Published: September 25, 2015
Within the first five minutes of ‘Undertale,’ I was nearly killed by a talking cartoon flower, rescued by a large rabbit-like monster who gave me a cell phone and flirted with a sea anemone. This was probably the most normal part of the game.
‘Undertale’ is a quirky, indie, role-playing game (RPG) set in a world where once upon a time, humans and monsters lived together, until one day humanity waged war against the monsters, defeated them and sealed them underground. Years later, the player character wanders up a mountain, falls down into a deep cavern where the monsters live and must now journey through the underground to get back home.
Billing itself as “The friendly RPG where nobody has to die,” ‘Undertale’ bucks the usual conventions of its genre in a number of ways. Instead of having enemy damage calculated by the computer, a small arena pops up where the player has to avoid enemy attacks like a shoot-em-up game. Besides the player’s regular attack, there is a list of actions the player can perform with the enemy to change the course of the battle, a list that is different for each enemy the player encounters. Most out of the ordinary is the option to “spare” enemies.
If the player takes certain actions in a battle, they can end the battle peacefully. It is possible to complete the game without killing anyone, which is astoundingly rare for any videogame. The “spare” option and the unique battle system also completely remove the need to level grind, one of the most monotonous parts of most RPGs.
The other half of what makes ‘Undertale’ unique is in its writing, story and characters. The game’s world is full of quirky, oddball humor. One memorable encounter is with an enemy called a lesser dog, which you can repeatedly pet to resolve the battle peacefully. Another standout is the recurring character pair Papyrus and Sans, two talking skeleton brothers who speak in Papyrus and Comic Sans fonts, respectively. However, “Undertale” is not all comedy.
The writing jumps from weird humor, to suspenseful horror, to tear-jerking tragedy, to thought-provoking moments and back again and, surprisingly, it does it all without feeling jarring or forced. And while it starts off comedic, the overall plot ultimately becomes much, much darker.
‘Undertale’’s blend of oddball humor, unique gameplay and engaging fantasy world make it an experience that sticks with the player for a long time. It is a fairly short game – it can be completed in about four to five hours of play – but it is a thoroughly enjoyable experience that offers plenty of replay value. For anyone who wants something different from the RPG genre, a game that refuses to subscribe to the usual trappings and clichés of the genre, “Undertale” is a must-play.
‘Undertale’ is available on PC and Mac through Steam or undertale.com for $10.