Nowadays, games attempt to wow people with flashy graphics, explosive setpieces, and huge open worlds. A linear experience with little to no gameplay that looks like it came out of the 1980s seems like a recipe for disaster. However, Undertale is an exhilarating, refreshing journey that surprised me with a must-play RPG bound to fill you with determination.
The story of Undertale takes place many years after a long war between previously equal Humans and Monsters. You play as a child who falls through a hole and finds himself submerged in the Underground, the magically sealed prison of the Monsters. As the child, you set out to find the monster king's castle and cross the barrier of the magic seal in order to return home. Right out of the gate, Undertale establishes a fantastic blend of creepiness and comedy that is unparalleled. As the game progressed, I felt like I was taken on a magic carpet ride through the land of the Monsters, interacting with the colorful cast that includes Sans the lazy skeleton and his brother, the overachieving Papyrus. Clever dialogue, dumb jokes, and excellent pacing throughout made me want to abandon my homeward trek in favor of chilling with the spooky denizens of the Underground. The Underground itself comes alive with its excellent NPC's who consistently made me chuckle. There are three distinct areas in the game, but unfortunately the last area is a bit of a labyrinth and can be frustrating. The game has four endings, all of which are based off of your actions towards monster encounters. Whether you're a heartless killer or a benevolent saint, each ending is humorous in its own right and encourages you to replay the game and explore the different consequences of your choices in battle.
The majority of my time with Undertale was spent combing through dialogue boxes and walking through the environment. While this would normally be a drawback in other games, the top-notch writing sets Undertale apart. The "combat" of the game consists of random encounters with monsters, where you can choose to fight or nonviolently spare the monster (almost always in a hilarious way). If you choose to fight, timed presses comparable to the Final Fantasy X Overdrive system are the crux of the combat. Enemy attacks result in dazzling bullethell style minigames that are surprisingly challenging and engaging. Boss fights are formidable, but are never frustrating. Most of the boss fights introduce new gameplay elements or in typical Undertale fashion, a really dumb but hilarious solution. A few puzzles are strewn throughout the game as well but they're certainly no braintwisters and many of the "puzzles" only add to the charm. Overall, despite the minimal gameplay aspects, I never felt the game was gimmicky, but rather a unique take on the turn-based system.
Very rarely have I been so encapsulated with the way a game presents itself. It is worth noting that this game was entirely made in Game Maker, an astronomical feat of dedication that was not lost on me. The 8-bit graphics strike all the right notes of an '80s RPG love letter and animations are goofy and wonderful. The dialogue of the game is witty and a pun in itself, which I won't spoil. However, the sound of Undertale is truly what sets this game apart. The soundtrack maintains a macabre vibe yet delivers ridiculously catchy tunes sure to set your head bopping. For a game that relies so heavily on presentation, Undertale's score succeeds at encapsulating the exact melody at the right moments. Simply put, Undertale's soundtrack is the best videogame soundtrack I've heard in years. On top of that, the sound effects from character dialogue and battle noises are spot-on. Undertale may not be the prettiest thing for your eyes but I guarantee your ears will be having a good time while playing.
While Undertale most resembles the RPG genre, it takes core RPG concepts and turns them on their head. Items often have ridiculous characteristics and even leveling and experience points defy the standard set for the genre. The concept of player choice is effectively challenged and your role as the player is consistently questioned. Storytelling isn't conveyed through cutscenes, but rather through conversations and dialogue boxes. Under the guise of bad jokes and witty dialogue, there lies a heartfelt story that communicates the power of friendship and love. Undertale embraces its retro roots and its consistent self-awareness makes it one of the most unique games I've ever played. In a gaming world bombarded by 'bigger is better,' Undertale is refreshing in its minimalist approach and atypical nature that it so gloriously embraces.
I paid ten dollars for Undertale. As I mentioned, there are four endings that each offer completely different experiences. Each playthrough takes about seven hours to complete. Secrets and off-the-beaten-path areas offer even more replayability. My only complaint is that the game is very linear so you will experience repeated areas, but the charm doesn't wear thin. The quality of Undertale speaks for itself and its 'bad' graphics ensure that the game will run on a potato, let alone your PC. This game is a must-play for every gamer, RPG fan or not, and is absolutely worth every penny.
It's difficult to talk about the wonder of Undertale because it is truly a game that can't be put into words. Its linear nature allows it to defy typical expectations and I only wish that same experience could be expanded into a full-blown RPG that could captivate me for months. For what it is, Undertale is a masterpiece, revolutionizing storytelling and presentation in a compact experience you have to witness for yourself. Don't be scared away by the primitive graphics. Please do yourself a favor and play Undertale.