What is an action RPG?

For the most part I feel like I have a pretty good idea of what an RPG is without using an objective criteria — I can tell the difference between a simulation game and a strategy RPG, and an adventure game and a regular RPG. Action RPGs are where I’m rather unsure.

My gut feeling is that Secret of Mana is an RPG whereas Castlevania II is not. But I have a hard time coming up with any objective criteria that would exclude C2 but not SoM. Both games:

  • Have level advancement
  • Are not linear, but require exploration
  • Have “safe” areas like towns
  • Have equippable weapons and shops
SoM has more of a story than C2 but not all RPGs have great stories.
I notice that neither Zenic Reverie nor Shen Nung included C2 in their list so I’m not alone in this, but I’m struggling with why.
This is mostly relevant because there are some games that some sites label as RPGs that I think are very marginal or possibly not RPGs at all. I guess when I get to them I should just play them for a little while and see what I think.

2 thoughts on “What is an action RPG?

  1. Unknown

    My personal classification goes something like:

    Has exploration/equipment and press a button to attack = action adventure.

    Has exploration/equipment/stats and levels plus press a button to attack = action rpg

    Has exploration/equipment/stats but select attack through menu = rpg

  2. GuilhermeKinni

    Maybe it's a matter of degree? Like, Castlevania 2 may have levelling up to gain stats, as well as equipment, but the importance of it in the overall game is smaller.

    Also, I think there's an element of the combat versatility of the weapons. Like for action rpgs, the main reason to change weapons is gaining better stats, but metroidvania-style games (I'm specifically thinking of Castlevania SOTN here)have lots weapons that "handle" completely differently in combat, which makes things go more to the side of execution instead of the stats being the most important thing.

    Of course, this is complicated, as any such discussions are, and the fact that metroidvanias are considered a genre of their own really makes things even more difficult to pin down.


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