Sunday, July 24, 2016

A Review Of Undertale

There are a lot of games out there people keep saying are must-plays that I haven't even tried, for various reasons, and probably never will. Minecraft, The Walking Dead, any GTA after the first and a whole bunch of indie games (well I guess Minecraft is also an indie game) I can't even remember the name of right now. Then came Undertale and managed to mildly pique my interest. I liked that it was an RPG, I was less enthusiastic about the graphics. Not because they were pixelated, I love pixels, but because it simply didn't appeal to me aesthetically. Eventually I caved however and decided to give it a shot.

Did I love it? Yes and no. Hear me out.

I always try not to be one of those people who dislikes something just because it's popular. Things are often popular for a reason (although sometimes those reasons are bad reasons, like with Donald Trump or Justin Bieber), and there is little sense in hating on something just because other people like it (like complaining about Pokémon Go).

My first impression with Undertale was still a bit of... weariness. Or that feeling you get when you eat something that's a bit too sweet to be enjoyable. It's definitely not disgust or even dislike, but just "ehhh, it's a bit too much for me". Oh look here is a sad ghost, we've never seen that before have we? The overbearing care-taker that seems to have ulterior motives? An hour or so into the game I was worried it was all just going to be boringly cliché or trying too hard.

The funny thing is, it kind of is. But the characters, the story, everything managed to nestle its way into me, to a place where I just could not dislike it. Sometimes cliché or trying too hard isn't a bad thing, not if you still manage to make it into an entertaining, cohesive and memorable end-product. Another example of this is Dead Space, which is just a cliché shooter from start to finish, but the end result is bigger than the sum of its parts. Undertale takes that to a whole new level.

Because if I look at each individual part of this game I don't find anything especially amazing (except for the music! Seriously even if you have no interest in playing this game, you should at least give it a listen) - taken out of context the puzzles are pretty boring, the story is text-book at best, the characters each on their own easily teeter on becoming obnoxious and the one thing that stands out about the gameplay is the combat system. But put them all together and you get something so charming and endearing you can't defend yourself from it.

Getting back quickly to the combat, it was the one singular thing I really thought stood out in this game - it was inventive and fun and I really felt like they had managed to get as much out of it as possible. Whenever you felt like you were getting into a trot, or even long before that actually, the game would throw something new into the mix. Without managing to make it confusing! Now that is a feat. The combat system is great in that it is right in that sweet spot between easy to grasp and difficult to master and it is clear you're going to have to master it to manage to get one of the more difficult to reach endings.

Alternating endings is something that rarely appeals to me however, so the game lost a lot on me on that premise. I realize that is entirely my own shortcoming and not a design flaw of the game. In fact the game sells the idea of different endings greatly and I completely agree - it's a brilliant way to get more life out of a low budget game and yet again it seems like they've made the most out of it. Changing your playthrough will apparently change your experience quite a lot, from what I read.

Unfortunately my end impression is tarnished by the fact that I only wanted to play it through once. Because of this I realize the game did not get to show its full potential and it ended up a bit lacking for me. The things I had a problem with are probably completely unfair for me to complain about because I didn't want to play the game the way it was designed to be played. Because of this I ended up feeling like a lot of the characters were criminially underused. Just as with the combat system you were barely allowed to know someone before they were swapped out for the next crazy inhabitant of the Monsterworld, for me to adore. Just as I thought I was making friends, they were gone, over and over until the game ended, way too soon. I wanted to stay in that world and desperately wish there was more to explore, more to do. But it's just not that kind of game.

For me it needed to be larger rather than repeated because eventhough the gameplay changes somewhat it could never remove the feeling of "I've done this already" for me. And some things I really wouldn't want to redo, like the fight against Flowey (if you redo it, I don't know). But that's the way the game is meant to be played, maybe you could even argue that with only one playthrough I haven't even finished it (you could argue that it failed to make me want to replay it however). If there is one thing I could say to someone who hasn't played this yet it would be - play it through several times or you probably shouldn't bother. It deserves better.

It probably sounds like I didn't like this game at all - that is definitely not true. After I had ended it I was amazed at what an accomplishment it was - created by pretty much one person nonetheless! What are you doing while Toby Fox is out there kicking ass as a game developer? This games perfectly encapsulates that you don't need a big budget or a big staff as long as you have some brilliant core ideas and follow them through. Eventhough I personally didn't love-love-love this game, as a creation and achievement it is verging on genius. It is worth experiencing for that alone and to fill you with determination.

We have a saying in Swedish: "koka soppa på spik", basically "making soup out of nails". There is a whole story behind it but in essence it's about how you can take something inedible and mundane and make a delicious soup out of it by tricking the consumer to change the ingredients. Undertale takes what looks like simple ingredients at first glance and turn them into something absolutely delicious when they're all mixed together. There is no trickery here though but I will say it is magical how Toby Fox has managed it all, the gameplay, the story, the characters, the world, to come together to such a charming and memorable experience. I loved Papyrus, I loved Undyne, I loved Napstablook. I wish there was more of it, but that has to be a good thing, right?


  1. I love that game.

    If, by some happenstance, your first playthrough was like mine (no major monsters dead, still lvl 1 (I don't actually *know* if that's required, but probably)), you can get a 2nd ending without having to play through the entire game. Just reload and wander around a bit and you'll get a call pointing you to what you missed.

    Or, also like me, if you can't find the time to play through again but can somehow find the time to watch someone else do it (don't judge me ;) I'd recommend the playthrough on Press Heart to Continue on Youtube. I almost enjoyed it more than my own pass through the game. And you can see all the content of the "evil" path without the tedium of having to do it yourself. Editing!

    Regardless, I enjoyed reading your thoughts on the game. Thanks.

    1. Thanks for your comment!
      My first (and so far only) playthrough was probably very average. I killed a couple of monsters before I realized I could actually spare them, then I went on to spare a couple before I thought it was much faster to just kill them. And why wouldn't I? I didn't get EXP without it! Only at the end of the game did I realize it had sort of been trolling me all along - well done game :)

      I might check out that LP, I am interested in seeing some of the changes I have heard about and it'll give me an opportunity to enjoy the music and characters again so thanks for the tip!