16-Bit Gems #30: Rise of the RPG - A History

Roo presents a retrospective on the rise of the Japanese Role-Playing Game – running from tabletop wargames up through Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy – and discusses their impact on the genre as a whole.  Learn about the major players – including Gygax, Garriott, Woodhead, Horii, Sakaguchi – and how their efforts led to the 16-bit RPG renaissance.

Part 1: The West

Part 2: The East


  • Knightcrawler
    Posted March 16, 2012 at 9:11 AM | Permalink

    Really nice. I can’t wait to see the rest of it, too, Roo! 🙂

  • Lucky
    Posted March 16, 2012 at 9:36 AM | Permalink

    Good stuff!  I loved me some Dragon Warrior and Final Fantasy back in their hay-day.  Enjoyed some Ultima and Wizardy later on, but was late to the game.  Awesome episodes man, can’t wait to see the rest.

  • Metalhunter
    Posted March 16, 2012 at 9:57 AM | Permalink

    Great review, really looking forward to the rest of it. Was that the Happy Video Game Nerd I heard in there as well?

  • icemann
    Posted March 16, 2012 at 3:11 PM | Permalink

    Firstly excellent episode on the rise of RPGs covering much of the early history, but I was very surprised to hear no mention of the “Phantasy Star” series than ran on the Sega Master System and later Mega Drive. I loved those games to bits growing up. The first game in particular.

  • ShirowWolf
    Posted March 16, 2012 at 3:33 PM | Permalink

          Excellent work, Roo! Very well-done! This is the kind of video I’ve wanted to see, but don’t really know of anything else much like it (except in some ways, GameTrailers’s Retrospective series). Kudos!

          Ah, and I see you imported the DQ anniversary edition on Wii. ;3

  • Furious George Furious George
    Posted March 16, 2012 at 4:17 PM | Permalink

    Very well-done retrospective. I am looking forward to the more recent events in RPG history, mainly how WRPG’s have more or less taken the crown back as far as the west side of the hempishere is concerned.

  • Ninto55 Ninto55
    Posted March 16, 2012 at 8:04 PM | Permalink

    Another great episode, Roo. I can’t wait for the next part. This is very well timed, as Extra Credits just finished their 3 part series on JRPGs vs WRPGs, but they focused more on the contrast of game styles in modern day, while you looked more at the growth of each in the past.

    This makes me want to play some RPGs, butI never have enough dedication. Oh well, I’ll go ahead and throw these on the list. Can’t wait for the Dragon Quest/Warrior 1-3 remakes on SNES review.

  • Tim Tim
    Posted March 16, 2012 at 9:18 PM | Permalink

    Wow, this was really worth the wait!!

    I love how you always mind the small details and go deep into the subjects in every video. This was no exception, obviously!

    I would love to see a follow up series of the small decline in popularity JRPGs have gone through these last years (atleast, from what I hear…).


  • CoyoteNEUTRAL
    Posted March 16, 2012 at 10:24 PM | Permalink

    Amazing, keep up the awesome work.

    I need something to watch while I eat fajitas on my futon.

  • GoldenTalesGeek
    Posted March 16, 2012 at 11:14 PM | Permalink

    God, I haven’t posted on here in ages. Anyway, brilliant retrospective, Roo! I can’t wait to see what your feelings on the Super Famicom versions of DQ I-III are gonna be. Keep up the fantastic work, dude! 🙂

  • Led-MirrorKnight Led-naruto
    Posted March 16, 2012 at 11:48 PM | Permalink

    I’ve always liked your videos because of how very informative they are and all the content and love you put in them!

    Keep it up, I learn so much from them! =)

  • Sonic Rose sonicrose
    Posted March 17, 2012 at 12:23 AM | Permalink

    I enjoyed that very much ^_^. I didn’t know Tabletop RPGs had their roots so far back. Although being an Anime fan, I shouldn’t be surprised that the influence ran both ways with the West going to the East, getting localized, and coming back home to roost.

    I really miss the days of good sword n’ sorcery RPGs, so it surprises me I’m not a bigger Dragon Quest fan. And now I also see why it had to become Dragon Warrior, though i’m glad that they can call it what it is, at least it wasn’t an arbitrary name change.

    I look forward on seeing the next episode of course, and I can see why this took so much time! The research and all s a bit mind blowing in some ways. I would have only gone back to the PC/Console differences and on, I don’t think I would have gone so far back or explained western RPGs so detailed. Though that’s largely due to the fact console RPGs – particularly Final Fantasy – were really my first introductions to RPGs.

    I WISH I had had friends willing and able to D&D with me when I was younger XD Ahh well.

    Really great and well worth the wait Roo.

