I’ve played RPGs my entire life and I’ve seen my fair share of tropes and cliches. I’ve killed dragons, I’ve crushed tyrants, I’ve saved princesses, and I’ve hurled magic at my enemies. I’ve also lost my memory, lost my equipment, and lost my friends. Killing foozles is tough work, but it’s hard to ignore that the things in this list remain relatively constant in nearly every RPG. Welcome to the Top 10 RPG Cliches in gaming.
If you are the type that likes to follow the flowchart to understand things, we’ve got you covered as well!
While the list doesn’t cover all of them, it certainly hits the highlights. Did we miss any? Jump in the comments and call em out!
1. You are Level 1, 15 years old, and the savior of the world
Throughout the history of RPGs (especially Japanese ones) this has been a mainstay of lazy storytelling. Your main character is usually a kid with literally zero combat skills and somehow has to rise to power, become the 'hero', and save the universe by defeating some foozle. Lunar the Silver Star is a great example as protagonist Alex is playing with his friends Nall and Ramus one moment and attacking Xenobia, the Magic Emperor, and Ghaleon the next! Similarly, the only one who can stop the King of All Evil, Ganon is a “Fairy Boy” who doesn’t even start his journey with a weapon. Oh, you’re in a sequel? Foozle magic! Start over, and no whining. Worst offender: Lunar series
2. I have amnesia
If RPGs are to be believed, amnesia is as common an occurrence as Facebook status updates. Main characters waking up without any inclination of who they are or how they got there plagues RPGs both Eastern and Western alike. There are only two examples of this done correctly - The Nameless One in Planescape Torment and Kaim in Lost Odyssey. In both of those examples, the amnesia is a central part of the character development, not just a eye-rollingly weak vehicle to be able to skip out on backstory development. Worst offender: Any JRPG
3. I will become powerful by killing small animals!
You know who thinks they'll become powerful by killing small animals? Psychopaths and would-be serial killers. Killing small animals is one of the classic signs of a disturbed youth, and there isn't a horde of people that want you to do it en masse in the real world. (Despite the endless grind of slaughter MMOs put you through to collect teeth and fur) The experience of killing five rabbits, five snakes, and five boars is likely going to yield a trip to the psychiatrist, not a trip to the trainer. Luke Skywalker used to bullseye Womp Rats in his T-16 back home - I'm surprised he wasn't slaughtering Jedi younglings like his dad. The only thing worse that killing small animals is being killed by small animals. Worst offender: Nearly all MMOs including Final Fantasy XI and World of Warcraft
4. Avenge my family member, or whatever.
Whether they died before the game began or 10 minutes in, this trope often combines with any of the others on this list to make up the 'complexity' of the story arch for your character. Brother, sister, but most often father, avenging the death of a loved one (often with no backstory other than the assertion that they are related) provides fuel for our protagonist to go kill the foozle. Roughly half way through the game, the player, the character, and most importantly the story has forgotten the dead loved one. Rest assured, there will be a footnote tacked on to the ending...maybe. Worst Offender: Final Fantasy series
5. Let's be patient and attack one at a time
Traditional RPGs are turn based, and that means a great deal of patience for both sides. The unstated rules play out like Napoleonic Warfare tactics with everyone marching to battle in a straight-ish line and then attacking only when their arbitrary time meter is full. Obviously this time is well spent preparing for a solid assault on the enemy...or bouncing back and forth in an idle animation - it's sometimes hard to spot a true tactician at work. "Action RPGs" feature more direct combat, but often enough that's fighting with the camera rather than the enemies in front of you. Worst offender: Shining Force series
6. I'm a complete stranger, but sure...I'll help you with your random bullshit
