Now, I've been wanting to discuss this game on my blog for a long, long time, but I had just never gotten around to it. Since I recently beat it for the first time, I figured now was as good a time as any.
So what's the premise of the game? Humans and monsters used to live peacefully, until war broke out between the two races. After many battles, the humans won and decided to seal the monsters in the Underground by having their magicians create a barrier to keep them in.
Years later, your character--a human child (no gender is given, but I've always considered them to be a girl)--falls through a hole in a mountain and ends up in the Underground. There, you encounter a wide variety of monsters, ranging from a talking flower and a goat mom to skeleton brothers and a fish knight. (Sounds crazy, I know.) Your goal is to exit the Underground and return home . . . but what you do along the way is up to you . . .
This is where the really interesting stuff comes in. You see, Undertale is an indie RPG (role-playing game, for all you non-gamers out there) developed almost entirely by one man, Toby Fox. His tagline for the game is, "The friendly RPG where no one has to die!" If you've ever played RPGs before, you know that when you fight enemies, you can either choose to do battle or run away. Not so in this one. You have other options at your disposal; if you choose to do so, you don't have to kill a single monster.
The combat system is also different from your typical RPG. It's bullet hell combat, which means you evade enemy attacks, as shown in the gif below:
Because you have the ability to spare enemies, that opens the door to multiple endings. There are three routes, which are basically different ways you can play the game: Neutral, Pacifist, and Genocide. Neutral is where you kill some enemies and leave others alive, which is what I did for my first playthrough of the game. Obviously, you spare everyone in Pacifist and kill everyone in Genocide.
When Undertale was released in September of 2015, it blew up all over the internet. On Steam, the game has overwhelmingly positive reviews, and it's easy to see. With graphics that hearken back to old-school games, clever dialogue, unique fights, phenomenal music, and dynamic characters, this game has been loved by many. But what's my opinion on it? Well, that's what I'm here to give, and I think it's ideal that I wasn't caught up in the initial hype. I will try my hardest to keep this review as spoiler-free as possible.
Now, I think I want to tackle the negative things first, because I just want to get all that out of the way. I'll start with the fanbase. If you hear the name Undertale and you cringe, you've most likely encountered the bad side of the fandom. Not everyone is like that, to be sure, but sometimes it's the noxious people who are the loudest. From simply being toxic to going so far as to make pornographic fanart (I hear Tumblr is especially bad), these people can be off-putting. But you should not judge a piece of art by its audience.
For example, let's pretend I saw a book that has a really interesting premise. However, I knew people who read this very novel, and I found that their obsession with it to be very weird. So I decide not to read it. That's not fair to the author! I'm basing my opinion off of other people, rather than the source material itself. You can only take someone's opinion as that: their opinion. It's up to you to decide your thoughts on the book. You shouldn't choose to think of a book negatively because of negative people.
So while I'm talking about this, I may as well insert a disclaimer: what I talk about in this review is, of course, my opinion. I'm basing my review of off my personal experience with the game, so you can take it or leave it. We may have differing opinions, and that's okay. It's just life.
Now, back to the minuses of Undertale. There is a bit of swearing, but not all that much. It's a few typical misuses of God, h-ll, and d--n. There's also some talk of becoming a "god," or "godlike," so if that makes you uncomfortable, just a heads-up.
But there's an issue that's, uh . . . a lot more sensitive in this day and age. There are two homosexual couples in the game, one gay and one lesbian. If you spare two Royal Guards (both males who say "like" and "bro" a lot), they confess their feelings and go get ice cream together. That's it. The other couple, however, is a little more prominent, as it involves two main characters. Only in the Pacifist route is it featured more. The worst that happens is that they're about to kiss, but are interrupted; later, one kisses the other on the cheek.
This might already turn some of you away from ever playing Undertale, and I can respect that. Truth be told, I didn't even know about those two relationships until after I was gifted the game (thanks to a generous coworker of mine) on Steam. But with my knowledge that I have now, would I still buy the game? To that, I give a hearty "yes." (You'll see why when I list the pluses.) But here's my take on it: as much as I believe those relationships aren't healthy and that they're not what God desires, the game is still an amazing experience. The same-sex couples are not the point of the game; it's not to push that agenda in your face. It's about a fun, emotional experience that subverts your expectations of RPGs.
Why did Toby include homosexual relationships? I don't know. Would some say that the game is supposed to challenge your thinking, and adding those couples is part of that? Maybe. Would others claim that it's an attempt to normalize these relationships? Possibly. We live in a world where we have to face these issues, and we shouldn't be scared of that. We can still love on people while not supporting their lifestyle--although that's another topic entirely.
