Start Date: January 7, 2015
End Date: January 18, 2016
Okay, before I say anything else, let me say this: Undertale is a remarkable game. If I had played it last year (when it was released), it would have been #2 on my Top Ten list, second only to Super Mario Maker. I wholeheartedly recommend Undertale to any fans of Earthbound, RPGs in general, games about games, and games that will give you what the kids call “the feels.” You should play this game, and you should go into it completely blind – so if you’re planning to play it, please do so before you read any futher.
Undertale is about a kid (in the words of one NPC: “I can tell you’re a kid because you’re wearing a striped shirt”) who accidentally stumbles into a subterranean land of monsters, and must make his way back home. This world is rendered in a retro graphical style which, when combined with the sweet, funny and melancholy vibe of the game, gives off strong Earthbound vibes.
You meet a lot of quirky characters along the way, and are also drawn into a lot of RPG battles. The battle system is perhaps the most unique feature about Undertale. At first glance, encounters seem like typical turn-based RPG battles, but defending yourself against enemy attacks is done by playing little minigames, which usually involve dodging projectiles for a few seconds. Each enemy has different minigames, and it makes the battles feel almost like a game of WarioWare.
But the “gimmick” here is that you don’t need to kill a single character. Instead, every enemy – from the biggest bosses down to the lowliest minions – can be spared and befriended instead. Each enemy has its own method by which you can make friends, and as you figure out the “puzzle” of their friendship, you find yourself really getting to know and love these characters – which is something you could never say about a Dragon Warrior slime or whatever.
As you can imagine, your approach to dealing with enemies has a large impact on how Undertale unfolds, both in terms of story and gameplay. Almost every non-player character practically begs you to take the peaceful approach, and indeed this is the route that leads to the game’s “true” ending. At the beginning of my first playthrough, before I really understood how to play properly, I killed one monster. I never once killed a second time, and yet upon completing the game, I still got the “neutral” ending instead of the ideal “pacifist” ending.
Such heavy consequences for every little action might seem extreme, but that’s kind of the whole point of the game – if you just let go of your gamer’s instinct to kill everything that crosses your path, and find another way to resolve things, you will be rewarded both practically and emotionally. And, most importantly, you’ll feel like you’re you.
Of course I started my second playthrough immediately after my first, and this time got the “true” ending and cried a whole bunch. I’ve heard there is a third ending that can be achieved by killing every single monster in the game, but no thanks. I don’t want to hurt my friends.
If I have one complaint about the game it’s that playing it with my laptop keyboard was a serious pain in the ass. Maybe I’m just super accustomed to console gaming, but controlling movement with the keyboard’s arrow keys was a goddamn nightmare, especially during the precision-heavy battle sequences. I’ve since borrowed a USB controller from my friend Rich, and will be using it for any future computer games which require any kind of dexterity.
Okay, that’s really I want to say about Undertale because it’s a fucking masterpiece that everyone should experience for themselves. It costs $10 on Steam, and easily worth three times that. Go play it.
VVVVVV / Don’t Look Back