The folks in our favorite fictional worlds are some of the most forthcoming and honest people in the universe. Without so much as an introduction or the exchange of the most basic of pleasantries they'll spill their most intimate secrets. "I'm Mirabelle Monet. I run the Fo'c's'le, a boarding house for sailors. Sorry, I reserve my beds for seamen", "My wife is sick, please go fetch a potion to save her", "I am Error", or "I keep my secret stash in the well outside!" jumps out of their mouths without hesitation. Similarly, they want you to handle all of their problems for them. "Find my loved one", "Kill those scary monsters", or "I dropped my helmet somewhere" are common requests. There is no doubt that NPCs have no verbal filter. It’s also pretty clear that standing behind a counter, wandering in circles, or standing in one place kicking your feet pretending like you are going somewhere isn’t getting your chore done either. Worst offender: The Elder Scrolls series
7. I am the chosen one, but sure, I'll pay for my supplies
There are few jobs that are more expensive than being an adventurer. Killing small animals doesn't pay well and armor is expensive. A shopkeeper probably sees a lot of "chosen ones" in his day, so I do understand why they feel the need to charge, but full price seems a bit harsh. The worse part is that the "Law of Annoying Drop Percentages" dictates that the second you've saved enough and have purchased the "Mystic Sword of Squirrel Death" you'll likely find a +2 version of it dropped at your feet. The Law also dictates that it's an item that only the main character can use, making it vendor fodder. That'd be a windfall if the vendor didn't charge you 1000 bucks for it, but will buy it back for a measly 50. Don't worry, I'm sure the next adventurer will gladly buy your discarded "Sword of Pawn Shop Pricing". Insult to injury also dictates that you'll likely have absolutely no use for money by the end of the game anyway. Oh, you accidentally sold your that item you just got? Well, it’s gone now, mister - very few traditional RPGs have a ‘buy back’ option. Worst offender: Final Fantasy series
8. I'm 5'10". My hair is 6'4". My weapon is 7'
To see this phenomenon in action you have to look no further than the Final Fantasy series. Early Final Fantasy titles featured weapons the size of their wielders, but that was due to limitation in the sprite sizes. For some reason, Square decided that'd be carried forward into their future titles. Cloud's hair stands like Guile from Street Fighter II, but his sword stands even taller. Looking like the kind of steak knife you might get at Outback Steak House, the Buster Sword looks like the kind of weapon that would not only make you thirst to wield, but also give you a hernia in the process. Final Fantasy isn't the only offender - everyone from the Dynasty Warrior series clearly hits the gym, as evidenced by weapons that clearly outweigh the person carrying them. If bigger is indeed better, these guys are the best. Worst offender: Final Fantasy VII
9. Female armor - the less there is, the more it protects
If there is a better example of this than the Lineage or Tera series, I don't know what it'd be. Armor progresses from semi-nude to damned near stripper levels, and that can only mean you are harder to hit. Perhaps the enemy is distracted by all the fleshy bits, but a midriff-bearing set of plate has to protect the body less than the standard chunk of leather armor, no? Either way, it certainly makes the Japanese RPG market happy...maybe a little too happy... Worst offender: Tera and Lineage series (tie)
10. Steal EVERYTHING
I have a lot of trouble with RPGs (The Elder Scrolls series especially). You see, no matter what profession I’d like to play, I always somehow end up a thief. It’s not just that I enjoy sneaking and assassination (though I do, very, very much), it’s that I don’t like to pay for things. Shop keepers are always raking me over the coals with their ridiculous prices, and it’s likely because they have to factor in the incredible amounts of pocket-stuffing theft that occurs in their shops. I run into people’s houses and ransack their belongings. I smash their pots, overturn rocks, cut their grass with my sword, steal their books (but never read them beyond the second it takes to earn a skill point), kick and throw their chickens, steal their bandages, take family heirlooms, make off with their legendary armor, and otherwise take anything that isn’t bolted to the ground. I guess what I’m saying is that I have a problem and only my fence and psychiatrist can understand me. They tell me that there is no use for money in the end-game, but I don’t listen. I think this is the only reason I ever use quicksave and quickload. I have a problem... Worst offender: The Elder Scrolls series