Undertale is the ambitious creation of a single man, Toby Fox. Fox has singlehandedly shaped all of the component parts of this quirky role-playing game. Not bad considering this truly is a title that rocks the foundations of what for many has become the stagnant JRPG genre. For the most part the fresh ideas that he has introduced work very well, from the entertaining plot and amusing dialogue, through to the clever game design.
After a long war between humans and monsters, mankind wins and seals their enemy deep down beneath the surface of the planet. The monsters can't get back up, although people can fall down. This is what has happened to our brave adventurer, as he somehow wakes up in the monstrous realm.
Thus marks the beginning of a three-hour adventure where friends and foes are hard to tell apart. Even so, nobody has to get hurt along the way, unless of course you want them to. There is great sense of freedom within Undertale, and how you interact with the monsters you encounter is left up to you. Even in the middle of a fight you can stop and show mercy towards a falling enemy, or try and scare them off, or even plead for your own life when losing a battle. These options vary from enemy to enemy, which keeps things fresh.
Undertale also has an unusual combat system. When it's the enemy's turn to attack, you're given control of a small heart-shaped symbol that can avoid incoming attacks, all taking place in a small window. It works sort of like an old-school arcade game, where timing and precise movement is key. This feature helps separate Undertale from similar JRPGs and it also means you don't have to simply sit and watch as enemies take their turns. The system even expands upon itself as you progress through the game, leaving it feeling fresh from start to finish.
A similar structure is applied to the rest of the game. Everything starts off simple and easy, but grows more complex and challenging over time. This is no one dimensional, black and white kind of tale. Even characters who appear to be kind initially can expose themselves as wicked later on, and evil enemies might not be as evil as you thought the first time you met them. Instead of placing the enemies on a good-or-evil scale they are shaped after natural emotions such as jealousy, shyness or fear. They are fleshed out three dimensional characters in an otherwise two dimensional universe.
The single thing that remains easy throughout the game are the puzzles that you have to solve. The mechanics they're based around are nice enough, but some of them quickly become obstacles you can overcome on autopilot. Luckily for all they can be completed quickly, and so they don't spoil the overall experience.
But what an experience it is. Undertale fits the bill as a talkative Journey. Our little protagonist experiences genuine feelings like friendship and love while on his travels through the monster's domain. By the end we had a warm fuzzy feeling in our heart, and the game had taught us something that resembles a lesson for life. We're not exactly sure what that lesson might be, but we felt something, and that alone is an achievement.
Undertale does a lot within its simple framework. It's a classic fantasy RPG that somehow still manages to make fun of modern society and social media. The whole thing's realised in simple 16-bit graphics, but it still manages to convey more depth than many lavishly created blockbuster productions. More than that, it's a unique tale that's built around humour, caring and lovely music, and it's an easy recommendation to make.
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