First: SPOILER WARNINGS, SPOILER WARNINGS, This is the discussion of opinions on this title, and thus there are SPOILER WARNINGS.
Undertale, a game where you’re a small child who falls into ‘the underground,’ get immediately attacked by a flower, saved by a goat, and set out on your adventure. This game is everywhere, this game gets ridiculous reviews, this game managed to beat some of the best games of all time on Gamefaq’s ‘Best Game Ever’ poll, getting into the same hollowed ground as games such Final Fantasy 7, Legend of Zelda Ocarina of Time, Chrono Trigger, Super Mario Bros 3, and many more such classic games, and I’ve seen a lot of people criticize getting this score, and in some ways, I have to agree.
First, let’s go over what Undertale doesn’t do very well, explain it’s mechanics. The game is purposefully misleading with many mechanics at the start, to encourage people to get a certain experience. The downside? The full experience requires multiple playthroughs, and if you -don’t- experience it in the right order (someone spoiling it for you, or telling you how to play) you get a lesser experience. Not playing through multiple times? Lesser experience, and there’s some good reasons for that.
The plot isn’t particularly strong, and the characters while cute and varied, aren’t particularly deep. Repeat encounters detract from the game in general, since very little if anything changes the first time you spare or kill something, till the 7th time you spare or kill something. The repeat encounters exist to make it difficult to go the more difficult ‘genocide’ route on a first playthrough. Toby wanted it to be something you had to work for and his solution was to make it so you had to exhaust the random encounters, it works, but it means for the other playthroughs you get repeat encounters that don’t add very much to the game.
The beginning of the game is -slow-. For someone looking to get into the meat of the game, the fact puzzles are solved for you or simple, that monster battles are denied you till the appropriate ‘tutorial’ time later, etc. . . While this adds to the character of Toriel, it’s at the expense of pacing and enjoyment. First impressions of a game are very important, and Undertale gets a solid ‘nyeh’ out of me.
While the text is very well written, there’s a lot of it, and a lot of the story is told through large exposition dumps. One point being so blatant in exposition dumping, you’re watching video tapes with a ‘black screen’ that is explained by leaving the cap on the camera, or being too dark to see, cute, but a bad way to dump important story knowledge.
A lot of story and lore exposition is optional, this is interesting because it encourages multiple playthroughs to find it all, but can leave the whole game feeling more shallow than it is at first playthrough/glance.
That’s a lot of negatives, especially for a game that’s so completely loved by fans, so what does Undertale get right? First off, it’s fairly well written, something not many games can claim, it’s not fantastically written, but it’s decent, and decent is ‘awfully good’ for video games. The characters have unique personalities, and the writing is genuinely touching. It’s rare to find a game that really tries to make a positive connection with you, and that earnest positivity, when presented well, can garner a lot of support.
I remember once reading about Fable stats that Peter Molyneux was genuinely surprised that the majority of Americans went for the ‘good’ side of good and evil, that we really do strive to be heroes. That’s what Undertale presents us with, the chance to be a real hero, and not kill a single person, or in this case monster.
Undertale mixes it’s game mechanics up, it’s very diverse, while not being so different you feel like you’re learning a new game every time. It’s difficult, but forgiving, and generally a few failed attempts on more difficult fights will offer you some way out, especially early on when you’re less comfortable with the controls. Overall, incorporating the real time, stressful bullet hell genre in your turn based RPG was really original and very enjoyable mix-up of what we’ve come to expect.
Diverse and lovely characters, I touched on this, but there are a lot of diverse characters, some of which we can identify with, are silly, or interesting jokes (tsunderplane comes to mind.) This game, again works to make connections with you, and, it’s easy to let it.
In the end though, those positives still don’t garner enough to classify it into ‘best game ever’ category, so what is it that truly brings Undertale it’s appeal? After pondering quite a while, reading responses, and watching different Let’s Plays of it, and watching community reactions, I think what Undertale best does is, reward you for investing time in it.
There’s literally an absurd amount of depth to Undertale, there’s so many possible interactions and Toby seemed to really work to make each rewarding. Here are some examples: when you go to Papyrus’ house after agreeing to date him, he runs from the left side of the living room area, to the kitchen every time you enter the kitchen. Make him do this run multiple times, and he’ll comment on how being a good host is exhausting. When you first learn about Echo Flowers, the guy on the left says something along the lines of ‘This is an echo flower, it repeats the first thing it hears forever” but if you go back and talk the flower first it says something like “My only real value in life is explaining echo flowers.” And then the guy acts embarrassed when you talk to him after.
There are a lot of examples how so many interactions are different when done in different order, many monsters are ready to be mercy’d when there’s more you can do (moldsmal is the first example of this, you can mercy it right away, but you get more reward if you do certain action commands first.) There’s also the hidden ‘fun’ system, that makes random events happen based on a random number generator with a butt-ton of possible variables, meaning even after 7 or 8 playthroughs you can still see something new. There’s even a hidden character and subplot that was added for dataminers, and easter eggs, just look up Bepis.
This game rewards you so much for spending more time with it, for revisiting it, it really works to make connections with a myriad of different kind of people, despite knowing it’ll never please anyone. It’s an earnest game that a lot of love was put into, and the deeper you delve the more you can see how much care and attention was put into really trying to make sure you were rewarded for whatever you try to do in some way, even if it’s just a small piece of dialogue, and that’s what really sets Undertale apart.
Or it’s just got a million meme-worthy dialogue quotes and good music.
Up to you,
This article fills you with..DETERMINATION.