    Also… your Japanese is getting better 😉

  • Mr. K Mr. K
    Posted March 17, 2012 at 12:52 AM | Permalink

    Thank goodness someone got the “Final” Fantasy story right. It had everything to do with Sakaguchi. Not the company at large. I knew if anyone could do it, it would be you, Roo.

    Rock on. Can’t wait for the next part.

  • Vulcan Assassin Vulcan Assassin
    Posted March 17, 2012 at 1:11 AM | Permalink

    Great Video as always, thanks Roo. I am so glad I discovered this site a few weeks ago. It has helped me fall back in love with, and discover some of the best treasures video games have to offer. Keep up the Excellent Work, I look forward to more!

  • The Male White Mage The Male White Mage
    Posted March 17, 2012 at 1:28 AM | Permalink

    Talking about Akalabeth and Wizardry brought me down a bit due to me thinking about how my Apple II is dying. (The connection on the back of the monitor is loose and certain sound effect makes a kicking sound inside the computer.)

    Roo may I ask how many takes it took for the spinning coin to land right?

  • Knightcrawler
    Posted March 17, 2012 at 4:16 AM | Permalink

    Thought occurs to me. Wasn’t Seiken Densetsu going to be Square’s first RPG? And it was delayed and delayed and eventually cancelled (and later revived on the GameBoy, then SNES). What brought about the idea to start making Seiken Densetsu?

  • max.q.bz
    Posted March 17, 2012 at 4:26 AM | Permalink

    The shot of the netty pot knocked me on my ass. I am crying. You are a quiet, subtle genius.

  • widdowson91
    Posted March 17, 2012 at 10:16 AM | Permalink

    I love Roo’s videos, they’re always informative and entertaining. I’ve been a fan of role-playing video games for as long as I can remember and love JRPGs more than anything. Even though I’ll have to admit that WRPGs have been better in recent years, games such as the wonderful Xenoblade Chronicles are a reminder that the JRPG still have life left in them. Horii and Sakaguchi are masters, I cna’t priase them enough. My games collection is japm-packed full of their games.

  • Roo Roo
    Posted March 17, 2012 at 9:35 PM | Permalink

    Hey all, thanks for the kind words.  I’m glad everyoen enjoyed it.  It took a lot of work, and help from many people (like our own SonicRose) to put it all together.

    icemann: Like I’ve said elsewhere, this isn’t the be all and end all of RPG history, but I wanted to hit on the major influences in what made 16-bit RPGs such a force in the 90′s, and it’s hard to deny the two biggest franchises in the East and West: Ultima, Wizardry, Dragon Quest, & Final Fantasy. Unfortunately, some things had to be cut, just to keep things (somewhat) concise.

    But some other influential series that I could have easily talked about were Phantasy Star in the East, and Might and Magic in the West, just for starters. Perhaps this video might inspire people to look into the history of this genre even more. As I mentioned in the credits, some great reference books in this vein include “Dungeons and Desktops” as well as “Power Up”.

    Mr. K: Getting that true story sorted out took awhile.

    Male White Mage: What you saw was actually the first take.  Though I did it another dozen times just to be sure, nothing matched that first one.

    Knightcrawler: That’s a good question.  Now I’ll have to look into that.

  • Sonic Rose sonicrose
    Posted March 18, 2012 at 2:18 AM | Permalink

    Thanks Roo, but you really deserve a bow. I also got a couple pronunciations a bit askew… hope to be of help in the future! 🙂

  • dodoria
    Posted March 18, 2012 at 4:37 AM | Permalink

    The Atari 2600 console had exactly one conventional RPG, called Dragonstomper, technically the first to appear on a console.  “Conventional” in the relative sense, anyway.   It takes place entirely on the overworld map screen, your avatar is just a dot, and a news ticker on the bottom of the screen explains your interactions with things.  There are random encounters, rendered as a bunch of monsters appearing near your dot for a battle, which the ticker describes blow for blow (hit points lost, damage dealt, loot left behind, etc.).  The game strongly reminds me of Majora’s Mask, too much to be a coincidence, but it seems too crazy to be true.

  • icemann
    Posted March 18, 2012 at 5:04 AM | Permalink

    Roo: Definitely and thats perfectly understandable, on needing to just stick with the biggest influences. For me Phantasy Star 1 was the first RPG I ever played (though Might and Magic V: Darkside of Xeen was the absolute first I ever saw and completely amazed by) and been forever hooked on RPGs ever since, so I’m probably alittle biased.

    I thought the first “Y’s” game was pretty awesome as well. That game in particular strayed from the Final Fantasy style quite a fair bit.

    I look forward to watching the next part of the RPG History videos.

