Review: Undertale, unique to games

What lies beneath the surface

By Dustin Dodson
On January 29, 2016

In a year headlined with incomplete games and disappointments, it comes as a pleasant surprise that a $10 indie game stayed at the forefront of my mind for the latter half of the 2015. Undertale is a 2D role playing game inspired by RPGs of old, the Mother series on the Nintendo consoles being the most obvious comparison. Made virtually by one developer, Undertale crafts a heavy hearted tale about humans, monsters, love and determination. You haven’t played a game quite like this before.

At first glance one may turn their head in disgust over the graphics presented in Undertale. To be frank, it looks like a majority of the game’s assets were constructed in Microsoft Paint, however, its Undertale’s simplicity that can catch you off guard once you venture into the meat of the story. You play as an androgynous child who has fallen down a hole into a world of monsters who were banished by humans after a long war. Your goal is to journey through this happy and cheerful land to reach your world again, but under the delightful music and colorful cast of monsters, lies some disturbing secrets that are hidden at first glance.

Undertale completely differentiates itself from its spiritual predecessors with its battle mechanics. In a typical RPG you face off against an enemy to defeat it. You take turns taking hits at one another until one falls; hopefully the enemy. Undertale flips the script by always keeping the player on their toes. Instead of cycling through menus, looking for the best attack and staring blankly at the screen waiting for your attack to go through, you are forced to go through a bullet hell inspired minigame every time an enemy attacks. Each enemy has their own different flow and speed to how their projectiles fire towards you and you have to dodge unless you want your health to drop. Depending on how you play, you can either show “mercy” on an enemy or kill them. Saving them puts you on the Pacifist route of the story and destroying them puts you on the Genocide route. Based on your choices, each route gives you a different ending. I recommend playing the Genocide route first if you don’t want your heart to break as you erase all of your previous friendships in coldblooded fashion after playing the Pacifist route.

Where Undertale truly shines is in its writing. While sometimes guilty of trying too hard to elicit an emotional response, from top to bottom Undertale’s story is a strong one, and it’s its characters that are at the forefront. Every monster in this game is intelligent and has a unique personality. This is how Undertale snags you. You grow to care about these characters despite their over-the-top goofiness and simplicity. They seem as if they convey a range of emotions and tribulations that can’t even be found in some of today’s full motion captured video games.

Failing to mention the music composed in this game would be like failing to mention Wes Anderson’s cinematography in film or Stephen King’s literary prowess in readings. Sound design is perhaps a director’s greatest weapon and the music presented in this game helps back that argument. It ties itself wonderfully to the script and works in tandem to help create a memorable experience that you can hum along to long after the credits roll. Every character has their own separate theme that helps to build on their personality in a way where words can’t. Some of my favorite moments was when character themes started to blend their way into one another. For example, there are two brothers, Sans and Papyrus, who have different themes, but listening closely to either one, you can begin to hear pieces of the other brothers theme being intertwined.

One of the downsides of Undertale is its length. For a $10 game it might not seem that bad that an average playthrough can last under 5 hours, but I think the game could have benefited with one more area to explore. If you want more Undertale, you can always play the game twice with its separate endings which can double the playing time to around 10 hours if you explore every nook and cranny.

Undertale threw a bag of emotions on to my lap that I haven’t felt in a game since playing Japanese RPGs on the original PlayStation as a child. From start to finish the game hooked me with its strong narrative, excellent characters and provoking music. If you have a weekend to spare and want to scratch that role playing itch, or want to play one of the best games of this generation, look no further than Undertale.

Dustin Dodson

 

 

 

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