Note: This node was written as an RPG-specific extension to the old video game noding convention. Since then, that writeup has been superceded by the Video Game FAQ, which is full of fantastic advice to would-be reviewers, and should be used in addition to the advice presented below.
In the tradition of the excellent noding convention for game reviews, the following is an attempt to standardize CRPG reviews towards a similar format, as well as to provide advice and insight into the reviewing process itself.
While you can always use the current general-purpose template for reviewing computer- or console-based RPGs, those of a more scholarly bent (or on a quest to garner more XP) might want a more RPG-specific framework on which to base their reviews.
Part I: The Header
Start with the platform, title, and publishing information (as much as you have - do some research). Aside from issues of completeness, this namespaces the writeup - readers can tell at a glance, "Ah, this is a video game they're talking about." Regarding the title, write it as it appears on the title screen, although you can use pipe links to existing well-established but differently named nodes (see example). Feel free to provide well-known aliases for the title (e.g. Ultima: Exodus (Ultima III)), in case a game is part of a series and its number is not apparent from the title.
Some consoles (Atari, for one) will have rarity guides, so do a quick search before you node, and include the rarity value in your review. If there's a game list present for your platform (see Atari games for an example), pipe-link it to the 'Title' entry.
Title: King's Quest V: Absence Makes The Heart Go Yonder (King's Quest 5)
Year of Release: 1991
Next comes the RPG-specific information. Provide the RPG type, the genre (fantasy, sci-fi, modern-day, etc), the party size (x characters in a party out of N possible characters), playing modes (single- or multi-player), and perspective/view mode (first person, side-view, overhead, isometric 3D, etc). Nearly all RPGs have a save system of some kind, in addition to the lives/continues. Mention these as well.
Title: Final Fantasy
Type: Classic RPG
Party size: 4 out of 6
Perspective: Overworld and dungeons: Overhead, Battles: Side-view
Save System: Battery Save (at Inn, or on overworld using items)
Lives: 1 life, no one ups.
Continues: No continues, reload from last save point.
Title: River City Ransom
Type: Adventure RPG, Type II (Explicit stats, advancement by powerups)
Genre: Modern Day, Street Fighting
Party size: 1 out of 2
Modes: Single-player, 2 player simultaneous
Perspective: Isometric 3D
Save System: Password based
Lives: 1 life, no one ups.
Continues: Unlimited, with money penalty, resume from last visited Mall.
Feel free to use the following header when writing RPG reviews (fill in the information in italics, if applicable).
<STRONG>[Platform Game List|Title]:</STRONG> Game title <em>([alias])</em><BR>
<STRONG>[Platform rarity guide|Rarity]:</STRONG> rating<BR>
<STRONG>Year of Release:</STRONG> Year<BR>
<STRONG>[ESRB] Rating</STRONG>: Rating <BR>
<STRONG>[Console RPG types|Type]</STRONG>: RPG type<BR>
<STRONG>Party size</STRONG>: x out of N possible<BR>
<STRONG>Perspectives</STRONG>: perspective information<BR>
<STRONG>Save System</STRONG>: save system<BR>
<STRONG>Lives:</STRONG> lives and one ups information<BR>
<STRONG>Continues:</STRONG> continue information<BR>
Review goes here.
<small>This write-up complies with the [Reviewing CRPGs] standard.</small>
Part II: The Review
As any fan of Roger Ebert can tell you, writing reviews is very much an art form. Ideally, a reviewer has to provide information, pass a (non-condescending) judgement, and to do so in an entertaining manner. The review's intended audience plays an important role -- the author has to decide whether the purpose of the review is prescriptive or scholarly. In the former case, the review serves as a filter, as advice on whether or not the product is worthy of the reader's money and time (think reviews of new releases in your monthly gaming magazine). On the other hand, when reviewing 'classic' games for long-outdated platforms, there's very little point in giving recommendations. In these cases, a more in-depth review is more appropriate, with emphasis on a more detailed analysis, on providing context between related games, or on defending a particular thesis.
The next two sections, Plot/World Details and Game System, are not intended as a rigid checklist of topics to cover, but more as a collection of ideas to consider when you're writing your review.
Summarize the plot. However complex or simplistic, a background story is a staple feature of RPGs. The game manual usually has a brief plot description, and there's often an intro scene that sets the stage, before or after the title screen.
What is the game's plot complexity? Does the game consist of a pre-determined sequence of levels (also referred to as 'stages' or 'boards')? Are there cut scenes or animations during the game, that advance and reveal the plot? Does the game take place on one level (the game world), but follow a single over-arching plot? Are there side quests? Are there hidden minigames or easter eggs? Does the game have alternative endings, and is the story at all determined by your actions (other than in obvious ways, like dying)? Some games have little or no enforced plot at all, and instead have a Daggerfall-like world in which you set your own goals, and explore freely.
What is the scope and cosmology of the game world? Is the game set in a small kingdom, a large realm, or perhaps on an entire planet or several planets? Is the size of the game world 'controlled' (that is, sections of the world are blocked off until you progress further into the game), or do you have the run of the place, limited only by the deadliness of random encounters? Does time pass in the game world? Is there a day/night cycle (or even seasons)? What are the modes of transportation (for example: walking, horses, boats, airships, teleportation or portals)?
How persistent is the game world? Do killed bosses stay dead? What about townies/NPCs, or even regular enemies? Do the areas 'reset' after you leave them, or stay empty once cleared out? What kind of changes can you make to the world, and do the characters' actions have any consequences?
Game System and RPG System
The game system (scoring, physics, game control, inventory and resource management, camera angles, game AI, automapping, etc) and the RPG system (stats, character advancement, combat, magic, weapons and equipment) are obviously immensely important to a CRPG.
Describe the particular systems in your review. Some elements will be universal to most games, and will fade into the background (for instance, one can generally assume that an RPG will contain some kind of inventory management system). Pay attention when something stands out from other games in the same class. Is the game control particularly atrocious? Maybe the automap system is surprisingly helpful. Is character advancement implemented in some creative and unique way? Mention all the delights, surprises and frustrations.
Ratings are hard to avoid in any review. How did the graphics, sound, game control, plot and replay value stack up against the other games? Yet assigning a rating in any remotely non-arbitrary manner is actually very difficult. The subject is important enough to warrant a separate treatment; however, one thing should be mentioned from the start.
When rating a game, make sure to only compare it with other games on a particular platform (or a generation of platforms). There exist a mind-numbing amount of reviews to the effect of "This is a <insert an earlier-generation platform here> game, so of course its graphics are going to suck." To avoid that kind of inanity, and to give your ratings some kind of objectively-flavored framework, simply ask yourself, "Did this game's <graphics, music, plot, whatever> detract from my enjoyment, add to it, or blended in so as to be unnoticeable?" Between those three poles, there's a wide range of subjective preferences - "game Y's graphics were a tad bit better than those of game X", which don't matter too much. Mention the extreme cases (truly horrible or delightful), give an idea of the effect the particular element on overall game enjoyment, and leave the rest alone.