By Joanna Nielsen, ’19
Undertale, an indie RPG released by developer Toby Fox on Sept. 15, has recently received a lot of attention due to its diverse set of quirky yet lovable characters and ingenious, somewhat meta, gameplay mechanics and storytelling.
Unlike many RPG style games, Undertale omits the typical hours of grinding and instead replaces it with one of the most unique and clever battle systems that never once gets monotonous. The combat system combines turn-based and bullet-hell, where for offense you can choose to either attack the monster or interact with the monster with options such as console, cheer, tell a joke, or spare. Then to include the bullet hell aspect, for defense you control a heart in a small box and try to avoid the various projectiles and obstacles thrown at you. To keep the battles from getting boring and repetitive, each enemy has a different attack pattern and the boss fights often expand on and break the rules of the already established mechanics of the combat system by introducing things such as color coded attacks.
Undertale might seem cliche from the premise, but it’s story expands beyond any and all expectations. The game opens up to a cutscene filled with exposition, explaining the premise of how war set humans and monsters apart after the humans won and forced the monsters underground, blocking them with a barrier to stop them from ever going back up to surface. Then years later, you walk up a mountain that no one has ever returned from and fall down a hole, landing in a world full of monsters. How you choose to deal with these monsters makes big difference in the gameplay and the plot of the game, leading you to one of many endings. There are three main types of ending, but within each type there are several different variations of the ending.
One of the many virtues of Undertale is that it is a game that isn’t afraid to take risks and occasionally be a bit meta. It will often poke fun at RPG tropes in creative ways or break the fourth wall and use it as a story element in a way that flows perfectly with the story and doesn’t feel out of place at all. Undertale even takes risks outside of the game, by having your choices in previous playthroughs remembered even if you delete your save files, and your past decisions hinted at through interactions with characters in subsequent runs. And for dedicated players, Undertale is filled with secrets, some that are only revealed through datamining the game’s code and sifting through countless game files.
Despite the increasingly overdone retro-inspired style, Undertale still manages to have imaginative environments and characters designs. Unfortunately, the problem with reviewing Undertale is that it’s impossible to talk about without revealing spoilers because the spoilers are not just plot related, but also simple things such as character interactions and are best experienced if you go into them knowing as little as possible. And so, without saying too much, areas such as Snowdin or Hotland have well thought out and distinct cultures and characters that make you want to never leave.
Undertale‘s soundtrack does well at creating an atmosphere that is creepy or emotional when it needs to be without feeling forced. The music emphasizes a scene’s emotional impact due to the music’s incredible pacing by rising up to breakneck speeds or slowing down to crawl when it needs to. This can be seen in many of the boss fight songs which are fast paced, melodic, very catchy, and properly set the mood for the fight. Added sound effects in the songs such as maniacal laughter only further it’s ability to exploit and influence the player’s emotions. In addition to having incredible music, Undertale also understand how to use silence to it’s advantage. Since music plays throughout most of the game, when it stops playing (like in a long hallway near the end of the game), it creates room for a silence that crushes by leaving you alone with your thoughts, reflecting on the decisions and mistakes that you have made all the while building up the tension for the battle to come.
One of the main selling points for a game is it’s execution, a game could have a wonderful premise but then poor execution has made the game unbearable to play. Fortunately, everything that Undertale tries to be or do, it does extremely well. It’s understandable why Undertale is now Game of The Year to many (even though it wasn’t nominated for that award) and was actually nominated for Best Independent Game, Game for Change, and Best Role-Playing Game. Undertale is a 10/10 game that gives you an incredible experience with characters and a story that will stick with you for long after you’ve finished the game but doesn’t ask for much in return, just $10 and a few hours of your time.