Undertale has a lot going for it. A decidedly modern yet retro-styled RPG in the veins of the Earthbound series, it manages to take a traditional format and turn it completely on its head. Undertale innovates without sacrificing the qualities that make these types of RPGs special, all while inserting great music, interesting characters, and new methods of progression.
You play as a character who has stumbled down into…well, it doesn’t really matter. You’re lost in a foreign environment teeming with monsters, and you need to find your way home. A simple enough premise turns out to be a complicated take on the genre rife with multiple choices of gameplay style and a variety of interesting endings.
Visual elements bring to mind some of the best modern pixel art while still giving a noticeable hat tip to games of the early 90s. Catchy, fitting rhythms accompany you on your tale, and simplistic yet effective controls allow for smooth progression. The overall package comes together perfectly and is reminiscent of some of the best games in this genre.
You’re given multiple options for how to play the game. You can actually manage to play the game as a complete pacifist, and not kill a single enemy in your entire session. How to do this, however, is not always presented clearly, which can lead to a frustrated realization later on that you missed an opportunity to truly be the type of protagonist that you wanted to be. It’s this misstep that showcases one of Undertale’s few flaws: ineffective communication.
As you play through the game, you can choose to play a more friendly style or proceed with the typical format of finding and attacking enemies while building up your experience. Either choice will eventually lead to different interactions later down the line and one of multiple endings. Unfortunately, it’s unclear at times how to proceed in your desired fashion, which means that you’re not playing the character how you’d actually like to play them. This is problematic in a game that so heavily factors in the decisions that you make along the way.
At its core, Undertale seems like a very simple RPG, but innovative components shake things up. As referenced earlier, you can play through the game without killing any enemies, and that entails “sparing” your enemies instead of fighting them. Making that choice yields no XP, so your character cannot build up like they otherwise would if you chose to fight. What’s not communicated is that you really need to pick a style and stick with it, as if you constantly waiver between fighting and sparing, later battles will prove difficult. This problem can lead to extreme frustration in boss battles especially.
Even in these times of frustration, however, the game manages to win you over. Most battles include some element of humor that helps mask the game’s problems, and you’ll find yourself chuckling while shaking your head on many occasions. Corny jokes never sounded so good, as the charm of Undertale manages to bring it all together into a perfectly cohesive package.
Early in the game you develop a relationship with a skeleton names Papyrus who desperately wants a friend. Papyrus has a brother that is popular, which adds further fuel to his fire. It’s absolutely adorable how he tries to manipulate people, as he’s highly ineffective in a hilarious way. Despite being based on a retro style RPG, Undertale has some of the best writing out there, and it consistently manages to impress with its blend of serious, hilarious, and dramatic scenes.
And that’s where Undertale truly shines and separates itself from the pack, stepping forward as a game to be remembered with innovative gameplay and superb writing. There are some minor stumbles along the way, but if you stick with it, you’ll find great rewards at the end of the tunnel. Undertale is a must-play for fans of the genre, and even if you don’t care for this style, you should still come along for the ride.