Go to the mountains they said, it will be fun they said, it’s totally safe they said! Well… it has turned into none of those things. Here I am, trapped inside the mountain, I’m damn lucky I didn’t break anything. That hole just came from nowhere, one misstep and I felt the ground disappear from underneath me and my heart started to sink as I fell through the air. For split second, I thought I was going to die but I survived… something broke my fall I think but I can’t be sure what it was. I can hear something further into the cave, it sounds… like a voice? Down here? Maybe the other kids had managed to fool some other poor sucker into this trap… I feel a weight in my chest as I decide what to do and I slowly go further into the darkness in search of the voice.
Ok, OK, I know. Taking a big risk with this one. I know the reputation this game has and I know how aspects of the fanbase can be a little, unwelcoming… towards any potential criticism of it. So, to start off I want to say that I did like this game (I usually just convey that throughout pieces but this is an exception). From the marvellous mind of Toby Fox comes UNDERTALE, released back in 2015 the game follows the journey of a young human child who unknowingly falls into the underworld home of Monsters. Monsters once lived on the surface alongside humans but after a war that the monster races swiftly lost they were forced underground and never allowed to return to the surface world. You as the child in question must after becoming trapped undertake a harrowing journey to return to your world and in the process, decide the fate of all Monsters
As you journey through the monster homeland you’ll uncover what I personally believe to be one of the deepest narratives in a video game to date. I’m not just saying that either as I’m a hard person to please with a games narrative. I have slated bigger games for it and as such won’t hesitate to lay into an indie game for it either. Undertale at its core is a powerful tale of the power of the human heart and how that power can be used for both good and evil. I played this game on the pacifist run so I can’t really tell you a lot about how the attacking combat works so you’ll need to bear that piece of information in mind when I’m referring to things 😀 the story of the game as stated follows the tale of a young human who has become trapped in the monster underworld, after a brief encounter with a plant that was less than welcoming or sympathetic to your plight you are taken through a brief tutorial of the games mechanics and world by Toriel ❤ who rescues you from Flowey and proceeds to show you the ropes (she’s so sweet) after parting ways with Toriel though the real game starts and you are thrust into an adventure to return home to your own world. Through the adventure you’ll meet many characters who all have strong dialogue, great humour and real personality to them. The best of which has to be sans, he’s just got a great innocence to him and I love it throughout his many appearances in the game. Progression in the story for Undertale feels great too. It’s a bit quick at some points I must admit and I did have to stop and ask myself a fair way through it if I was missing things or just that the game wasn’t offering too much of a challenge but I was never enough to really detract from the experience, as I encountered more and more characters and went to more and more areas I got a great feeling of achievement, like when you hit a new level in an MMO or get a great gun unlock in an FPS. I do admit that the noises that characters make when talking that struck me as being similar to Yooka Laylee (one of the things that really bugged me about that game) got to me after a while. It was just a bit frustrating to keep hearing the noise repeat over in conversations. I love the later stages of the narrative though because that’s where it starts to really play around with the ideas of what makes a monster and the power of the human heart and those are both the narratives biggest selling points! when you start to get into the dialogue during fights with characters such as Undyne and Muffet and especially King Asgore! You really start to see why they are the way they are. Why they feel the way they do against humanity and when you do overcome these encounters you feel great for winning them over. I’ve played a LOT of games with a moral choice system in them but I must say that Undertale has one of the best and it’s tucked away. There’s no clear sign of this is a good thing and this is a bad thing. It’s simply that if you do good or bad things you’ll get good or bad consequences later on.
Keeping in line with the moral choice system a lot of those moral choices will come through gameplay and not through narrative, through the decisions you make in battles and the occasional conversation. The game plays like an almost top down old school RPG and you’ll instantly feel throwbacks (depending on your age) to games like Zelda (the first one) Earthbound and even the older Final Fantasy titles (anything prior to 7 really) and I feel this style choice is great for this game. Anything more detailed or high-quality textures and it would have just taken away from the games narrative appeal. I originally though that the entire game was in black and white before getting around to playing it so when I spotted the colour in the game I was a bit taken back by it, I like the colour scheme choices though they never feel too much or too little and never seem to steal the show from the important aspects. Combat is important in this game too and as I said before I didn’t go for killing the monsters I chose to spare them. A little bit of context, in the start of the game you are taught by Toriel that you don’t need to fight a monster and that you can choose the spare them, this is slightly more challenging than killing the monster to be honest as some monster require a strategy to spare them. For example, you need to use certain commands on a Tsundere plane or a Doge to get them to be susceptible to sparing. With that in mind I have to admit that combat is the one aspect of this game that I straight up just did NOT enjoy especially in certain fights like Undyne and Muffet who are truly great characters but fighting them just felt tedious, repetitive and straight up annoying at times. More context on the combat itself though. So, if you choose to spare the monsters you must go through several arcade, bullet hell style section in which you must avoid your little red heart from tacking damage. As the battles goes on then it gets increasingly difficult to avoid damage. Now I personally don’t like Bullet hell shooters so I admit I was already not going to enjoy that kind of gameplay before it had even started. Its well enough designed and not impossible to pass these points but I just didn’t enjoy the time I spent in some battles ESPECIALY in Muffets battle which I felt went on for far longer than it needed to. Seventeen waves of increasing difficulty is a little bit overkill to me! Overall I can’t say that the combat is bad, or even that it doesn’t work just that I didn’t really get into it as much as others did.
Now here’s a sensitive spot for fans, the games musical score. Undertale’s soundtrack has seen waves of support and adoration from the games fan base and I can really see why. It matches the games tone and environments so well and the battle music can be really good too. The score is a masterclass in how to make music work for your game, taking it to that level above what It was without it BUT … and here’s the sensitive spot. I don’t understand the appeal the soundtrack has outside of the game, it’s on sale on steam as a separate product but for the life of me I can’t see why? The score loses a lot of its appeal when detached from the game itself and some of the tracks I found just weren’t appealing at all on their own. There was something missing from that. Like you’d stripped part of them away by only listening to them without the game. I’m aware there are some covers for the soundtrack that add their own twist and bring the tracks back to life and I would recommend these. For the audio in the game though it’s a 10/10, it works REALLY well and as I said brings the game to a whole new plane, as a standalone product though it’s really not as great as it was inside the game.
So, to wrap this up Undertale is a phenomenal game and well worth your time to play through it. It isn’t too long and it’s got a narrative hidden away that you’ll regret missing. Powerful themes and tones put forward in a fun little package that is well worthy of the praise that it got. Combat is like marmite though, you’re either going to love it or hate it but even if you hate it, it won’t detract from the experience! The musical score is amazing but I just can’t bring myself to recommend it as a standalone product Also for £6.99 you can hardly say no to this so go out there, get this game and enjoy the tale that it has to tell because I’m sure it won’t be a decision you regret.