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One of the first games to fuse real-time action with RPG elements was the cult hit Dungeons of Daggorath for the TRS-80 Color Computer. Released in 1982, Daggorath combined a typical first-person dungeon crawl with real-time gameplay requiring quick keyboard-presses.
Classic action RPGs
While Western developers continued to explore the possibilities of real-time RPG action, Japanese developers, with their recently aroused interest in the RPG genre, tweaked the formula to create a new brand of action/RPG. The company at the forefront of this was Nihon Falcom.
Falcom's Dragon Slayer, released in 1984, was a simple real-time treasure grab game. However, its sequel, Xanadu (released in 1985) was a fully-fledged RPG with character stats and a large quest. What set Xanadu apart from other RPGs was its action-based combat. The game was immensely popular in Japan, setting records for PC game sales.
The next two years would see the release of games that would further define the action/RPG genre in Japan. Falcom released the first installment of its Ys series in 1987. While not very popular in the West, the long-running Ys series has performed strongly in the Japanese market, with many sequels, remakes and ports in the decades that followed its release. The Legend of Zelda influenced later games in the action-RPG genre though it was not itself an action/RPG since it lacked RPG elements such as experience points. Zelda II also implemented an RPG-esque system with action elements, making it closer to an action-RPG than other Zeldas.
1990 would see the release of Crystalis for the NES and also of Golden Axe Warrior for the Sega Master System. Both games featured Zelda-like gameplay blended with genuine RPG elements, such as experience points, statistics-based equipment, and a magic-casting system.
Return of the first-person view
In late 1987, FTL Games released Dungeon Master, a critically acclaimed dungeon crawl game that redefined the genre and set the standard for real-time 3D action/RPGs for the next several years. When released in Japan in 1990, Dungeon Master became the first action/RPG to achieve the number-one sales rank in both Japan and the U.S.
As a revolutionary step, Blue Sky Productions released Ultima Underworld: The Stygian Abyss in 1992. This innovative game was a technological marvel, using a fully 3D first-person perspective combined with real-time action and a surprisingly deep role-playing experience. One of the game's developers, Warren Spector, would go on to help develop more games combining action and RPG gameplay, such as System Shock and Deus Ex.
Other first-person RPGs in the style of Ultima Underworld include Shadowcaster by Raven Software and id Software in 1993 created with an early version of the Doom engine, The Elder Scrolls series and Fallout 3 by Bethesda, Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines by Troika Games, Baroque by Sting Entertainment and recently Hellgate: London by Flagship Studios which was formed from Blizzard North executives and developers responsible for the Diablo franchise (also supports third-person view).
Another recent example of this genre includes Borderlands, due to the heavy RPG elements within this game, such as quest-based game play and also character traits and leveling system, its developer Gearbox software has dubbed it as a "role-playing shooter".
Hack and slash
In 1991, Squaresoft released Seiken Densetsu, also known as Final Fantasy Adventure or Sword of Mana in the West, for the Game Boy. Like Crystallis, the action in Seiken Densetsu bore a strong resemblance to that of Zelda, but added more RPG elements. It was the first console RPG to allow players to kill townspeople, though later Mana games lack this feature.
Unique among video games are Capcom's Knights of the Round (1991), King of Dragons (1991), Dungeons & Dragons: Tower of Doom (1993) and Dungeons & Dragons: Shadow over Mystara (1996). These games were released for the arcades, and featured a blending of beat 'em up and RPG characteristics. The games were later released for the Sega Saturn together as the Dungeons & Dragons Collection (1999). Several later beat 'em ups followed this same formula, including Guardian Heroes, Castle Crashers and Dungeon & Fighter.
In Japan on Super Famicom, Tales of Phantasia was released in Japan in 1995, featuring real-time side-scrolling combat mode and an exploration mode similar to classic console RPGs. In 1996, Star Ocean was released that also has real-time combat and classic exploration but features bird's eye view. Namco and Enix did not publish these two titles in America, though some of the sequels were later released in the U.S.
The fifth generation era of consoles saw several popular action RPGs, such as Tales of Eternia, Brave Fencer Musashi and Legend of Oasis. All consoles of the sixth generation era have several action/RPGs, such as Sudeki, Phantasy Star Online, Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance, Kingdom Hearts, .hack, and Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII.
Diablo, the point-and-click genre
In 1996, a stagnant PC RPG market was revitalized by Blizzard's Diablo, an action/RPG that used a point-and-click interface and offered gamers a free online service to play with others that maintained the same rules and gameplay.
Diablo's effect on the market was significant; it had many imitators and its style of combat went on to be used by many MMORPGs that came after. For many years afterwards, games that closely mimicked the Diablo formula were referred to as "Diablo clones." The definition of a Diablo clone is even vaguer than that of an action RPG, but typically such games have each player controlling a single character and have a strong focus on combat, with plot and character interaction kept to a minimum. In some examples, non-player characters have only one purpose—be it to buy or sell items or upgrade the player's abilities—or issue them with combat-centric quests. They also have few or no puzzles, with all problems instead having an action-based solution (such as breaking a wooden door open with an axe rather than having to find its key).
Blizzard later released a sequel, Diablo II in 2000, and it became an international sensation in America, Europe, and Asia. Diablo II's effect on the gaming industry led to an even larger number of "clones" than its predecessor, inspiring games for almost a decade. Diablo III is currently being developed.
Some of the aforementioned diablo clones are: The Sacred series, Divine divinity, Beyond divinity, Titan Quest, Dungeon Siege series, Loki: Heroes of Mythology, Legend: Hand of God, Nox, Fate, Torchlight, Path of Exile.
Return to roleplaying
While most action-RPGs focus on hack & slash while exploring a world and building character stats, some titles contain many dialogue choices with consequences in the game world. Some games such as Star Ocean, Mass Effect, Mass Effect 2, Deus Ex: Invisible War, Alpha Protocol, Fallout 3, White Gold: War in Paradise, Dragon Age: Origins, and Fable allow player to make many game-altering choices in dialogues and events, while still maintaining their respective action elements, whether they be in the first person or the third person. However, a full-fledged dialogue system with highly impressionable NPC as seen in pure PC-RPGs did not reappear in an action RPG until the release of Gothic series (2001, 2002, 2006) and Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines in 2004.