I tried to keep back on this one. There’s no shortage of people telling you that this is an awesome game, and covering games that the world has already recognized as awesome isn’t my thing. Reviewing it at this stage is just jumping on the bandwagon.
But then I played it. And I understood why I was hearing glowing recommendations from darn near everyone I talked to.
So, Undertale is an RPG that looks like it escaped from an alternate universe where SNES games are still in production, released in September of 2015 by one Toby Fox.
In this world, monsters exist, but they’re all safely underground and away from humans like your child-aged main character… until she bumbles into a hole that leads down into their realm. From there, the goal is simple: Go home. Understandably, a large number of monsters have been waiting for just such an opportunity.
Now, you’ve likely heard about it already, but let’s cover the combat system. When your character is attacked, a box pops up with a heart. Enemy throws stuff at you, you dodge until their turn ends and yours begins. From there, you can attack, which consists of timing your button press such that it does maximum damage.
But you don’t have to attack. Next to the “Fight” Menu Option is “Act.” From here, you can do something to discourage your opponent from wanting to continue the fight. If you’re successful, you can choose to show them Mercy, granting you the money from a successful brawl without actually killing anything. Or… and this is particularly devious, you can undermine their will to fight and then kill them, because this will often lower their defenses.
Against the majority of the monsters you meet, you can resolve things the non-lethal way within a turn or two, and the obvious choice is generally the right one. But watching it play out against a new enemy type was always amusing, and the encounter rate seems to be set at just enough to make you prove you can handle the enemies in a new zone without hemorrhaging massive amounts of health. Come to think of it, my first run didn’t require any grinding at all. The gold I picked up en route to a boss was enough to restock my supply of healing items and then some, every time.
My favorite aspect of Undertale is how it plays with expectations. If you go in treating it like a standard RPG, you will be thrashed. Physically and emotionally. And I think that’s wonderful. There are games that make you do a bad thing then beat you over the head with it (looking at you, Spec Ops!), but this game has more impact, because there is another way, a way that doesn’t consist of shutting down and walking away. As such, any death, any suffering your character causes is on you and you alone. And in a game that is light and whimsical most of the time, that’s an awfully heavy burden.
The puzzles are just outside the box enough for you to feel clever when you figure them out, but not suffering from the sort of insane logic you’d find in a point-and-click adventure game of old. And the possibility space in terms of story is surprisingly big, to the point where (I found this out via the wiki) there is code to handle situations I’d have never even considering setting up.
And the music. Good heavens, the music. Right up there with the Hotline Miami series in terms of song quality, and more importantly, timing them for maximum impact. And the old-school graphics are not a hindrance at all, because the game doesn’t need top-tier graphics to tell its story.
So… what I’ve been trying to say is, please play it if you have an opportunity. In the end, it might not be for you. And that’s fine. No game is going to appeal to absolutely everyone. But I still think you should check it out, because it’s the sort of game that doesn’t come around very often. Undertale is $10 on Steam.