In the end, for me, it boils down to the fact that the couples are not the main focus of Undertale. Believe me, if they were, you probably wouldn't have this review, because I probably wouldn't have played the game. And again, if it makes you uninterested in the game entirely, I understand. Just wait until you've read this whole post, okay?
Lastly, there is a robot by the name of Mettaton who has an alternate form that would some might think looks feminine. I, personally, think it looks cool; after all, he's just a TV celebrity who wants to be glamorous.
Another positive is the cast of characters. As I said before, they're a dynamic crew. Here's a collage I found of the main characters:
How Toby was able to inject so much life and love into these rather simply designed characters is beyond me. In fact, that's one of Undertale's tricks: plain design, lots of heart. I fell in love with each and every one of these characters. I mean, even the regular enemies are all unique with their own interesting ways to be bested in combat.
Toby said that he wanted every monster to be an individual. He made a comment that in RPGs like the Final Fantasy series, all the enemies are the same and that there's "no meaning to that." His work paid off in crafting a world brimming with creative monsters who have their own personalities. Yes, you'll sometimes encounter the same kind of enemy more than once, but even so! A lot of effort went into making a solid cast.
Although I love all of the characters, my three favorites are Papyrus, Undyne, and Mettaton. (You already saw a pic of Mettaton; Undyne is the fish and Papyrus is the skeleton on the far right of the above collage.) Papyrus is so quirky and lovable (yes, I know I keep using the word "love"). You can't help but like him even as he attempts to capture you and stump you with puzzles. He might not the be the brightest candle on the cake, but he's definitely one of the friendliest! . . . If candles could be friendly, that is.
Undyne initially comes off as a tough-as-nails, kick-butt warrior in her menacing armor, armed with an endless supply of energy spears. But she's fiercely loyal to her friends and has a huge heart. You might be rolling your eyes and saying, "Oh yeah, haven't heard that one before." Trust me, you haven't met a female character quite like her.
There's a lot more to Mettaton than meets the eye, in more ways than one. At the end of the day, his dream has always been to be glamorous. I'd talk more about him, but he comes around closer to the end of the game, so I don't want to spoil anything. Suffice it to say he has secrets . . . and one of the best boss themes in the game.
Speaking of the music . . . on second thought, I'll blabber about that on the next Music Monday.
And the dialogue! It's always so perfect. There are a lot of memorable quotes throughout the game. (Also, I'm currently playing through the game again with Kaitlyn watching, and I've been reading the dialogue out loud using different voices. It adds another level of enjoyment, almost as if Toby intended the lines to be spoken.) One of my favorite quotes is when you tell Papyrus that you'll be his friend, and he responds with, "Really!? You want to be friends, with me??? Well then . . . I guess . . . I guess I can make an allowance for you! Wowie! We haven't even had our first date, and I've already managed to hit the friend zone!!!"
While we're on the topic, the humor in this game is always on-point. I don't know how to properly describe it, but it's made me crack up so many times. And yes, there are puns in this game, which I quite appreciate. I think the humor caters to a bunch of different tastes. One example of this is Toriel in the beginning of the game. You see, her name is a play on words. It comes from "tutorial." Toby disliked the character of Fi, whom he believed to give the answers to puzzles too early (careful, dude; don't go hating on my favorite Zelda fairy). So he had Toriel just do the initial puzzles for you and make the solutions super obvious.
Some more of his wit shows up in characters like Sans, who speaks in the Comic Sans font, and Papyrus, who speaks in the Papyrus font. There's even a character who you may never see, W.D. Gaster, who speaks in Wing Ding.
This is a good segue into what's called the "fun code." Basically, whenever you play through the game, it randomly picks a number between 1 and 100. Depending on what number you'll get, you will receive different phone calls or see some rare characters, which adds to the playability factor.
And THAT moves nicely into the topic of the story. Because the game has different routes, and the Neutral route has several different flavors, if you will, the replay value is significantly higher. The plot itself is so creative, but I'm not going to get into it very much because of spoilers. If you're looking to play this game, don't look up ANYTHING else about the game. Seriously, it's too good to be spoiled. By the time I finished my first playthrough, I had pretty much the entire game and all the routes spoiled for me. I still thoroughly enjoyed the experience, but there's something to be said about a spoiler-free experience. It just can't be beat. (If you have any questions, rather than looking them up, ask me so I can give you safe answers.)
Another positive is the fandom. Yes, I listed it under the negatives, but I was thinking of the weird ones. There are "normal" fans too, who draw really good fanart of the game. In fact, I have a whole board for Undertale on my Pinterest account for art I find that I love. I shall share just a few of my favorites here:
When I think of Undertale, there's a few different words that come to mind: "consequences," "remember," and "determination." I'll expand on each one of those words.
