Review: Undertale

Undertale - Logo

Undertale is the first totally original game from Toby Fox. The Internet has been raving about it since its release, but how good is it, really?

Undertale comes from the brilliant mind of Toby Fox, also known for a Halloween mod of Earthbound and for his work on the Homestuck soundtrack. It released worldwide on Steam on September 15, following a Kickstarter which finished in July 2013. I was urged to play it by pretty much every gamer I know, so as soon as my exams finished, I downloaded the game and gave it a shot.

Undertale - Underground Flowers

Undertale begins when a human child, who you get to name, falls into a place called the Underground. Monsters had been living in the Underground ever since humans drove them from the surface and placed a barrier over the entrance so they couldn’t escape. Our protagonist undertakes a journey to return to the surface; the barrier may bar monster entry, but humans may leave as they please. Monsters can only pass through the barrier is they are in possession of a human soul, which also makes them incredibly powerful. It’s for this reason that our protagonist needs to be careful, as monsters will try to kill them and consume their soul for strength.

The most extraordinary thing about Undertale is that, as the tagline correctly points out, you can complete the game without killing anyone. There are two main methods of playing the game, which have been dubbed the Pacifist and Genocide routes. There are also Neutral routes which lie in between these two extremes. There are many other ways to complete this game, with endings changing depending on which and how many monsters you spared or killed along the way. It took me around nine hours to finish my Pacifist run, and all of these different endings allow for a lot of replayability.

The way you choose to play will change your entire experience. Villages will be welcoming, or will be empty as everyone flees your approach. Dialogue changes, going from either friendly or neutral to outright hostile and terrified. The choices you make can have repercussions at later points in the game, or in subsequent playthroughs. Even if you reload your file to a point before you made a fatal decision, the game will remember, meaning you need to be very careful about what you do. This is something I like about the game, as any choices you make are final. You truly have to live with the consequences, which is not something often seen in games, and never to this extent.

Undertale - Battle

Undertale is also, as you can see in the screenshot above, exceedingly silly. The game has its serious moments, but the random flavour text is probably what I enjoyed the most; one of my favourites was a monster which cracked a lot of jokes who then realised its own name was a pun, and subsequently started to freak out. It also contained references to other well-known games, which were fun to see.

This is what makes describing Undertale so difficult. It really is this flavour text and the silly moments, throwbacks, and other such things that make the game so great. But I can’t describe it properly without spoiling the game, so discussing it can be difficult. Just know that this game is brilliantly made, in both its script and in the nuances of its soundtrack and design.

In battle, you are given four options. There is the standard Fight option, which allows you to attack, kill monsters, and grow stronger. You can also use items. Undertale also sports an “act” and a “mercy” option. The actions in the act screen change depending on which monster you’re fighting; you can laugh at their joke, cheer them on to boost their confidence, hurl insults and more. Selecting the correct options here will allow you to spare the monster on the mercy screen, so it can leave the battle of its own volition. You can also choose to flee from the mercy menu.

Your opponents will attack back by throwing projectiles at you, which vary between monsters. These force you to dodge and sometimes even destroy obstacles to avoid taking damage. They’re not too difficult; I managed to get through Undertale without too much trouble. Fox used these stages to indicate your opponent’s mood in some instances; one of the early monsters, for example, will relentlessly attack in the presence of other monsters, but then calm down and do nothing when left on its own. The game leaves it up to you to decide whether or not you’ll kill, or be merciful to the monsters of the Underground.

Undertale - Battle Screen

Undertale utilises retro graphics as a simple, but effective, means of communicating the plot and the character’s emotions. Facial expressions and movements are clear, and it makes it easy to run on older computers as well. The game cannot be saved at any time, but must be done at the yellow, determination-filled save points scattered at regular intervals throughout the game.

The soundtrack is one of my all-time favourites from a game. I’m not often particularly impressed by a game’s music, but Undertale managed to do so. The battle themes comprise some of the best I’ve ever heard, and were also the ones that stood out the most for me. In particular, I love Death by Glamour, Spear of Justice, and of course, Megalovania:

Undertale is a game I believe should be widely played for its uniqueness. There’s not another game quite like it out there, and however you choose to play it, you will be forced to stop and think about your actions and their consequences. All of this is coupled with a phenomenal soundtrack to make an experience that will stay with me as one of my favourites, and which I’m going to be recommending to pretty much everyone I know.

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