You know, there’s this ongoing – and quite heated – debate on these two genres.
Are they the same thing? If not, what makes them different from each other? We’ll try to answer these questions and define these terms here.
What is roguelike?
It is a genre that owes a lot to a game titled Rogue, released in 1980. This dungeon crawler is all about exploring, well, dungeons in search of the fabled Amulet of Yendor. There were some features that made this game so distinct, memorable and influential, however. The most important one of these is the permanent death (or “permadeath”) mechanic, giving so much gravitas to player’s actions throughout the game.
Once you die during your Rogue session, it’s over. You lose your character and ALL your achievements. You can’t reload a saved game, you need to start from scratch. Here comes in another feature: your new playthrough is going to be completely different, as the game world will be randomly generated and totally fresh. Some people also say that in order to have a proper roguelike, you need turn-based combat, which Rogue of course has.
These three characteristics: permadeath, map randomly generated for each play-through, turn-based combat. However, the Berlin Interpretation from 2008 says that there are five more features that characterize the roguelike genre: grid-based movement, complexity that lets players use multiple solutions, non-modality (meaning all actions can be performed at any given moment), resource management and hack’n’slash-style combat. So, “true” roguelikes should meet all eight criteria to be called such.
As far as roguelikes are concerned, the most famous examples of games include Hack (1982) and its later upgrade, NetHack (1987), considered to be one of the finest roguelikes ever made, Moria (1983), Ancient Domains of Mystery AKA ADOM (1994), also one of the greats, and Angband (1990). Interestingly enough, the graphics in most roguelikes are done through simple ASCII.
As a side note, Diablo is not a roguelike, although, quite interestingly, it was supposed to be a turn-based game at first, owing a lot to the afore-mentioned NetHack and Moria. Procedurally-generated levels are surely something that was inspired by the roguelike genre.
What is roguelite?
The 2000s saw more and more indie game developers introduce rogue-like elements into their games, such as starting over every time you die. However, these productions, often referred to as roguelite (or “roguelike-like”), are definitely not roguelikes, as they only use certain aspects of these and “warp” them to achieve different goals.
So, rogue-lite games usually feature permadeath and procedurally generated worlds. But while in traditional roguelike games death meant starting over, roguelites are where it serves a certain purpose. If you die, you get to keep some abilities or resources, meaning that during the next playthroughs you can get farther and farther, eventually reaching the end goal. So, in roguelikes death puts a stop to your run. In roguelites, it helps you achieve more.
Additionally, rogue-lites usually blend various genres, such as platformers, beat’em up games or even turn-based strategies with roguelike mechanics, while roguelikes are usually dungeon crawlers/action RPGs with hardcore difficulty.
Rogue-lite games also tend to be shorter than classic roguelikes. Generally speaking, there’s a different philosophy behind these two genres. Roguelikes are less about winning a game than they are about just playing and enjoying it – while you can achieve victory and actually beat a particular title, it seems this is not the main focus, it’s the gameplay experience itself.
Rogue-lites, on the other hand, favor short gameplay runs so that you can unlock the skills or characters you need to finish the game and then finish it with one swift stroke, once you land that perfect combination of all the ingredients necessary for victory.
Here are some really, really good examples of roguelite games that you might want to check out: Dead Cells, Hades, Slay the Spire, The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth, Crypt of the NecroDancer, Enter the Gungeon, Nuclear Throne and FTL: Faster Than Light.
So, which is which?
To sum up, roguelike games constitute a genre that has to strictly adhere to certain characteristics, of which the most important are permadeath, procedurally-generated maps and turn-based combat.
Roguelite games, on the other hand, usually take these roguelike mechanics and blend them with other genres. Such games usually feature procedurally-generated levels and permadeath as well, but there are some persistent features that help you out in subsequent playthroughs.
We hope this helped clear up the confusion!