  • silverblade18
    Posted March 18, 2012 at 9:15 AM | Permalink

    Ironicaly, I have never played a Final Fantasy game, a Dragon quest game, or an Ultima game..I’m hoping to get a Retron 3, tho it sadly seems to play only American games…

  • lessten
    Posted March 19, 2012 at 12:15 AM | Permalink

    On the second video, when you were saying things like ” Another jrpg was released around the same time” and “When it came to jrpgs to were 2 colossi in the room” I just kept saying Final Fantasy, Final Fantasy, Final Fantasy, Final Fantasy, until you said final fantasy.

  • AkiraVGA
    Posted March 20, 2012 at 12:00 AM | Permalink

    It’s stuff like this that really makes people think about how closely things can be connected. To remind people that designers are gamers themselves and the guy sitting in his basement saying, “You know what would be a great game?…” isn’t much different from the guy who actually makes a new game.

    These early days of game design weren’t as heavily influenced by profit which likely helped the designers to make the games they had in mind. Indie titles today have that kind of thing going… as long as there are gamers out there who take the step to make a game they feel should exist, we all have something to look forward to.

  • Priest4hire
    Posted March 21, 2012 at 8:21 AM | Permalink

    A minor nitpick: Ultima III’s combat system wasn’t a replacement for the first person wireframe combat of older titles. It replaced a system where the player’s character simply traded blows with monsters on the overworld map. The first person was for dungeons, and they wouldn’t be eliminated until Ultima VI. Ultima III thus still had the first person wireframe combat, though it was rare due to how dungeons worked in the series. 

    Mainly, I think you sell the Western RPG side a little short. I understand this is about console RPGs and certainly I don’t expect you to waste time getting into WRPG history. But you give the impression that little happened between the release of Ultima III, in 1983, and Final Fantasy VI in 1994, followed by stagnation. They may not have achieved the level of success that console RPGs did but on the home computer side RPGs were not niche. Keep in mind that in that span we’re talking 150+ games. This was the home computer RPG golden age and saw an amazing variety of titles. Pretty much every developer or publisher of note had RPGs. And it was big enough to support large, complex and thus expensive to develop titles like Ultima VII, Darklands and The Elder Scrolls: Arena. The latter of which came out in 1994, not the late nineties. If I’m being overly critical, it’s just that this part of RPG history is already poorly represented with so many gamers coming in later and having no knowledge or experience of it. 


  • loller
    Posted March 21, 2012 at 9:42 AM | Permalink

    Whoa, it’s Tony Knightcrawler. Your avatar took over the Reddit post.

  • Gamersaur
    Posted March 21, 2012 at 2:25 PM | Permalink

    These type of videos are very informative and entertaining. Keep up the awesome work Roo!

  • Roo Roo
    Posted March 22, 2012 at 4:48 AM | Permalink

    Priest4hire: Quite right – that is something I just worded poorly and should fix.  As for selling WRPGs short… I can see where you’re coming from, but I specifically left the West behind to hit Dragon Quest mainly because I just wanted to touch on the biggest influences for that series.  I realize that the late 80’s/early 90’s are generally considered a “golden age” of WRPGs, but that wasn’t really apropos for this video.  And I consider them “niche”, simply because their worldwide sales were so low compared to JRPGs at the time.  Hell, RPGs in general can be considered niche if you compare them to genres like platformers – it depends on your frame of reference.  And the only reason I mention their stagnation in the mid-90’s was because it contrasted with the peak of the JRPG.

    In the end, that’s why I mentioned Dungeons and Desktops, so people more interested in the history of computer RPGs could read up on it for themselves.  I apologize for any unintended impressions.

  • The Onion Knight
    Posted March 27, 2012 at 6:02 PM | Permalink

    I asbsolutely love your videos Roo! This was great since I love classic RPGs and Final Fantasy is my favorite series, (I bought a Famicom and Super Famicom just to play the original FFs that weren’t released in the US back then). I recently got into playing Dragon Quest so your videos helped me understand the greatness of this series.

    I hope to see more like this!

  • Gnashvar
    Posted March 27, 2012 at 11:36 PM | Permalink

    I never knew the truth behind Final Fantasy.   Thanks for clearing that up.  Great videos.

  • Stamos
    Posted April 6, 2012 at 9:01 AM | Permalink

    Oh god the nostalgia! ty for this amazing review

  • Black and White Imp
    Posted April 30, 2012 at 2:43 AM | Permalink

    Always a pleasure to watch your videos!  Thanks! 


    Also, would The Peacekeepers rate as a 16 bit gem?  It was a little-played SNES game that was a beat-em up, Final FIght type, but with a weird sort of anime storyline and branching paths with different levels and cut scenes that changed depending on the characters selected, and hidden characters to play!


    Also, balls hard. 

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