Tea: English Breakfast Tea
When the game’s industry has devolved into a fat frog that vomits out the same game with a different colour palette every half year and innovation and creativity have become as rare as a shooter without chest-high walls and regenerating health. Then there sometimes emerges a game that sets itself apart from the grey tedium and outshines even the biggest AAA titles not by production value, but simply by the experience alone. Undertale is this game and even though it might seem to you like I have given away my opinion too early I would still stick around, if only for the delight of getting to know more about one of the best games this year, the last decade and probably (sadly) a lot of years to come.
Undertale is a little indie RPG by Toby Fox, a dog that has apparently mastered the art of programming, if the internet is to be believed. Actually classifying it as an RPG might be a long shot, there are defiantly RPG-elements present, but to mix things up there is also a strong bullet-hell-shooter element, remember like Nier had those elements and it was weird and awesome as well. You play a small child of unidentifiable gender with a name you choose that has fallen into a big hole on a mountain and now finds itself in the Underground a place monsters call their home. It is now up to you to traverse the Underground and get back to the surface again, but not before you have met a colourful cast of beautifully written characters.
– Meet yourself, the protagonist of Undertale –
Right at the start, the game’s central mechanic gets introduced and that is monsters can either be grinded to dust for EXP like a traditional RPG or spared by talking to them and giving specific answers or performing actions. Both of it is conveyed through the shifting personality of an equally lovable and psychotic little flower. Soon afterwards you will meet your caring goat-mother Toriel and your adventure starts. I’ll leave it at that since you best go in as unspoiled as possible. Suffice it to say the way you choose to play will determine far more than just what type of ending you get.
– The literal ‘hand-holding’ during the first puzzle is only one of many references to the stale game’s industry –
Gameplay in Undertale is split between walking around the world and encountering monsters. Here you are presented with a somewhat traditional set-up of different choices. With the addition of the ACT option that is necessary to spare your foes and the MERCY button that you use to finally put your good deeds into action and let the monster get away. After every turn, no matter what action you take, you will have to dodge some attacks from the enemy. These are unique for every single one and bring a great challenge to the table that always fits with the theme of the enemy, but is also never too hard a challenge to overcome to feel unfitting.
– To survive in the Underground you must be able to dodge flexing monsters effectively –
Before I get to the biggest selling point, let’s first discuss a smaller, yet equally persuading, selling point: the soundtrack. Never have I spent better money than getting this soundtrack (well, maybe apart from buying Undertale itself). First of all, this is a complete soundtrack and by that I mean complete. Every little piece of music is contained in this and that is sadly a very rare thing. Aside from that the soundtrack is fucking awesome! The boss tracks are especially amazing given how to manage to capture the aura of the fight perfectly. I have rarely encountered such an on point soundtrack, but where else would I find it than in such an on point game as this. So take my word for it: If you buy Undertale, purchase it with the soundtrack.
The core of what makes Undertale so great, something that budget and shiny graphics can never achieve is heart. This game feels filled to burst with a person’s determination to make a truly magnificent game. This is present most strongly in the absolutely superb writing. I quarrel about games or movies having no sense of tone or awkwardly worded dialogue etc. and here everything is simply perfect. Characters are rich and deep with every line being excellently worded to fit the tone of the character as well as the scene and overarching plot. The tone is definitely humorous throughout, but it never gets to a slapstick level, or loses track of the drama taking place at the same time. No, it manages to merge the two perfectly into an incredible experience that never loses its pacing, never missteps in tone, and never fails to deliver. The humour is one that is timeless, not relying on cheap pop-culture references, but on the video game medium itself. A humour that is easy to grasp, but hard to nail. Never being offensive in any way (maybe only towards stale representatives of some genres), but simply enjoyable to read. The True Pacifist Ending leaves you with a feeling of utmost satisfaction not tainted by any negative emotion whatsoever, if only a slight sadness of never experiencing it for the first time again.
– Remember to always respect the boundaries of grotesque moldmonsters –
Undertale possess a strong meta-discourse. Something that is extremely hard to handle, because misstepping with this becomes very easy and suddenly your game loses all sense of credibility. But Undertale, of course, manages this tight rope walk par excellence and comes out stronger than ever. Let me give you an example: By the time I had reached the first shop I had already accumulated some now useless armour that I wanted to sell and sure enough there was a sell-option, but after trying to get rid of my useless junk the shop owner responded by not taking it, since he wanted to make profit and had no need for my useless junk. This, of course, makes perfect sense, but that amount of rationality is usually absent from games, since you can simply flood these poor vendors with iron daggers you looted by the hundred off the local bandits. And this meta-level just keeps growing and growing to a degree where it becomes a central part of the story and it is executed so well that it only works in the game’s favour. I often say that video games should do something different to stand apart. Here comes a game that uses the fact that it is a video game not to make cheap nudge nudge wink wink references, but in a creative and effective form that adds immensely to the overall experience rather than simply being a cheap gimmick.
– Depressed Napstablook is not in the mood for a little bullet hell shooter action-
I never give scores, because I believe they are a rubbish way of measuring a game in general, but I am running out of ideas to praise this game. Undertale is the most 10/10 game that I have come across so far. It deserves nothing less than the crown of game-design and an award I do not have to give out. So here is the non-existent Critical Teatime Award for Outstanding Game Design. Congratulations. It is fun, it is emotional, it is amazingly written, it is challenging, it is intelligent, and it is unique. There is no game like it and you owe it to yourself to play this amazing game yourself, if only to push it onto your friends with a smug face of knowing they will enjoy it. Did I mention you can date a skeleton in this game? Enough talking: I love Undertale and you need to play it.
Image sources in order of appearance:
- http://www.loadthegame.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/Screen-Shot-2015-09-30-at-12.44.23-PM-620×330.png (Last date of access: 10.12.2015)
- https://ggvogue.files.wordpress.com/2013/06/toriel.jpg (Last date of access: 10.12.2015)
- http://gamingtrend.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/xscreen4-533×400.png (Last date of access: 10.12.2015)
- http://cdn.gamer-network.net/2015/usgamer/UndertaleReviewSpot1.jpg (Last date of access: 10.12.2015)
- https://i.ytimg.com/vi/mX-wPxFsPgQ/hqdefault.jpg (Last date of access: 10.12.2015)