Publisher: Toby Fox
Developer: Toby Fox
Release Date: 09/15/2015
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Undertale took the gaming industry by storm. Its Earthbound-inspired humor, innovative combat system, and fun characters drew huge crowds and garnered great sales. The 16-bit RPG was short in length but large in spirit. It’s hard to make you really like a game and remember it in less than five hours, but Toby Fox managed to do it.
You play as a human who wakes up in an underground world run by demons. These demons need one more human soul to break the barrier between our world and theirs. It’s a simple story, but it’s the characters you meet along the way that make up for the overall lacking scope of the game. Sadly. there’s no deep lore, no real backstories to any characters, but the here and now is well done and the dialog is sharp, witty, and fun. The game mocks standard JRPGs and Zelda games all the way through. The beginning tutorial dungeon doesn’t wait to get around to it. Pushing boulders onto blocks just to have one that’s sentient and makes the task harder for you. A lot of different puzzle-solving elements are found anywhere else in the game, but puzzles do exist and they can be quite challenging.
The combat system is the most unique aspect of Undertale. You can attack, but the entire system is mini-game-focused. There is a meter on-screen and you need to press the attack button when it’s in the center. Different weapons move this bar faster or have multiple hits. The enemy attacks are all skill-based. It’s essentially your own fault if you die. The center of the screen shows a white box and your heart is the object that you need to move around to essentially dodge various bullet-hell style mini-games. Spirling projectiles, daggers, flames, you name it. There are several dozen various attacks and each enemy and boss is unique with their own. The game’s other system is its moral system and you can be a pacifist and not kill a single enemy thanks to the Act command. You can try and figure out how to weaken the enemy through charm or talking and spare it via the Mercy command. If the enemy’s name is yellow you can automatically spare it. This is an interesting concept and leads to two different endings based on whether you’re a pacifist or not. If you choose that route you don’t get any XP to level and just get gold which can be used to buy better armor and weapons.
There are a few towns you can visit to shop, but a funny tidbit is you can’t sell anything in the game and the shop owners comment they don’t want your junk. There is one town you can sell at, however, so make sure you save all your old items to score big towards the end of the game. There are also a few side quests you can complete, but these are cryptic and require holding on to certain items throughout the game. The tip here is to save everything in your box near the save points. Don’t drop anything. When you’re not fighting you can solve puzzles, as stated earlier, and these range from mini-games to various switch-based puzzles. Backtracking is thankfully minimal unless you want a certain item at a shop that you couldn’t afford previously.
The sheer variety of the gameplay is astounding. Not a single battle is the same and not any boss battle plays out the same. Sometimes you have to fight, sometimes having a specific item makes the fight easier or ends it instantly. Levels aren’t labyrinthine and difficult to navigate and random battles are minimal as leveling up isn’t quite necessary. At the end of the game, I was level 12 and had the most powerful armor and weapon. Due to the variety and constant changing in the way the game is played it never gets dull or boring. I played through the entire game in one sitting because I wanted to see the ending and the game was just so fun and interesting. I can’t remember the last time I sat through an RPG like this and was this hooked.
The visuals are incredibly charming. They are clearly inspired by Earthbound and each character has a whacky 90s 16-bit era style to them that I adore. The soundtrack is also amazing and I listen to it often outside of the game. Toby Fox did an amazing job with this game and it’s something you only get once in a lifetime. There hasn’t been this unique Western JRPG 16-bit clone that I can remember. Undertale is the perfect RPG. No grinding, fun characters, great writing, charming visuals, fantastic music, and constantly changing gameplay with a unique battle system that has never been done before. If I were to pick something to gripe about it would be the cryptic nature of the items you need to find or hold on to as there are no hints as to needing said item at all. You just end up with a character asking for something or maybe accidentally using an item during a boss fight and having it do something.