I wrote my last piece on Undertale almost 6 month ago, and it is, by far, the most popular, most-read page on this blog. I owe this to people still coming down from ‘that Undertale high’ – you know, the one that lasts for weeks after you finish your first play-through, still wanting more, desperately pining for Toby to release the Dog Patch that will never come?
Considering my thought-out articles on philosophy don’t get a single view these days, while my Undertale articles (not very good ones, I think!) attracted over 5,000 at their peak, I owe it to myself and others to delve into Undertale once again, and see how my opinions have changed – as someone who’s been through the *cough*Reddit*cough* theories washer, and become tired of seeing ultra-complex posts about secret boss fights and extra endings.
We’ll start with the gameplay. Toby Fox took plenty of inspiration from Earthbound for his interface: Undertale is a top-down RPG with an inventory, basic equip system, and the ability to examine or interact with most things in the landscape. I heavily recommend stopping to take in the scenery, and examining the scenery – or else you’ll miss some of Undertale’s funniest text, as well as heartwarming (and heartbreaking) characterisation. Like Pokemon, most NPCs have a line or two to spout at you; but key characters have much more substance.
Undertale’s ‘battle’ screens are Earthbound-y, too: displaying your ‘enemy’ and your options. Here, you have the choice of whether to fight, negotiate, or beat them half to death before sparing them. All paths are just as valid, and I would argue that diplomacy is more fun, though Toby made sure there is plenty of content in both moral routes. It’s possible, and advisable, to complete the game without killing anyone or anything – because, unlike many games that make the promise but cannot follow through, Undertale really does change depending on the choices you make.
Even 6 months after playing the game, the way the world shifts to suit your actions remains impressive. If you act like a total pacifist, you will make more allies, access more characterisation, and you will feel good about yourself; but if you go through the game murdering at your leisure, the scenery changes. There aren’t as many NPCs as there once were. Towns evacuate before your coming. The description text changes to reflect a dark personality, and your ability to inflict damage increases – not because you are getting stronger, but because your humanity is fading.
The music is incredible. No, really. It’s the best part of an already impressive game. Toby Fox knows exactly how to invoke particular emotions using melody: you’ll recognise leitmotifs running through several tracks in the game, and some, played at precision moments, will cause chills or even tears.
There are also hundreds of Space Jam remixes.
Here’s where I’d write about the game’s flaws. I mean, I’ll try to think of something. It would be immature to criticise a stylised indie game for its graphics, especially when everything still looks pretty… What else is there..?
This isn’t to say that Undertale is a flawless game – I’m pretty sure that’s impossible – but that nothing really distracted my enjoyment of it. I guess backtracking was irritating at points, but the fact that the backtracking was driven by a desire to see more of the world, find secrets, and collect dialogue I hadn’t seen, more than makes up for it; especially because Undertale never disappoints the explorer’s urge. Though the game is mostly linear, a little wandering pays off in unexpected ways.
Overall, even as the ‘Undertale high’ has faded, I still consider the game a treasure, and among my favourite video game experiences.