Undertale was sort of an anomaly to me. I had never been a fan, notably because I missed out on the game back when it released in 2015. The game has been sitting in my Steam library for months, with only one hour clocked. Do I sure as hell regret that now. Since Undertale is available on the PS4 and PS Vita, I’ve finally sat down with it and it’s easily one of the most unique experiences I’ve ever had within gaming.
Before going in, I knew Undertale would be a little weird — I fully prepared myself for that. Two years have passed since its launch, and that reputation precedes it. However, I was not prepared for what the journey in Undertale would mean to me. It’s not hard to understand why the game has amassed such a cult following on the internet.
The world of Undertale is inhabited by both monsters and humans. A great war broke out that caused monsters to retreat underground, where they’ve remained since that war. Now a fragmented race, you’ll experience exactly what has become of the monsters and how isolation has affected each and every one of them.
Players take on the role of Chara, a semi-unnamed protagonist human child that fell unknowingly into the monster underworld. In the opening hours of Undertale you’ll meet a character named Toriel, who really sets the tone of the game. Toriel introduces you to some of the game’s mechanics, and then you’re quickly thrown into the monster world — looking for a way to return to your human counterparts.
Writing in Undertale is clever and powerful. The game is able to blend moments of comedy and sadness among many other things. This is in part because of you, but also the game’s multitude of characters.
From beginning to end, you’re allowed to either fight or show mercy to your adversaries in Undertale — almost in a Persona-esque style of simply talking with them. This mechanic drives the entire game. While I did ultimately feel like it did hold my hand a lot (in the beginning, quite literally), I had enough freedom to really feel like I had total control of my own journey’s outcome. Albeit the path there will be very similar through multiple playthroughs.
If there’s one thing somebody could criticize Undertale for, it’d be its retro inspired graphics that originated with the development constraints on Toby Fox, the game’s sole developer. Before I had played the game I wondered how a game like Undertale could deeply impact so many people. But it’s Undertale’s animation that helps elevate it. Don’t get me wrong, the game can be pretty ugly at certain points. Character animations in particular play a huge role in developing the monster inhabitants, and there are a lot of different monsters.
Every enemy in Undertale has personality, which further plays into the game’s encounters. Combat is turn based, like conventional RPG’s; the twist is after performing an action you’ll have to play a mini-game where you dodge your foe’s attacks, SHMUP style. It blends turn-based RPG elements with the quick bullet-hell sequences. A weird combination that works surprisingly well. Each attack is representative of that particular enemy, and because of it every enemy feels like an important character.
You won’t just encounter enemies in your adventure, there are many friendly faces you meet along the way too that are both uniquely, and as a whole, charming. One meeting in particular involved a very blunt robot — I won’t say more than that — but it was sure as hell one of the more memorable experiences I’ve had in a single-player game ever. Even though everybody is a monster clad in terrible pixel art, I connected with a lot of them. Finding out the ways they were affected by their isolation, it was sad, it reminded me of darker moments in my own life.
The soundtrack in Undertale, for example the song above, is basically perfect. Like many great classic RPG’s before it, the chiptune soundtrack will stick with you long after playing. Tracks range from funny, to sad, to adventurous; basically everything you expect out of a great RPG. It reminded me of a time when games like Final Fantasy could convey so much emotion with music alone. I loved the battle theme in particular, and one track towards the very end of the game made me feel pretty emotional.
Items also play a unique role throughout the journey. At a glance they come across as conventional items, but you’ll quickly realize that’s not necessarily the case. Many items have special uses that’ll help you or potentially hurt you throughout the game. Even equipment can play a role. Learning about a use for an item really led to some cool discoveries. Similar to how you might feel after you’ve solved a puzzle in the Legend of Zelda.
Undertale is quirky and strange. That often times works to its benefit throughout the short journey. While it tells a story revolving around monsters, it turns out to be a surprisingly human one (no pun intended). You’ll often be given the illusion of control at many points. Undertale never fails to surprise you and unconventional things will happen when you least expect them to.
The game doesn’t run any different on a PS4 when compared to the PC version. Obviously it’s not a demanding game so this should be expected. My first playthrough clocked in at a little over four hours. Without delving into spoilers, there is a ton of stress put onto replayability — anyone looking to get the full experience will likely be putting in ten or more.
It’s difficult for me to put a number on Undertale, it’s such a different experience from RPG’s like Final Fantasy, The Witcher, Elder Scrolls, and many others. I think it’ll be received differently by everybody who plays it, but that’s also kind of the beauty of it. Undertale is an important game because it experiments with what exactly a game can be. It tackles issues and ideas no other game will. Things that I was able to personally connect with from my own life, and for that maybe I’m biased towards loving it so much. Undertale has you reflect, and asks you to think a little bit more than most games do.
I find it difficult to be critical towards anything about Undertale because it was designed with such a deft hand. It’s simply hard to find anything that feels out of place because it all feels so intentional. I’m happy I can finally confirm that Undertale is not just hype and while it’s available on PS4, PS Vita, and PC I couldn’t recommend it more. If you’re a fan of RPG’s or somebody who values a deeper experience, I think you’ll appreciate how beautiful this game can be.