This week we’re taking a look at Undertale.
There are so many fantastic remixes of this soundtrack but for this review I’m going to embed the original OST. Enjoy while you read this review.
A Paladin’s Steam Review: Undertale. Focusing My Determination.
- Genre: Isometric Story Driven 2D RPG with Bullet Hell Elements
- Developed & Published by: TobyFox
- Platform: Windows and Mac
- Business Model: Single Purchase
- Copy Purchased by Myself
Undertale was released by Toby Fox in December 2015. What started as a little known title quickly blew up, taking the gaming community by storm. So much material and think pieces have been created around this title. To the point that I find myself in this awkward position where I don’t really want to go super analytical on Undertale but I still want this to be a review with substance. I think a lot of the enjoyment to be had from it is by playing it yourself. To discover everything on your own, the little jokes and 4th wall breaks and mechanical changes that the game uses. Well, I’m going to roll with and see how this all turns out.
I have a pretty decent history with RPGs like Undertale. The first good one that I’ve played, that comes off the top of my head, would have to be Golden Sun for the Gameboy Advance. I spent many an hour on both it and The Lost Age. It was really helpful for those long road trips my family used to take. However, as time has gone on and my knowledge of gaming has grown, I find myself less and less satisfied with this style of RPG. The grinding of xp and items, the monotonous battles that could be figured out and done on autopilot relatively quickly just drained my interest. I certainly made my complaint about this genre very well known in my review of Cthulhu Saves the World. However, Undertale comes along and breaks the mold of it all. While there are certainly references to RPGs of the past, it declares that the genre can still grow and evolve from here on out. That isn’t to say that someone new to the genre can’t pick it up and enjoy it. But there are aspects that you may not appreciate without that knowledge. So, let’s take a look at Undertale.
Overall Gameplay Thoughts
This is an isometric 2D RPG that has a lot of emphasis on narrative choices and a new combat system. You begin Undertale after a short cutscene explains the history of the world. You’re a silent protagonist kid who has fallen below the surface and landed in the world of monsters. As the player will quickly discover, monsters desire the power of human’s souls. These souls have the potential to allow the monsters a chance for freedom from their long imprisonment below the surface. Undertale has two modes of play. Traveling through the various rooms of this underworld and talking to the various characters as well as the main combat section. Most of Undertale’s combat happens at a scripted time with plenty of forewarning to allow the player to save. There are very few small sections where random battles can happen but they are few and far between. The nice thing is that these battles aren’t simply throw-away and aren’t necessarily required to grind in order to finish the game. However, you may need to do them repeatedly for gold to accomplish side-missions or buy items. Other than that, the main “goal” of Undertale is to experience its narrative in whichever direction you see fit.
The combat section of Undertale looks like any typical combat you’ve seen in other RPGs. However, there are some differences. Your four categories of abilities are attack, act, item and mercy. Attack is simply a quick QTE event that does varying amounts of damage to the enemy depending on how well you pretty the button. Act varies depending on the enemy you’re confronted with but typically allows you to either examine your foe or doing an action that may help or hurt your situation. Item simply lets you eat an item to restore health. In Undertale, there are three ways to handle combat. There’s the violent solution where you can kill every enemy you come up against by getting rid of their health bar. You can have mercy on foes which allows you to take the pacifist way out though it requires you to complete certain conditions that the player must figure out before the battle can be completed. The third route that you can take is a mix of combat and pacifism. It’s the route I ended up taking by accident in my first playthrough and it creates quite the mixed reception to your character. These three routes will have significant impact on how characters interact with you and how the story eventually ends. There is no room of three switches to press at the end of your journey as the game will examine the path you chose. How you take its examination is up to you.
Regardless of which path of violence you end up choosing, after each action you take the enemies will attack you with a bullet-hell-like section. These sections of gameplay vary wildly depending on the foe you face but essentially the player must dodge, weave and survive in these boxes on screen until it’s their turn again. This is perhaps the most clever part of Undertale’s design to ensure that the player is still engaged even when it isn’t “their turn”. These sections are the most difficult part about Undertale and you’ll end up restarting a lot of fights until you get the right rhythm down. Some boss fights in particular could go on for a long time and end up being frustrating. Though the game will often automatically skip already seen cutscenes to get the player back into the fight.
