Short Version: It’s one of the greatest games I’ve ever played. It’s pretty short, but I’ve played through it more times than I can count. It has made me laugh, cry, feel anger, regret, fear, sadness, melancholy, happiness and much more. This is a game that has a lot to say and intelligently fuses story with gameplay in a way that will make you question how you play games in general. You can’t die and leave this mortal realm without playing Undertale.
Long Version: Ever since Undertale was released on September 15, 2015, I still haven’t found anything more captivating, fun and impactful than it. This small kickstarted RPG by Toby Fox eventually exploded into a phenomenon on PC, loved by even most cynical of game critics. Now, Undertale‘s popularity has grown so much that it is now being ported to the PlayStation 4 and PS Vita. It’s pretty much exactly the same as the PC release, save for some small details. That doesn’t stop it from still being an amazing experience worth living, if you haven’t already.
AAAH! Real Monsters!
For the uninitiated, Undertale is essentially a story about a human child that falls into a hole that takes him to a world of monsters underground. There, you meet a big amount of colorful characters that will either help or stop you from finding a way back home. It’s a pretty simple setup, but everything starts to get a lot more interesting and complex as time goes on. Depending on how you play the game, everything that you see in Undertale is completely re-contextualized to what your attitude or perspective is. Not only that, but the game always remembers everything that you did, even after starting a brand new playthrough. If you do something that can be considered evil, you can’t just reload a save and pretend it never happened. Characters will literally confront you about what you did and comment on it, which can sometimes delve into horror game territory that leaves a lasting impression.
That’s what really makes Undertale stick out from any other piece of media out there. It uses the fact that it’s a video game to its advantage to communicate in unique ways. Instead of using it as a source of parody, like most other games, it instead uses this self-awareness to further enrich the world and make it more interesting to think about. It is through these interactions that makes Undertale‘s narrative work. There isn’t a single movie, book, animated series, comic or TV show adaptation that could do the game justice, because the most important element would be missing: the player and their outlook on the world. Without that, the game would lose its charm. A Ying without its Yang.
Speaking of charm, this is an incredibly funny game as well. Despite Undertale having some more than serious moments, it mostly revels in comedy and light-hearted situations. Every character has their own unique trait that sets them apart from everyone else, and seeing all of them interact with one another is a delight. Even when in battle, you’ll bump into some pretty charming monsters that’ll stick with you way after the fight is over with. It is very clear that a lot of care and attention was given to make everyone seem interesting and show that they have a history within this setting. Character-wise, nothing ever feels out of place; and whatever does contains a purpose that serves to make the story a lot more engaging.
Of course, we can’t talk about Undertale without mentioning one of its strongest points: The battle system. As I mentioned before, this is a very funny game, which is something that also bleeds into the fights. There are many hilarious fights that are solely grounded on who the enemies are as characters and how they make sense of the world, leaving every single fight unique and a blast to play. Every single character has its own attack patterns that you have to figure out in the moment, so there’s never any “trick” or routine to defeating anyone. You can tell that the creatives juices were flowing in the battle system; for you can get into battles that can range from very simple bullet-dodging segments or bombastic quiz shows. It’s certainly something you have to experience for yourself to truly understand what I mean.
Either Kill or Be Killed
Most of the time, the game encourages you not the kill anyone, but instead to engage in conversations that can calm the enemy down, which leads to being able to spare them. It is very reminiscent of Shin Megami Tensei, which is another franchise that heavily relies on negotiating with enemies instead of simple brute force. Of course, if you wish to kill everyone that stands in your way, then you are free to do that as well, but that also comes with its own share of consequences.
Regardless of what you decide to do in your playthrough, everything will be accompanied by one of the greatest video game soundtracks I’ve heard in a very long time. There isn’t a single track that I don’t like or haven’t grown to eventually love. Filled with variety, impact and creativity in leitmotifs, Undertale provides fantastic music that ties the whole thing together into a more cohesive experience. This is then taken to the next level with the game’s great boss battles, where the music reaches its highest points.
Of course, even though I’m singing the praises about this game, I still don’t think there is such a thing as the perfect video game. Undertale still has a few shortcoming that might be worth improving upon for the future, starting with its visuals. The pixelated, almost Super Nintendo style of graphics don’t bother me at all; in fact, I actually quite like it. The problem I find however is that there’s an inconsistency in its visual design throughout the game that makes many areas clash with themselves in a way that’s not favorable. For example, If I took a screenshot of the Ruins, then one of the battle system, then another of the shop at Snowdin, would you think that all three pictures are from the same game, or from three completely different games? Now that Undertale is so popular, you’d obviously say that their all from the same thing, but when seeing it for the first time, it’s tough to tell.
Some images have detail, while others don’t. Some parts are in black in white, while others have color. Some parts look like a basic SNES title, while others look like a modern indie game. This indecisiveness on how the game wishes to present itself can leave players disoriented or having a tough time defining what the game’s art style is, or what they’re trying to communicate through it. This is accentuated even further when the PS4 and PS Vita versions provide you with beautiful, hand drawn borders on the screen that also clashes with the pixelated look of the game. Not the biggest problem in the world, but it’s definitely worth mentioning.
Even within all of these small imperfections, you can discover something new every time you play through the game again. Initially, the game might feel too short, or almost on-rails if you decide to put your brain on auto-pilot and just finish the game in the same manner you would anything else. However, do take note that the game remembers everything you do and also reacts to who you are as a player. There will be many moments where character will show different sides of themselves depending on how you play, or sometimes miss out on entire events because of certain decisions you made.
This is not just a game that you can beat once and call it a day, which is probably why it’s not that long to begin with. There is an enormous amount of stuff to dissect in between the beginning and the end that can leave one astounded at the subtly of it all. Even after many playthroughs, I am sometimes still caught off guard over things I didn’t even know existed in the game, which makes it disturbingly fascinating; almost as if the game was an actual living and breathing thing that reacts to you.
No Crying Until The End
In conclusion, Undertale, even after almost two years of its release, still holds it own against more modern releases very well. This game is legendary, and will most certainly still be talked about far into the future. It is certainly a game that has to be experienced to be believed. It pretty much takes everything that you know about video games and questions why you think that way and why you make the decisions you do. It’s a very funny, charming little game on the surface, but it’s complex, deep, emotional and challenging within its inner layers. For hardcore fans that have already played Undertale, there really isn’t anything new to see here, but I highly recommend newcomers to try the game out. Now that you can take this game on the go through a PS Vita or play it on a big screen TV on PS4, there’s no excuse for you not to play this. You won’t regret it.