RPG is an abbreviation which stands for Role Playing Game. Since many games have roles that a player must fill, the term RPG can be a very broad one, however “true” RPGs have several characteristics which separate them from other gaming genres.
Playing A Role
The first indicator of an RPG is whether or not the player is playing a role, and not just a character. A good indicator of role playing is character progression, especially progression controlled by the player. This means that the playable character(s) change throughout the game, and the player, to some extent, has control over it. This can happen a variety of ways, including, but not limited to: a change in the characters’ personality, leveling up, and the collection of collectible items.
Change In Personality
A change in character personality is one characteristic of an RPG. When a character, through a plot change, changes personality, that is, goals, motives, attitude etc. this is a change in personality. An example of this would be the Twilight Princess character Midna, who grows to like Link after teasing him, and/or controlling him as wolf form early in the game.
Gaining experience and leveling up is a frequent, but not necessary, element of RPG games. Becoming stronger, smarter, faster etc. is the kind of action typifies the element of character progression that truly makes an RPG.
The collection of collectible items, whether they serve a purpose in the completion of the game or not, is another characteristic of an RPG game. In fact, the collection of items allows RPGs to be one of the most customizable game genres.
There has been much debate on whether or not the games of The Legend of Zelda are true RPGs. While in his adventures Link collects items and upgrades his health and magic, he does not gain levels (with the exception of The Adventure of Link), and he is also a relatively static character.