Undertale: Our Review

Undertale underwhelmed me at first. The game has this fantastic reputation for being beautiful and postmodern, funny and poignant, but after an hour with the game I was unimpressed. Sure, the retro graphics were charming and the enemies had some amusing names, but overall the game didn’t deserve the rave reviews it was getting. But Undertale grows on you. The enemies become more creative, the environments become more beautiful, and the NPCs become more memorable. When you start playing as a pacifist, the game becomes even more interesting. By the time I reached the terrific, monstrous, fourth-wall-shattering final boss, I had come around. Undertale is not a perfect game, but it’s a truly memorable one.

Undertale is a classic RPG that will feel instantly familiar to fans of Final Fantasy, StarTropics, and Dragon Warrior.  Your hero is stranded in an underground world filled with monsters you encounter while trying to find your way home.  You battle a multitude of monsters, move through different and nicely realized environments, and meet a variety of characters along the way.  The characters you encounter are genuinely funny, from the extremely excitable skeletal warrior to the homicidal gameshow-hosting robot.  The best way to play the game, however, is as a true pacifist, a game style that totally subverts the traditional experience.  You can beat the game without attacking anybody and the game becomes an entirely different adventure when you do so (though, if you’re going to do this, commit early!).

Undertale’s weakness is the battle gameplay. Battles are menu-based events but when you’re attacked, a small screen appears with a small heart in the middle; you avoid enemy attacks by moving the heart around the screen and avoiding enemy projectiles, laser beams, frogs, spiders, knives…all kinds of things. Again, there is a pacifist approach to fighting in which you can take a specific action – like singing, joking, or “mystifying” – to end the battle and finding these solutions makes the game considerably more enjoyable, though unfortunately you still have to dodge projectiles when attacked. Battles are always creative but I never really enjoyed rounds of dodging enemy attacks. Later battles get difficult but the game had several workarounds (items that preempt the fight or armor that simplifies it) for the casual gamer, though at the end of the day, I wish there had simply been a different fighting mechanic.

I rarely replay games anymore, but Undertale is tailor-made for repeated playthroughs. Not only are there multiple ways to play (the “pacifist” style and the “genocidal” style being the two extremes) and multiple endings to the game, but the game has built-in shortcuts that make a replay seem less demanding. There are items that avert difficult battles (though you don’t learn this on your first playthrough), there are ways to farm vast sums of money easily, and most enemies can be dispatched quickly once you know the correct action to take. Given that - and given that Undertale is one of those games that feels like it’s taking place in a Hayao Miyazaki movie - I could see spending an afternoon having this adventure again.

THE BEST PART

The retro-style graphics and music are excellent and the characters are fun and memorable.The game is smartly written and cleverly parodies many RPG conventions. This is one of the funniest games I've played in a while.

THE WORST PART

As much as I liked the story, the battle sequences in which you avoid enemy attacks got old for me. While the battles are enormously clever (especially on the pacifist route), I never enjoyed having to steer my little heart around enemy projectiles.

Our Verdict: Worth a Try

Not everyone's into gaming's retro-craze right now, but Undertale delivers a beautiful, smart, fun experience. If the game sounds like the kind of game you would like (or even that you MIGHT like), you should absolutely give it a shot (at $10, it's perfectly priced).