RPGs tend to have a variety of gameplay features, such as combat system, exploration, customisation, side quests, and many others. Not everyone will like every aspect in a game, but some aspects of the game can be incredibly memorable and appeal to your liking as you play them. Below are some of my favourite gameplay features from a variety of RPG games.
1) Sphere Grid System (Final Fantasy X/Final Fantasy X HD)
In contrast with other Final Fantasy games, Final Fantasy X introduced a different customisation and leveling systems. No longer you will level up your characters by gaining experience points upon defeating enemies, in this game you gain Ability Points (AP).
As you gain enough AP, you will gain a new Sphere Level, which you can use it to move around the Sphere Grid for different characters and gain stats increase or learn new abilities. Each character are placed in different locations in a Sphere Grid, where their own routes are catered towards their own strengths. For example, Tidus's Sphere Grid route emphasises on Speed, Strength, and HP attributes, whereas Yuna's Sphere Grid route emphasises on Magic, Magic Defense, and MP.
Late in the game, you can actually move around the Sphere Grid and gain new attributes on other characters' routes by using special Spheres. In this game, to actually learn a new ability or gain a stat increase from the Nodes, you must use up a Sphere item.
What makes this Sphere Grid system fairly unique is that it allows your characters to learn every Ability and gain maximum stats easily. As there are no actual levels in the game, you must utliise as many Nodes as you can to gain more stats again tougher monsters.
The original Final Fantasy X game introduces the basic Sphere Grid system, but Final Fantasy X International and the later Final Fantasy X HD include a more advanced Sphere Grid system with less Nodes. The Sphere Grid system perhaps what influences similar leveling systems from other RPG games such as Digital Devil Saga games' Mantra systems, Lilium Orb system from Tales of Xillia and Crystarium system from Final Fantasy XIII.
2) Character Classes (Final Fantasy IX)
Final Fantasy IX is one of my favourite RPGs as well. In comparison to Final Fantasy VII, Final Fantasy VIII, and Final Fantasy X, each character in the game have their own actual pros and cons such as having different stats and abilities, such as Zidane specialises with stealing items and good offensive physical attacks, and Vivi specialises with offensive magic.
Although technically the previously mentioned Final Fantasy games allow certain characters customisation routes such as making Tidus a pure physical character instead of a magic user, Final Fantasy IX encourages me to use every character in a more persuasive way.
Firstly, each character is different. Dagger and Eiko may have the same class as White Mage, but their actual stats and actual abilities can differ a lot. Dagger can use more offensive Summons than Eiko as well as her powerful Grand Summon Trance command, Eiko can use Double White Magic Trance command and can also cast the powerful Holy magic. Depending on your playstyle, each character can provide the right balance to you.
To a certain degree, each character in Final Fantasy XIII has their own specialised Paradigm Roles, but they can also learn other Paradigme roles, albeit with lesser Crystarium nodes and abilities. This in a way, alludes to Final Fantasy IX classes system, but to a lesser degree.
In short, Final Fantasy IX is one of the few RPGs that encourage to use every character to see how good or bad their are, compared to other RPGs.
3) Press Turn System (Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne)
Shin Megami Tensei games are very popular back in the PS2 days. One of my favourite things about Shin Megami Tensei games is that each game is not afraid to tackle dark themes and storyline. Another thing that strike me the most is the Press Turn System from most of the PS2 Shin Megami Tensei games, firstly originated from Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne.
Press Turn System is a combat system that is both rewarding and punishing. Every action consumes one Icon, and you can pass to the next character's turn by consuming a half Icon (which makes it flashing). If you score a critical hit or hit an enemy's weakness, you will consume another half Icon, allowing you to gain more Turns for your current battle phase. Conversely, if you missed your attacks on enemies, your Icons will decrease, and if your attacks are drained or reflected, all of your Icons will be depleted. Enemies' Phase will play the same rules.
What I like about this combat system as it encourages even more careful planning. What if your enemies are immune to physical attacks? What if your playable Demi-Fiend is on the verge of dying? Many scenarios can happen if you do not play carefully.
Other Shin Megami Tensei games use this similar combat system, namely the two Digital Devil Saga games. Persona 3 and Persona 4 uses similar combat system like the Press Turn system, where it allows you to hit another enemy if you knocked down an enemy with it's weakness or with a critical hit. This is perhaps one of the most rewarding as well as punishing combat system of many RPG games.
4) Blood Echoes Retrieval (Bloodborne)
Blood Echoes in Bloodborne function similarly to Souls used in Demon's Souls and the first two Dark Souls games. Blood Echoes act as your currency to buy new equipment, items, or upgrading your weapons.
Blood Echoes are obtained by defeating enemies, defeating bosses, and using up special items. If you are defeated by a regular enemy and bosses, you will lose all of your Blood Echoes, and you can only retrieve them by touching your bloodstain. Dying again will permanently cause your Blood Echoes to be lost.
However, a certain rare case may happen if you die from regular enemies. For example, a certain regular enemy close to your dying area can possess all of your Blood Echoes if you do not retrieve it from your bloodstain immediately. Defeating that enemy will allow you to retrieve back your Blood Echoes, but getting killed by other enemies will permanently lose all of your Blood Echoes.
In a very challenging RPG game like Bloodborne and Demon's Souls, this single difference of retrieving your Souls back can be a drastic change from your usual process of touching back your bloodstain to retrieve your Souls and Blood Echoes.
5) Social Links (Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4)
Social Links is a socialising system where having high Social Links allow you to create more powerful Personas with increased level gains. To do so, you must socialise with other people in both Persona 3 and Persona 4. Although Persona 3 started the Social Link system, Persona 4 is much more rewarding compared to Persona 3's Social Link system.
The reason is because Persona 4's Social Link system includes your party members, which is very recommended to do so as having high level Social Link ranks will give you more benefits. Those benefits include assist attacks, helping a downed party member to get up, and others.
Another reason why Social Link in this game is appealing are the stories behind of each person in their respective Social Links. For example, the Death Arcana Social Link involves your character and an old woman interactions, who is grieving about the loss of her husband. Each Social Link have fairly unique story, with very realistic and likable personalities.
It will take a lot from Atlus to surpass Persona 4's Social Link system, but I am looking forward to how they will improve on it in their upcoming Persona 5.