Undertale is a singularly memorable gaming experience thanks to its excellent writing and astute grasp of the RPG mindset.

Undertale is a singularly memorable gaming experience thanks to its excellent writing and astute grasp of the RPG mindset.

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12/12/2023 toolmxh.com


Review game Undertale, Undertale is a singularly memorable gaming experience thanks to its excellent writing and astute grasp of the RPG mindset.

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I was stunned into silence when I completed my first playthrough of Undertale. I had expected the journey to end with silly puzzles and stupid puns, but what really happened at the end surprised me. Undertale specializes in playing with and subverting our preconceived notions of what an RPG should be in order to tell a story that is distinct from anything else that a game can do. Its masterful storytelling, deft writing, and keen audience awareness all come together to create a work that surprises readers at every turn.

Like most RPG protagonists, I had my path predetermined for me as a lone human trapped in an underground world that doubles as a prison for monsters. In my initial attempt, I adopted a pacifist strategy, trying to be as merciful and kind as I could while looking for a way to return to the surface. However, I erred in the beginning and killed a monster by accident. Like I would in any other game, I decided to start over without saving. However, this time around, things were different. Since I had witnessed her death, the dialogue had changed. Then, for having the audacity to misuse the save state’s power, Flowey—the chaotic evil, fourth wall-breaking flower—tore into me in Undertale.

Playing with the System
Undertale took advantage of those conventions in unexpected ways, assuming that I had played role-playing games in the past. Flowey’s initial reprimand shaped the rest of my experience and taught me to proceed cautiously because I couldn’t rely on a soft reset. I mattered in everything I did. A story that couldn’t have been told in any other way or medium gains weight thanks to that deft manipulation of gameplay mechanics. The secret to Undertale’s genius is that it must be a game.

Particularly, the combat minigames that involve dodging are dependent on that idea. Even after I believed I had everything figured out, boss battles continually surprised me. However, worldbuilding and storytelling are deeply woven into even routine random encounters. Each enemy has a distinct personality that manifests itself in both non-combative and combative ways. I ended up hugging, conversing, and even (and especially) flirting with a lot of monsters during my pacifist run in order to keep them from killing me. I had to “get close but not too close” in order to spare a monster that wanted to flirt but was unwilling to acknowledge it. By selecting that option, the rules of combat were altered, requiring me to avoid oncoming projectiles with extreme caution until the monster’s blushes caused it to cease fighting.

The secret to Undertale’s genius is that it must be a game.

Internet nerds will find a lot of jokes amusing, and I frequently had the impression that Undertale was speaking to me personally and understood what I was thinking. For instance, an anime enthusiast’s “selfie” is really just a photo of a trash can with pink sparkle filters applied (and trust me, this is pretty accurate). I particularly enjoy Undertale’s humor when it makes a point, no matter how minor. I was instructed to press Z repeatedly in order to motivate my snail to win the Thundersnail snail race that I entered. After I spammed Z until she burst into flames, the Thundersnail organizer told me that “all that pressure to succeed really got to her.” Like many of Undertale’s one-off jokes, it was incredibly relatable; in fact, one of Undertale’s greatest assets is its ability to anticipate and understand its audience.

Monsters are humans too.

The writing in Undertale is often humorous, but it also has poignant moments. Conversation and little, semi-hidden notes enhance the world and deepen the already gripping tale of morality and humanity. One particular highlight was a sequence of “echo flowers” in a lovely, ethereal hallway that replayed brief audio clips from a conversation above. The monster was afraid that her friend would laugh at her when she revealed her greatest wish, which was to climb the mountain that traps all monsters underground and look out at the world. However, the friend ended up laughing at her nonetheless. Up until the final flower said, “Sorry, it’s just funny,” it was absurd. I also hope for that.

Undertale’s examination of morality, personhood, and conflict depends on the player realizing the depth of the monsters’ hopes and dreams. Before you, various monsters talked about each other, so when I finally met them, I learned more about them than what their reputations implied. Along with being highly developed, the majority of the main characters have personalities that remain constant throughout various dialogue and plot points. I found it difficult to muster the courage to confront any of them, and that is exactly the point. Fighting monsters that I had flirted with in the past reinforced Undertale’s message about humanity at a time when I was trying to go for a more violent run.


But initially, some fights can be tiresome or even frustrating. I had to grind a lot during a violent playthrough to fulfill certain story requirements, and I eventually got bored of it. But in the peaceful runs, fighting enemy after enemy took the place of puzzles, and the trade-off felt very well-balanced and ultimately significant to the plot. In order to defeat a boss or obtain an item, I also found myself dragging myself back through areas I had previously cleared. Although it was ultimately completely worthwhile, I wasn’t overly thrilled to do it. I once ran out of gold and needed to buy healing supplies, and the closest store that would buy my stuff was ten minutes’ walk away. (The other retailers don’t purchase goods from you because they don’t want your garbage.)

Nevertheless, I’m glad I took the extra time to explore because it allowed me to discover things like echo flowers and thundersnails. I was drawn to Undertale because of its intricate details, which I wanted to see in their entirety. Each one feels purposeful; lengthy dialogue sequences at the start and some drawn-out fight scenes are essential for setting the characters in a way that only video games can. In a different run, the implications of one-hit knockouts cause otherwise unimpressive boss battles to become melancholic. The recurring and intricate theme of determination in Undertale was what kept me playing and replaying.

Undertale is a very expressive game from beginning to end, even though the artwork isn’t always beautiful—it’s frequently downright ugly. It makes up for its visual shortcomings with a fantastic soundtrack and endearing animations. It is also, in a very real and noticeable way, inclusive of gender and sexuality. What makes Undertale’s critique of personhood so powerful is that every little detail betrays a deep comprehension of its audience.

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