A game seemingly fell into my lap this past week. A little RPG, as it were. I read some things about it from various places; “Oh it’s pretty short.” “It’s charming.” “This reminds me of Earthbound.” “It’s got cool music.”
After spending some time with some really big, recent games these past few weeks, I was excited to check out something smaller in scope. Queue Undertale.
Undertale is an RPG made by one Toby Fox. You play as a small human child who has fallen into this monster underworld. You then must work your way to the barrier which keeps the monsters’ and the humans’ respective worlds divided. Along the way you’ll meet a cast of characters that will mold and shape your journey depending on how you interact with them.
In battle, you can do normal things like Fight, and use Items. Choosing to Fight brings up an Attack bar where a timed attack mechanic is used. But you can also do these new things called Act and Mercy. Mercy is where you can choose to Flee, or use the Spare Command. The Spare command essentially ends a battle with a monster who is either weak, or has become unwilling to fight by something you have done with an Act command. The Act command is where it gets silly. Acts are anything from Checking a monster out, talking, flirting, petting, rolling around in the snow. Each monster has its own set of Act commands that you can use to interact with it.
After you have used your action, the enemy gets to attack. Where you play this little mini-game of moving a small heart in a box and avoiding a pattern of enemy attacks. This mechanic is always evolving throughout the course of the game, which keeps it fresh as the truly random encounters are a little tedious. The combat is totally fine, but that isn’t really what you’re coming to Undertale for.
The writing in Undertale at first didn’t particularly grab me. Nor the visual style. I thought the combat was fun, and that was my only draw. No sooner do you make it through the initial couple of areas and basic puzzles do you get to the meat and potatoes. When you’re introduced to the slew of characters that end up populating the underground world does that game really shine. There are silly characters, sad ones, gross ones, and ones you just aren’t sure what to do with. And the characters evolve over the course of the story depending on how you run your game. This is an RPG where you can kill some things, everything, or nothing at all. This affects how certain characters view you. Undertale towards the middle and forward picks up a really great flow and the dialogue becomes quite funny and charming.
****There are going to be some light spoilers here, but it’s not going to break anything about your enjoyment of the game. But if want to skip this section, that’s okay. I don’t mind.
Undertale’s shining moments are when you elect to pursue deeper character interaction. There are several moments in the game where you can opt to go seek out someone that you have met, and go hang out with them. I’m sure I didn’t find all of these, which excites me to go back through it again (more on this in a minute.) But you end up being pulled from this deep, almost depressing situation that you, the player, are in as a character in this story. A child who has fallen down a well, essentially, and just wants nothing but to return home. It’s scary in this place, as well. Monsters are all about. But spending some time with these special characters in this story brings some lightness to an otherwise grim tale.
Playing through the game, you make choices, and these give you a certain ending. After you beat the game, you are issued a challenge to play through the game again with a certain rule set. For me, I was asked to play the game again without killing anyone. From what I’ve heard, though not experienced myself, playing the game multiple times in this manner leads to many different significant story endings. To the point where I wonder what the “True” ending is.
The best parts of Undertale are the ones where it takes all of those RPGs you think inspired it and it does away with notion of monsters = EXP, EXP = Levels, and Levels = Fun by giving you the ability to never kill a single thing. And instead your character’s progression is whatever parameters make you feel good. I spent the majority of my game never equipping any new weapons I found, because I found the interactions of Act commands to be way more interesting. Sure, every time you notice Tsundereplane it gets a little tedious, but punching Tsundereplane wouldn’t be nearly as interesting as watching how much Tsundereplane cares about you, senpai.
Undertale is a fantastic journey. It’s by no means flawless, however; it’s a little like starting an old car in the cold, but once it gets warmed up it keeps you engaged the whole time. There are some light-hearted moments, some deeply depressing ones, and some insane situations. A weird blend of Earthbound, mixed with a little Frog Fractions, with a few drops of sheer sadness, and a few of pure joy. Undertale will leave you wondering: what are video games, man? I’m not sure I’m going to go through and play this game as many times as I would need to in order to see everything. I might not even play it a second time. I know there’s more. However, I kinda like where I am now; I did it, I met some cool people, and I don’t want those relationships to change. What if over the course of actions in a second play through, I never get to lie on the floor and feel like garbage with a good friend? Or go on a sick date? These are memories I have now, and I don’t want to go back and alter time. Undertale is deeper than it appears, but at the same is light-hearted, doesn’t take itself too seriously, and is a great way to spend a weekend. I highly recommend it.