Ryan's Always Right: Undertale
Undertale is, on the surface, an adventure RPG. It’s dialogue-heavy, uses turn-based combat, and includes a lot of simple puzzles that require almost no thought to complete. These are all features of games that most players typically dislike, yet Undertale has somehow earned a cult-classic status and appears to be one of the most beloved games of this generation. With hype often comes overhype; with overhype often comes disappointment. Is Undertale really worthy of all its praise?
Before we answer that question, let’s delve into the core mechanics. As I mentioned earlier, the game uses turn-based combat. However, unlike most turn-based combat which is centered around rock-paper-scissors style gameplay (like Pokemon), Undertale puts an entirely new spin on the genre and is more akin to a bullet-hell shooter than anything else. You play as a little “heart” and have to dodge enemy attacks, some of which include special mechanics and are genuinely difficult.
Unlike most adventure RPGs, you don’t have to kill your enemies in order to defeat them. Should you choose to fight, the combat is much more dynamic than typical turn-based gameplay, and you can time your attacks to maximize damage. Although there aren’t many options to choose from, you are allowed to equip one weapon and one piece of armor in order to improve your stats and increase your effectiveness in combat. Alternatively, if you’re not in the fighting mood, you can engage your enemies in dialogue and attempt to convince them to stop fighting you. It’s important to be aware however, if you choose to spare a monster instead of killing it, you won’t receive any EXP for the battle.
Now that we’ve got the core mechanics out of the way, let’s jump into the story. As far as RPGs are concerned, Undertale’s story seems pretty basic at first glance. You’re a human who has fallen down a mountain and wound up in a land filled with monsters. Monsters and humans don’t really get along; in fact most of the monsters you encounter are pretty motivated to make you as dead as possible. Without spoiling anything, the monsters have their reasons. Your goal is to make it out alive by overcoming adversity and reaching a barrier that can teleport you back to the human world.
Of course, that’s just the surface level. As you explore the land and meet the handful of monsters that don’t want to kill you, you’ll learn more about the history between monsters and humans and realize that there’s more to the story than meets the eye.
Aside from combat, the minute-to-minute gameplay involves exploring the different towns and solving simple puzzles. All of this is extremely dialogue-heavy. Fortunately, the writing in this game is almost always on point. Nearly every interaction either contributes to the story, has an emotional impact, or is outright hilarious. The comedy in Undertale is easily one of its strongest attributes, and it often shows up when you least expect it.
Along with comedy, another element in which Undertale succeeds is in its soundtrack. The music in this game is exceptional. The artwork on the other hand, is a bit of a mixed bag. Pixel art is polarizing to begin with, and there are moments in Undertale where the scenes are frankly an eyesore. That said, it also has its moments of beauty.
As great as the comedy and music are, Undertale is ultimately driven by its story and though your interactions with particular monsters. The turn-based combat, while better than most games, still isn’t engaging enough to carry the gameplay. Unfortunately, as hilarious as many of the interactions are, the story itself is just OK.
At least, that's what I thought at first. As I reached the end of the game, I was fully prepared to call Undertale overhyped and overrated. A game that was good, but not anywhere near as great as people portray it to be. Then the bombshells started to hit. Without giving anything away, it turns out that you have to beat the game twice in order to access the “true” story. Let me tell you now: that true story is incredible.
This game has so many easter eggs, so many hidden gems, so much lurking beneath the surface. Undertale is one of the funniest games I’ve ever played, with some of the best music in gaming, and it offers a fresh twist on the well-established characteristics of the adventure RPG genre. It is absolutely worth playing (twice), and it is absolutely deserving of all its hype. Ryan’s Rating: 5/5