Spider bake sales, fourth wall breaking skeletons and an extremely terrifying flower, what more is there to say? Undertale, arguably one of the most interesting and soulful games of the year, arrives in the form of a simple throwback to old-style Role Playing Games. What initially began as an inconspicuous crowd-funding project on Kickstarter in 2013, developed into something much larger over the course of a couple of years. Toby Fox, who had previously composed music for the incredibly popular webcomic ‘Homestuck’, had once made a foray into the world of game creation for his popular Halloween hack of ‘Earthbound’. However, until Undertale, we hadn’t yet had the pleasure of seeing his full creative prowess realized.
As the game begins a cutscene plays and the player is given a quick synopsis of a war that took place several hundred years ago between Humans and Monsters. In the end, the Humans stood victorious, and as a result Monsters were sealed underground by a magic barrier and have remained stuck there since. Centuries later, a child of ambiguous gender climbs a mountain in the wilderness and, long story short, falls inside and awakens in the realm of the Monsters. In true retro RPG fashion, the exploration portion of the game is from a top down view with 16 bit graphics to boot, and if you can’t ignore the glaringly intentional decision to do this then it may serve to alienate some. Yet, the fighting mechanic of the game is highly irregular in comparison to other classic RPGs. During an encounter with an enemy NPC the fighting is traditionally turn based, attacks must be timed correctly by landing a blow at a precise time to maximise damage, but when an enemy returns fire, the player is thrust into a ‘bullet-hell’ type mini-game, whereupon you must guide a heart around which is meant to represent your soul and dodge projectiles. A neat mechanic is the variation of the projectiles you must dodge, some are simple bullets which fly around the screen, whilst others can change colours which require players to remain still, and one of them is even a dog that you have to avoid whilst it chases after you.
Despite all this, Undertale is one of the only games I have played where you are actively discouraged to participate in needless violence and killing. Through use of narrative in the tutorial and throughout the game itself, players are told another way to cease conflict with an enemy is through ‘ACT(ing)’ and then sparing them. This mechanic allows you to talk the enemy down in a plethora of ways- tell me, in what game can you defeat a body-builder sea-horse by flexing it out of the match? Or again, could you give me an example of a game where you pet an enemy into submission? It’s this creativity which gives the game its strongest flair, its undeniable charm. It’s not just the gameplay either. The story never makes any grandeur promises in the beginning of the game, if anything it appears extremely generic, but the way you interact with the world, even something as subtle as going on a date with a character can change the entire story. Speaking of the characters, this is some of the best-written cast ever seen in a game, you’ll find yourself busting a gut again and again at some of the dialogue, and feeling crushed at some of the more emotional sections. In fact, one of the strongest parts of the game is it makes you care about the characters, more so than in any game I’ve ever played. For example, in a game like Fallout 3, an incredible game in every sense of the word, if you choose to kill people instead of sparing them it doesn’t really bother you. Whereas with Undertale, even though fighting and killing is always an option within the game, (and especially with different endings and the ability to replay the game, you are sorely tempted!) I could never bring myself to even kill a single NPC, I was that attached to the world I had entered. The music as well compliments every section of the game, during boss battles the tracks provide you with such determination that no matter the difficulty you can’t bring yourself to give up, and during emotional sections you feel the anguish of the characters.
To be frank, this is a game that needs to be played to be believed, and in no way has any game made me want to play it again and again. It’s only around £7 on the Steam store, so if you have the means and you fancy going on an unforgettable adventure with memorable characters and addictive gameplay pouring out of the seams, don’t hesitate!
– Unique interactive battles
– Stellar Soundtrack – Rich Characters you actually get attached to (for once)
– Re-playability actively discouraged (So quite short)