The Great Debate: Does The Legend of Zelda Qualify as an RPG?

This month, the theme of my articles are going to revolve around some of the bigger questions of debate in RPG gaming. The topics I have chosen are actual conversations I’ve had with other people, and I know have been had by others in the gaming community.

For my first topic, I have decided to tackle the following question: Should The Legend of Zelda series be classified as an RPG? Now, before I get into it, I want to point out that this article is an opinion piece, and as this is a topic for debate and discussion, I am always open to CIVIL responses to the material. I know I’m going to be picking apart one of the most beloved video game series out there, but do take the time to consider my reasons, and if you disagree, please comment and offer your opinion on the matter.

Now then, let’s begin.

Before I give my stance, I want to define two things: My definitions of role-playing, and a Role-playing video game. I define role-playing as the act of taking on the persona of another character, and performing their lives, either scripted or of the player’s choosing. A Role-Playing video game (now shortened to RPG) takes this method of role-playing, allowing you to assume the role of one or more characters and includes a complex, developed mathematical system to allow for character growth on a technical or skill level.

Let’s look at these two definitions separately, starting with role-playing. Does The Legend of Zelda count as role-playing? Absolutely. As Link, you go on an epic quest to save Princess Zelda, and save Hyrule from the terrible evil that threatens it. You have taken the role of the hero, and have taken on said hero’s task. The same can be said about almost any video game out there. Whether you’re Mario out to save your beloved Peach, or Mega Man trying to stop the plots of Dr. Wily, You will always play the hero.

Looking at it from an RPG perspective, does The Legend of Zelda count as an RPG? That is where I cannot agree. There are many technical factors that affect this stance; the first being the lack of visible stats. This is not to say that statistics are not included in the games. Basic attack and defense modifiers are in play, as well as a health system. For example, let’s assume the first sword Link receives does standard damage to an enemy. Eventually, he will gain the Master Sword, which now does double the damage of the original sword, making his hacking and slashing all the easier. As for your health, it is gained by collecting heart pieces, or defeating plot bosses. With this method, Link’s means of growth are finite and predictable. Again, these mechanics are present in a game like Mega Man. The Mega Buster does normal damage, where an equipped weapon will deal more damage to the robot master with a weakness to that weapon.

An RPG includes stats which are typically more complex in their design. They include a physical and magical attack and/or defense stat, speed or movement stats, a numeric hit point system, and more. Weapons and armor have the effect of modifying these stats, offering a vast amount of customization. As for character growth, more often than not it is based on an experience point system, meaning growth is more related to the work you put in throughout your play time, instead of at any fixed point. These are the core elements that define an RPG, and these are the elements lacking in the Zelda games.

Now like other game series’, there are exceptions to the rule, and Zelda is no different. With the release of the Hyrule Warriors games, some RPG elements were included in the game, granting attack stats with weapons, and methods of character customization not included in games in the main series. An experience system is also included for additional character growth. There’s no denying that Hyrule Warriors took steps to being a real RPG game.

While this is one of the most common arguments made to determine the Zelda games position as an RPG, I feel it’s the most relevant. Stats and customization in RPGs date all the way back to the pen and paper days of Dungeons & Dragons, and it’s this main fact that truly defines an RPG as a game of its genre. Does that mean that Zelda games are bad? Absolutely not.

So what genre do we then classify this series? Well, it’s a lot of things. It’s an action-adventure game combined with a puzzle based dungeon-crawler. Dungeons require new tools that you acquire as you go, and there are plenty of creatures to get in your way.

The Legend of Zelda is still one of the most iconic games in Nintendo’s library, standing alongside heroes like Mario or Kirby, or Fox McCloud. Even if I can’t consider it an RPG, It’s still one of the most successful video game franchises to ever exist. The games have their own style, an engaging level of gameplay, and each story is unique, while still following a specific pattern. If a true Zelda RPG is ever developed, you bet your bottom dollar that I’ll be checking it out. Until then, the non-Hyrule Warriors installments of the series will have to sit out of my many RPG discussions in the future.

The Great Debate: Does The Legend of Zelda Qualify as an RPG?

One thought on “The Great Debate: Does The Legend of Zelda Qualify as an RPG?

  1. Great post. I know a lot of places have called Zelda an RPG in the past, and while I see where they may be coming from, I can’t really agree with them. Action-RPG though? Ehhh, I feel like that’s still not quite the genre. For me, I’d still classify it as “adventure.”


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