Unless you're a very casual gamer, or you live under a rock, you've probably heard about Undertale at some point. When it originally released on PC in 2015, it was lauded as one of the finest indie RPGs ever to grace the world of gaming.
Primarily created by one man named Toby Fox, Undertale is a quirky, odd, wonderful, and ultimately deeply profound adventure. Don't let its simple looks fool you, this is one RPG that is deserving of all the praise thrown at it. What makes it so special, you ask? That's what we're here to discuss!
A Wonderful, Mysterious, and Tragic World
Undertale is a game that is best experienced with as little context as possible. That is precisely why I'm going to be vague with my descriptions here because the game's story is best experienced without any specific expectations or spoilers.
Undertale takes place in a world where monsters used to live on the surface, but as now isolated underground. You play as a human who has fallen into their domain. You must decide how you'll make your escape.
One of the unique concepts behind Undertale is the battle system. You can play it like an RPG, killing everything that stands in your way, but you would be missing the true nature of the game if you took that approach.
Instead, Undertale offers you the ability to also play through the game and not kill a single creature, monster, or boss. To do this, you'll need to understand each encounter from an emotional standpoint.
Let's say you're fighting a monster who is shy because it thinks it's ugly. You can spare the creature by reassuring it that it looks wonderful, and ultimately leave the battle without any bloodshed.
We'll discuss these mechanics more momentarily, but from a narrative standpoint, everything single living thing you encounter in Undertale has its own personality. That's incredible to think about when most modern RPGs use their monsters as set dressing and rarely impart any kind of personality on them.
Beyond the creatures you'll encounter, Undertale is also filled to the brim with interesting and whacky characters. Each of them has their own unique design and backstory, but it's the excellent writing that really helps them stand out.
Whether it's clever use of fonts and rhythm or hilarious personality traits, every single interaction in Undertale feels different and exciting both inside and outside of combat.
While the majority of Undertale's moment-to-moment gameplay is based in weird, whacky, and hilarious narrative developments, the game is also incredibly deft at tackling serious topics without making it feel like a jarring shift in tone.
One moment, you'll be laughing at the developments happening before, and the next you may be helping a particular monster deal with some very real problems. They may not look like us, but these monsters have complex problems and emotional turmoil just like we do.
It's often said that original stories no longer exist, because they've all been done in some fashion or another. Undertale may have familiar elements, but it's overall narrative is unlike anything else I've ever seen in gaming.
I started out laughing at the jokes and chuckling at the weird and crazy world the game was set in, but I soon found myself engrossed in the narrative because I had to know where it was all going. More so, I wanted to see more of this place and the creatures that inhabit it.
I went from having a casual connection to the game and its world, to suddenly being invested in the ultimate fate of everything and everyone I met. It was such a seamless and natural process, that I almost didn't realize the transition occurred until one night when I had played long into the night and lost track of time.
It's a story that almost defies explanation, but it also begs that you go in blind and trust that it's going somewhere special. If you're on the lookout for one of those stories that won't leave your mind anytime soon, this is an absolute must.
More than that, Undertale's multiple endings and many secrets beg multiple playthroughs, so you'll most certainly get your money's worth, and then some. Now, let's talk about how all of this looks in action.
Turn-Based Combat Meets Bullet Hell
Undertale's gameplay consists of exploration, combat, and puzzle solving. The puzzles themselves range from simplistic, to fairly difficult. Secrets abound, and these offer more of a challenge for those looking to find everything.
When you get into combat, you'll either use time-based attacks for maximum damage, or you'll use the "Act" and "Mercy" commands to ultimately spare your opponent.
The actions you take change from monster-to-monster and are based on the situation. You can "check" to get a hint about them that will often help you figure out how you can spare them.
When it comes time for the monster to attack themselves, Undertale adopts a bullet hell format. You control a small heart that represents your soul in the bottom of the screen. Attacks come in a huge variety of patterns and types that you'll need to dodge in real time.
Furthermore, as the game goes on, the color of your soul will change, causing different effects and strategies to come into play. At the best of times, it's a mild challenge, and at the worst, it's extremely difficult.
I can't say I'm a huge fan of the bullet hell mechanic, if only because I'm not terribly skilled at it, but I can't deny that it lends a challenge to the game for those doing the pacifist route.
Regardless of how you feel about that specific mechanic, there's no denying that it and everything else in Undertale are exceptionally well designed. Everything fits together very well, and whether you're killing everything in sight, or going for a pacifist run, the game molds to fit your playstyle.
I suppose the only real complaint some may have, is the lack of depth to the armor and weapon mechanics. Even the items themselves are extremely esoteric beyond healing items. It's a bit of trial and error. You may regret using or dropping an item later on.
Fortunately, there are boxes where you can store items, but in the end, the game's odd and quirky world can sometimes make things more confusing or cryptic than they need to be.
These are small nitpicks in the grand scheme of things, but RPG players who expect familiar items and mechanics may find that they need to tweak their understanding of Undertale's mechanics.
All-in-all, though, it does an excellent job of welcoming players into the world and explaining mechanics accordingly. It's easy to learn, but difficult to master. Thankfully, the rewards are there to justify the learning curve, and the secrets are worthy of your time.
Simplistic Environments Meet Detailed Characters
Undertale's graphics are very simplistic. When you think of an indie game, this falls into that category, but don't judge a book by its cover. While many of the environments don't house a ton of detail, there are several standout moments.
More importantly, the characters, creatures, and bosses are standout examples of the game's wonderful artistic style. There's an excellent amount of detail in each of these models during combat. The sheer amount of creativity on display is staggering.
Which brings us to the music. This soundtrack uses a classic style of instruments that harkens back to the 8 and 16-bit era of gaming. The melodies are extremely catchy, and the main themes manage to capture the melancholy that somehow manages to mix with the humor and absurdity so naturally.
Combat music is fast and intense, as expected. There's a great mix of high and low sounds, with a frantic tempo that ties everything together.
Undertale is really an interesting game to review. On their own, these separate parts would make for a decent, if forgettable RPG. When you combine everything, though, you have something truly unique.
It's a game that defies words in a lot of ways. Seeing is truly believing with this one. It's not expensive at all, but the sheer value you'll get from this remarkable experience is beyond anything in recent memory.
Please, do not write this one off because of its cult status, because of the graphics, or because you think it's too weird. Trust me, there's something here for everyone.
Final Score: 9.5/10
A copy of Undertale was provided to PS4 Experts for review purposes
Article by - Bradley Ramsey
Insert date - 9/18/17