I know I’m late to the “My thoughts of Undertale” train, but not everyone had the opportunity to play it when it came out in 2015!
As a gamer who grew up with GameBoys, DSs and consoles from the 2005-2013 era, I’ve had my fair share of RPGs. I’ve played in the puzzling world of Zelda: the Minish Cap, the interconnected world of Chrono Trigger and the fantasy-filled worlds of retro Final Fantasy 4, 5 and 6.
While all those games are absolutely fabulous in their own right (which is why their names have stood the tests of time), none of them were quite like Undertale. Yes, Undertale definitely is an RPG, but it is one of the most unique RPGs I’ve ever played.
Undertale is an absolutely hilarious game. While other RPGs make their adventures serious life-or-death situations only sprinkled with humour, it’s clear that Undertale was meant to be comical from the get-go. After the first 30 of getting through the introductory part of the game, you’ll immediately be bombarded with hilarious characters, cleverly written scripts and player conversations, endless jokes, trolls and an overall enjoyable comical experience.
And the trolls, while few, can be real. I remember I spent 30 minutes trying to solve a puzzle for some bonus game loot, only to be so brutally trolled by the game that it made my brother burst out laughing.
The atmosphere of comedy isn’t just superficial too. It’s present in almost every NPC’s script, whether important or not, and in every piece of text that appears when you decide to interact with something in the game. Every interesting or uninteresting object in Undertale can be interacted with or examined, and 99% of the time the aspect of comedy that helps define Undertale would be present when you interact with them.
I think this really helps make Undertale a much more enjoyable experience. While the backbone of Undertale is quite serious (as I’ll explain later on), the game simply wouldn’t be as memorable if it carried the same serious tone as Final Fantasy, for example.
The Music is Great
Yeah, this is another thing I just want to mention. Music is actually something that most great RPGs already have down, and Undertale is no exception. The music usually helps set the mood of wherever you are perfectly and with nuanced changes in the tunes as the game progresses, the music never gets old.
Here are some samples, the first one being a remix, the second an original:
You’re not a hero
I believe this (and number 4) is what really sets Undertale apart. In other RPGs, you’re usually a hero trying to save the world from completely evil enemies, or a commander leading your army through the realms of darkness, or “the one” who’s been sent to the world to fulfil some age-old prophesy.
In Undertale, it’s not that grandiose; you’re simply a young child trying to get home after falling into the Underground (a realm full of sentient monsters, separated from the human world after a human-monster war). You’re thrust into this alien world, and as you explore further, you learn of the bleak life the humans have imposed onto these innocent creatures, of why the monster king wants you dead, and you’ll begin to realize that this isn’t the typical black-and-white story that most RPGs have.
As the game progresses, you’ll begin to realize that nobody in this realm is actually evil (apart from this one particular sunflower you’ll get to know, but let’s forget him for now). The monsters deserve to have you killed – in fact, if there’s any truly “evil” person in the game, it could arguably be you, the main character.
The YouTube channel Extra Creditz once did a video about the lack reflection in modern video games. Nowadays, most video games put focus on the moment, without prompting the players to reflect as to what they’re doing, why they’re doing it, and whether they’re really as admirable as they think they are.
Do you ever think about the families of the rows and rows of people you kill in Uncharted or Call of Duty? Or whether it’s morally okay to massacre those sentient monsters in Final Fantasy? What about the human collateral damage you just happen to incur in a session of Hitman?
Indeed, you can often find that the death and violence that happens in many games is really unnecessary, but we don’t realize because we’re never made to reflect.
This is where Undertale shines. In Undertale, like all retro RPGs, you will always get the chance to kill things. Combat situations pop up as you walk by, and bosses force you to put your combat cap on. But you never have to kill anything. The game is perfectly playable without levelling up and without killing anything—you’ll always find ways to avoid killing and negotiate.
But if you do decide to kill things, Undertale will make you realise how much of a jerk you are. You’ll be told face-to-face by NPCs in dialogue of how you never considered mercy, how unnecessary the deaths were; you’ll even meet friends and family of monsters you killed along the way. The guilt can really stack up.
Heck, the game even breaks the fourth wall and behaves differently when you restart the game because you killed someone you wanted to spare (or if you died).
Because remember, you aren’t a hero. You’re a stranger in a land that’s been brutally wronged by your species, and you have no justification to start killing everything you see. The game makes you aware of this.
This is made even more effective by the game’s limited amount of main characters and world size. In Undertale, you aren’t going to encounter 15-10 main characters in a story that takes place in a massive open-world environment (*cough* Final Fantasy VI *cough*).
No—there are only about 5 main characters. Couple this with the small game world and intimate game experience and you begin to fall in love with the world and the characters you encounter. You appreciate the characters and monsters not as random story-drivers and EXP bags, but as actual people.
Your actions won’t only effect how the characters perceive you, and how you perceive yourself, will affect how the game ends too.
I’m going to have to end here. This is a game review after all; you should spend more time playing and less time reading. But Undertale truly is an amazing game. It’s a game that will make you laugh, a game that will make your head bob to the beats, and a game that will change your perspective of others in its genre.
Please do yourself a favour and try it out.