Original Release: September 15, 2015
Developer: Toby Fox
Publisher: Toby Fox
Platforms: PC (Steam), Mac OS X, Linux, PlayStation Vita, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One
Played on: PC (Steam)
Back when Undertale first came out about six years ago at time of writing, I couldn’t get away from it. Everyone I knew was talking about it in one way or another, Tumblr blew up with it, and man the hype aversion hit me really hard.
I’m one of those people who, the more I hear about something, the more turned off I am. As such, I shied away from both Avatar (James Cameron’s Avatar, specifically) and Undertale for a while. Weirdly these two cases are on opposite ends of the spectrum for me. Avatar didn’t live up to the hype, but Undertale absolutely did. Sadly it’s kind of difficult to talk about why without spoiling a lot of the stuff that made me like it so much when I did finally sit down to play it. I’ll try, so bear with me alright?
So around Christmas of 2015, my younger sister asked me if I would play Undertale if she bought it for me. I was still reluctant, but I could tell that she wanted me to give it a try, so I accepted. We sat down, she watched me play, and before long I fell in love.
The core gameplay of Undertale revolves around your character, the fallen child whose name you choose (I went with Jazzy, but you have six characters to play around with. You’ve found your way into the Underground, a place filled with a number of monsters such as the above ghost and Froggit and separated from the human world by a magical barrier. Combat happens via random encounters like you would expect in earlier Final Fantasy titles, but fighting itself is done in a number of ways. You can fight, perform an action (ACT), use an item, or spare the monsters you encounter provided you’ve met the right criteria (MERCY). This sets Undertale apart from a lot of other RPGs: no one has to die. You can get through the entire game without killing a single monster. It might be tricky, but once you get the hang of it you can absolutely do it.
On revisiting Undertale, I realize that part of why I like it so much is because it’s simultaneously what you would expect from an RPG and a near-total subversion of those same elements. You can fight, but it’s not necessary to do so in order to progress (in fact you’ll still get gold if you spare the monsters), you’ll get a lot of items, but you aren’t able to sell them in a majority of stores and they’ll actually poke fun at you for it, and the way the story plays out actually differs depending on whether or not you’ve killed anyone. I usually don’t, but that’s also because I genuinely enjoy the monster interactions. It’s not often that a game gets me excited to bump into a random encounter, but for the most part I genuinely enjoy how each monster has its own personality and strategy for sparing them.
See, Undertale is one of those games that just oozes personality from everywhere. The descriptive text, the monsters’ behavior, even the signs and the player character’s observations. It’s very silly, but in the right way. It feels a little bit like the Mel Brooks approach to comedy where you throw a bunch of stuff at the wall and see what sticks, but all of the jokes are in the same vein so at the very least you can’t help but smile.
In addition, Undertale takes a lot of inspiration from a number of other games. People have called it a spiritual successor to Earthbound and at first glance it definitely seems very much that way, but it’s so much more. When Moon: Remix RPG Adventure was re-released on the Nintendo Switch, Toby Fox made a tweet saying that it was a big inspiration for Undertale (though I have yet to play it myself, I’ve heard some great things about it), and according to the Wikipedia article I pulled the platform information from, other inspirations include Mario & Luigi, Touhou (hence the bullet hell mechanics), Brandish (a game I’ve never heard of before working on this piece but looks very much up my alley based on screenshots), and Mr. Bean.
I know this piece is shorter than a lot of what I’ve written recently, but so much of what makes Undertale work is better discovered for yourself. The music is lovely, the mechanics make me laugh, cry, cry-laugh, and smile while also providing a healthy challenge, and it’s an inherently simple game but it also encourages the player to think for themselves and not just go through mindlessly killing everything in their path. I mean you can do that, but for as many times as I’ve played it, I have more fun going through without killing anyone.
It’s a game that really shines because of just how much love was put into it. You can see it and feel it pretty much everywhere. Gosh, six years since its release and I smiled just as much this time around. And you know what else is really impressive? Undertale was made in GameMaker Studio. That’s the program I’m using for my own game. Granted, I don’t have nearly as much experience as Toby (considering his Halloween hack of Earthbound among other works), but it gives me hope, seeing just how much you can do with a program and how many different ideas can come together. Thus, I feel more than comfortable giving Undertale my seal of approval.
If you’re not absolutely certain whether or not you’ll enjoy Undertale yourself, you can check out the demo for the old version on the website for yourself. Toby’s also been working on DeltaRune in the past year and some and if you’ve already played Undertale yourself, you may enjoy it! I certainly did!