside until the PlayStation game Persona.)

Megami Tensei: imagine Pokémon, except with demons instead of cutesy animals.

All this back story is to support a point (it has a point?): CRPGs made in America hold the ideal of creating pen & paper RPGs on computer; in Japan the ideal is to improve on past CRPGs. The difference is slight given where CRPGs came from, but has become very obvious over the years that followed these early days. Choice and exploration is the focus for CRPGs made in America, standing in contrast to storytelling and character personalities for CRPGs made in Japan. Obviously there are outliers, but this fits those games I'm familiar with. So, a game considered a console RPG isn't a game spawned from D&D, but a cousin... twice removed.

Next post to discuss my idea of what elements and mechanics are essential for a CRPG will be up this weekend.


  1. Good luck with this huge project! I have subscribed, and I've added your blog to my sidebar Blogroll. It's funny, because I was just thinking of making Let's Plays of the Phantasy Star series... or at least the first one, and then decide if I want a break, or just continue. ;)

    Awaiting your next post,

    Amy :)

  2. Thanks for the luck. I'm going to need it. I'm still working on the next post, should be done tomorrow. Here's a sneak peek though:

    Character progression
    Story and interaction with NPCs
    Getting loot

    This also the current rating system I'll be using as well. I'll go more in-depth on that either in the next post or a future one.

    I'm also eager to start Phantasy Star, but I'm giving myself extra time to prepare. I haven't decided how I'll be mapping yet.

  3. Oh wow, I was starting to despair, but all of a sudden your posts have gotten a *lot* better! I'm also liking your writing, it is much more literate then most of the retrogaming blogs I've read (Crontendo and the CRPG Addict being the two most literate by far). I'm hoping that after this you also put more detail into each game: I didn't really get much of a feel for any of them in your prior postings.

    Anyway, reading on with increased vigor, --Canageek

    1. I'm back. Sorry I disappeared, Zenic. Glad you leveled up!

  4. Yes, this is where the revival starts, and I'm strongly considering deleting the posts from my previous attempt at blogging. I was young (new to blogging), and didn't really know what I wanted to do with this. Now I'm actually taking the time to read other blogs, and see what they do well. I see that more detail is welcomed, and I tried to keep things to a minimum as not to spoil anything.

    I think I will delete those old posts, as I don't want to drive anyone anyway that finds them and makes a snap decision that this blog isn't worth their time. Plus, I do plan on playing through those games again once we get to that year (except Shenmue, unless strongly requested).

    Thank you for the feedback, I'm glad you've started enjoying things. As Phantasy Star is my first full game I'm getting through, I'm interested in knowing what you (and other readers) find interesting about the reviews. Should I focus on relaying the story, my thoughts on the story, my thoughts in general? I just don't know.

  5. I've been meaning to do it for a while, but I'm finally making my way through your blog Zenic. I might not leave comments everywhere after the fact, but I'm here. :)

    1. Cool. Nice to have you around. As a fellow active blogger I appreciate any feedback you have on how I'm posting as well.