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What is an RPG, really? [20th Aniv Deus Ex]

With the 20th anniversary of Deus Ex on my mind, and just finishing Detroit: Become Human, as well as playing (and not enjoying) Persona 4, I got to thinking about what an RPG actually should be. The definition is highly vague.

My question is: Does being forced into the role of a character count as a role-playing game?

In Persona 4, I was shocked to hear it being called an RPG, yet my conversation options seemed to do nothing. The same as many of my decisions, I was being forced through my days with no freedom to do as I please. Is that truly a role-playing game? By the same logic, playing the game Doom would be considered an RPG, as you gather upgrades to your character while playing the role of DoomGuy.

In Red Dead Redemption 2 (and other R* games), the open world is merely a long loading screen for a linear storyline where your decisions in the game (such as donating to the camp) do nothing to your relationships with characters. The open world is completely fake, and missions have to be followed in such a linear hand-holding way that the open world is seen to me as a mockery of the game, a tease of what could have been that completely fades away during actual gameplay.

I would argue that Detroit: Become Human and Deus Ex are 10/10 RPGs because they share a lot in common, those being:

  • Micro-decisions in conversation that affects your relationships with the characters in realtime (mostly Detroit)

  • Plot modification in realtime while actively playing that affects the game in a micro or macro scale (Both)

  • Freedom to accomplish a task in a linear level (mostly Deus Ex)

  • A character that can be modified freely, no archetypes (mostly Deus Ex)

  • A morality system beyond the binary of good and evil (Both)

All of these bullet points make a "Golden RPG" – one where your character is truly a role you create and play, and where the plot is pliable to your actions.

What other games have these attributes? I find them few and far between.


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