We all know that in life, actions have consequences. In many video games, because of linear storylines, things that happen will always happen. That's just how they're programmed. This game takes a different approach. If you save that one character, he may help you out later on. If you kill another, others might not be too happy with you. And should you choose to come with the mindset of playing like it's a normal RPG . . . well, let's just say . . .
You're gonna have a bad time.
To talk about this further, I wanted to share something with you that happened to me while playing the game. MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD! You may recall I had this picture in my Monthly HapPENings post for January:
So I was playing a Neutral route, and I had decided I was going to get into the mindset of a scared kid who's in an unfamiliar land filled with monsters. I'd figured I would probably kill Undyne, because she was legitimately trying to decimate me. However, before I got to the fight, I left Undertale for a while. When I came back, I knew a lot more about the characters and whatnot. However, I decided I would still go with my decision to beat Undyne.
We arrived at our battlefield, and she mentioned I had killed a lot of monsters--including a teen comedian who'd fallen in with the wrong crowd (Snowdrake, in case you're wondering). I wasn't expecting this, and began to start feeling bad.
Then we fought. The conclusion to that battle, and the music playing, made it all so emotional, as Undyne's attacks got weaker and weaker. What got to me was when she "smiled as if nothing was wrong."
I killed her and progressed into the next area, the Hotlands. I received a call from Papyrus telling me that he thought I'd be great friends with Undyne. No music played. The Hotlands welcome sign was deactivated. Sans didn't appear at his station. I knew I'd messed up, and as soon as I got to the next checkpoint, I saved and quit. I never thought it would happen, but a game made me feel very guilty about killing one of the characters. That's true brilliance right there.
MINOR SPOILERS OVER!
This is where the game might get a little creepy, because it remembers your previous runs. On my second time playing, characters are acting as if I look familiar--like I'm an old friend--when they technically shouldn't. And trust me when I say that, once you've done a Genocide route, your game will never quite be the same. Simply resetting or deleting files won't fix it. I've found a video of a more complicated way to get a fresh start . . . but that kinda ruins the game's messages: there are, and always will be, consequences to your actions.
This game's self-awareness goes beyond recognizing you after you've reset your file; it breaks the fourth wall. Again, not going to get into the details because spoilers. Trust me when I say it's very cool and spine-chilling.
Honestly, Toby was a genius to code Undertale to remember and be self-aware. I feel like not a whole lot of games out there take advantage of this, which added to this game's success. Off the top of my head, I can only think of one other game that does this. The funny coincidence is that they're both indie games. An interesting thought to chew on.
Lastly, before I wrap this all up, I want to touch on the subject of determination.
Determination is a word you'll hear a lot in Undertale. Actually, it's become one of my favorite words since I've played the game/watched YouTubers play the game. Simply put, determination is defined as "firmness of purpose." Many art forms, from books to movies, focus on things like courage and bravery, or strength and power. But what are all these things without determination?
For example, let's say a soldier is in a war to save his country. He's a very courageous soul, fighting for his loved ones and his people. But if he is not determined, he will not last. He must believe in his cause so much that he will push through the pain and heartache to achieve his goal. Nothing will stand in the way of a determined individual.
So I love that Undertale makes use of a word--a theme--that many games don't focus on. It's very thought-provoking, and I think that aptly sums up the whole game. It's a thought-provoking experience, which, in my mind, is what all art should provide after entertainment. But this post is getting long; perhaps I'll do a full post on determination another day.
Undertale began its journey as a Kickstarter project with a goal of $5k. It ended up raking in over $51k, meaning it made more than 1,000% of the original goal. It was released on Steam in 2015 and received glowing reviews, doing so well that it was ported onto the PS4 and the PS Vita, along with being made physically, in 2017. Just a few days ago, it was announced that the Nintendo Switch will be getting a port of Undertale. The game has been called a cult classic and has won or been nominated for about 40 different awards, according to this list on Wikipedia.
It's received phenomenal acclaim, but in the end, does it deserve it? My answer to that question is . . .
Honestly, Undertale is one of the best video games I have ever played, and I don't say that lightly. I've laughed, I've cried, I've pondered it . . . I've enjoyed it. Immensely.
Does it have problems? Of course it does. I don't want to minimize the issues, but at the same time, no game, or book, or movie, is perfect. There will never be such a thing. But to me, this comes pretty close.
At the end of the day, I walk away feeling satisfied, that I've spent my time well. I've hung out with some of the best characters you'll ever meet, listening to fantastic music, and contemplated a lot of different things. I've had . . .
A good time.
Good job, Toby Fox.
After reading my review, what's your opinion on Undertale? Would you ever play it? Why or why not? Do you agree or disagree with my take on it? I'd be happy to discuss things with you in the comments; if you wish to chat about spoilery things, be sure to be considerate of those who haven't played. Also, would you enjoy more Undertale posts, like writing lessons from the game, examinations of some of the best moments, etc.?