I recently finished Undertale and thought it would be fun to take a look at this little indie RPG four years after its initial release.
The game was first released back in 2015 and was created by a small team led by Toby Fox, a hobbyist game designer, famous for his Earthbound ROM hacks and creating music for the webcomic Homestuck. At the time, it was praised for its unique sense of humour, genre-bending bullet-hell combat and the many secrets hidden within the game.
Although I knew basic character and plot details, I went into this game practically blind, knowing only that the ending changes depending on who you kill. With that knowledge, I jumped headfirst into the Underground.
The story begins by introducing you to a character called Toriel, who, as her name implies, is a parody of tutorial characters that many games clumsily use to teach the player the game’s mechanics. With Toriel quite literally holding the player’s hand, you can sense that Fox’s tongue is lodged quite firmly in his cheek. This is when I realised that this game was something a bit different from what I’d seen before. The game is full of entertaining and endearing characters.
On the art side of things, Undertale embraces it’s indie roots and renders all of its characters in gloriously endearing pixel art. The visual language that Undertale adopts keeps the player feeling cosy and calm, with each sprite having a friendly and amateur nature to them.
As for gameplay, Undertale is no less unique. Although you have the option to kill any of the major NPCs and monsters you encounter, you also have the option to show mercy by befriending them, something you rarely see anywhere in gaming outside of the Shin Megami Tensei series, which was a big inspiration for Undertale alongside the aforementioned Earthbound.
Once you decide to attack or talk to your opponent, they’ll attack back, turning the game into a bullet-hell minigame for a few seconds, keeping the combat from feeling stale as there’s an element of randomness in terms of attack type, duration, speed, and volume.
Without spoiling too much, Undertale is at its best when it starts playing with the player. There’s surrealism reminiscent of Kojima that gives Undertale even more depth. It’s both a wacky-yet-sincere story about kooky monsters who just want to be friends with you and an intricately clever game that is acutely self aware.
All the various elements of Undertale meld so beautifully that it creates a game the likes of which has never been seen. It’s obvious why so many fans from all over the world fell in love with this game back in September 2015.
Here’s to many more years of games trying to be something different, and changing the gaming landscape for the better because of it.