I find myself conflicted if the combat system is actually that good or just worth experiencing once. For myself, I was able to do the one playthrough of Undertale and really enjoy it. However, during the second run I was really starting to feel fatigued by it. There are some conversation changes when you do subsequent playthroughs but the fights remain the same and so do the stakes. It just leaves me with a feeling of already seen it, nothing new to experience. Exempting towards the end of the game. But hey, an RPG combat system that I enjoyed as much as Undertale’s did the first time around is worth praising. Just be aware that subsequent playthroughs may not be as enjoyable.
A story about determination. About not giving up, always moving forward regardless of how many times you fail. Every time you do fail, the game encourages you to dust yourself off and get back to it. To figure out where you stand in this world. The narrative also has themes of what’s good or evil, different perspectives, a bit of life and death and whether the ends justify the means. It does a decent job of looking at these rather deep themes while maintaining a comedic and fourth wall breaking tone. The characters themselves are all likeable, in their own way and there’s a good variety to see. From robots to powerful heroes, they are all fairly memorable. No doubt helped by the well thought out boss battles and accompanying music themes.
As for the rest of the narrative itself, the game is an ever escalating series of battles for around 10 hours until the final chapter. The chapter that is the most affected by the choices you made during your run through Undertale. An ending that is surprising in how much it messes with expectation. That’s all I can say without giving too much away. But what I can say is that I left Undertale satisfied with the story that it had to tell.
As I played through Undertale, I realized that the part of myself that hates failing had started corrupting my love of gaming. I’ve grown to dislike platformers and horror/survival titles recently. Certainly these genres have their problems but I think the main reason I was getting overly frustrated with them is because I hated failing. I hated dying over and over again to make very little progress in a single night. Even if that wasn’t true. Part of me would think “why are you doing this? You’re just going to end up wasting an entire night making zero progress when you could be doing something else”. I was getting far too wrapped up in making forward progress in videogames. Much like in my own personal life. It’s what spurred me to change how I tackle future reviews for the blog and when I purchase games. It’s something I will need to continue working at but it was a good reminder from Undertale to take stock of how I was approaching this hobby of mine.
|Game Options||What Users Can Configure|
|Resolutions: 640×480 only.||Scales to player’s configuration in fullscreen.|
|Fullscreen: On/Off||Uses borderless windowed|
|Framerate: Capped at 30FPS.||This shouldn’t be noticeable by player though.|
|Steam Cloud Integration: Limited.||Cloud doesn’t store player’s save.|
|Audio Controls: None||Yea, this is inexcusable.|
Undertale has an extremely limited settings menu which is excusable considering it’s a 2D RPG. Its enough to manage the game though. I will say that I had the best control experience with the Steam Controller. As undertale doesn’t support typical controllers, you can use the steam controller to basically set it up like any regular RPG. I found that the analog controls felt more comfortable than the keyboard and mouse. Though you can manage just fine on K+Y, I just thought I’d mention it here.
What are my final thoughts on Undertale? It’s one of the more enjoyable RPGs of this isometric style that I’ve loved playing in recent years. The story has the right amount of seriousness and humor, the characters are all very interesting and well developed and the combat system really changes things up. It likes to break its own rules in effective ways that I didn’t expect. I think you will enjoy this more if you’ve played RPGs in the past but otherwise you’ll be fine if this is your first outing. I’m not convinced that Undertale has very good replay value based on my second run and the creeping sense of boredom. Undertale has a fantastic soundtrack, great visuals for a 2D RPG and a decent amount of mechanical depth for the asking price. But otherwise, I think Undertale is well worth getting.
Thanks for reading this review of Undertale. If you enjoyed it, please check out my other reviews or share this post around! It’s appreciated.