The First Console Role-Playing Game Was?
Although quite simplistic by today’s standards (or even the standards of the late 1980s-era RPG video games that followed it), the 1982 release of Dragonstomper for the Atari 2600 not only marked the introduction of the role-playing game genre to the video game console market but, for its time, was a surprisingly sophisticated game.
The game follows the classic role-playing game trope of a hero saving the kingdom, but the gameplay wasn’t strictly linear. The player had to explore an overworld filled with castles, churches, huts, and abandoned structures, there were random battles with monsters, and each successful conflict resulted in increased stats (although curiously, the ubiquitous player experience mechanism was missing).
One of Dragonstomper’s distinguishing features, beyond the introduction of RPG mechanics to the console market, was the open-ended nature of many of the game’s puzzles and problems. Unlike the majority of linear one-solution video games on the market, Dragonstomper allowed players to solve puzzles in multiple ways and with multiple results. You could, for example, play cautiously and solve problems by gathering items to safely descend into a cave or you could just jump and hope that the damage from falling didn’t do you in.
Dragonstomper was quite expensive for an Atari title thanks entirely to the Starpath Supercharger. The Supercharger, a Starpath title exclusive, was a specialty Atari cartridge that allowed players to use standard audio cassette tapes to load games, which expanded the Atari’s base storage from 128 bytes to 6 kilobytes (a 49-fold increase in capacity). The Supercharger sold for $69.95 (approximately $187 adjusted for inflation), which was a pretty steep price for an add-on considering the Atari 2600 itself sold for around $125 in 1982.