The earliest rpg on a console was Dragonstomper on the Atari 2600 in 1982. Another early RPG on a console was Bokosuka Wars, originally released for the Sharp x1 computer in 1983 and later ported to the msx in 1984, the nes in 1985 and the Sharp x68000 as New Bokosuka Wars. The game laid the foundations for the tactical role-playing game genre, or “simulation rpg” genre as it is known in Japan. It was also an early example of a real-time, action role-playing game. In 1986, Chunsoft created the nes title Dragon Quest (called Dragon Warrior in North America until the eighth game), which drew inspiration from computer RPG’s Ultima and Wizardry and is regarded as the template for future Japanese role-playing video games released since then.

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In 1987, the genre came into its own with the release of several highly influential console rpgs distinguishing themselves from computer rpgs, including the genre-defining Phantasy Star, released for the Master System. Shigeru Miyamoto‘s Zelda II: The Adventure of Link for the Famicom Disk System was one of the earliest action role-playing games, combining the action-adventure game framework of its predecessor The Legend of Zelda with the statistical elements of turn-based rpgs. Most RPGs at this time were turn-based. Faxanadu was another early action rpg for the nes, released as a side-story to the computer action rpg Dragon Slayer II: Xanadu. Square‘s Final Fantasy for the nes introduced side-view battles, with the player characters on the right and the enemies on the left, which soon became the norm for numerous console rpgs. In 1988, Dragon Warrior III introduced a character progression system allowing the player to change the party’s character classes during the course of the game. Another “major innovation was the introduction of day/night cycles; certain items, characters, and quests are only accessible at certain times of day.” In 1989, Phantasy Star II for the Genesis established many conventions of the genre, including an epic, dramatic, character-driven storyline dealing with serious themes and subject matter, and a strategy-based battle system.

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Console rpgs distinguished themselves from computer rpgs to a greater degree in the early 1990s. As console rpgs became more heavily story-based than their computer counterparts, one of the major differences that emerged during this time was in the portrayal of the characters. Console rpgs often featured intricately related characters who had distinctive personalities and traits, with players assuming the roles of people who cared about each other, fell in love or even had families. Romance in particular was a theme that was common in most console rpgs at the time but absent from most computer rpgs. During the 1990s, console rpgs had become increasingly dominant, exerting a greater influence on computer rpgs than the other way around. Console rpgs had eclipsed computer rpgs for some time, though computer rpgs began making a comeback towards the end of the decade with interactive choice-filled adventures.

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The next major revolution came in the late 1990s, which saw the rise of optical disks in fifth generation consoles. The implications for RPGs were enormous—longer, more involved quests, better audio, and full-motion video. This was first clearly demonstrated in 1997 by the phenomenal success of Final Fantasy VII, which is considered one of the most influential games of all time. With a record-breaking production budget of around $45 million, the ambitious scope of Final Fantasy VII raised the possibilities for the genre, with its dozens of minigames and much higher production values. The latter includes innovations such as the use of 3d characters on pre-rendered backgrounds, battles viewed from multiple different angles rather than a single angle, and for the first time full-motion cgi video seamlessly blended into the gameplay, effectively integrated throughout the game. The game was soon ported to the pc and gained much success there, as did several other originally console rpgs, blurring the line between the console and computer platforms.

RPG History Consoles Final Fantasy VII