Developer(s) – Toby Fox
Developed by Toby Fox over a period spanning over 2 years following a successful Kickstarter campaign, Undertale was heavily inspired by the Super Mario RPG series, as it combines turn-based RPG mechanics with real-time combat, and having a narrative deeply reminiscent of many more surreal games including Anodyne and EarthBound. Though I have voiced my concerns about developers combining Turn-based combat with real-time combat in the past in reviews of games like Dragon Age: Origins and Final Fantasy XII, the way it’s handled in this game is much more adaptable and sensible than in most others, and it made for a very engaging experience.
Graphics – 7/10
At first glance, the visuals seem extremely basic in terms of graphical quality, but as the game progress, players will start to notice subtle details throughout that really make it stand out, such as reflections in pools of water, raindrops, snowflakes and surprisingly effective use of shadow and lighting. The conceptual design, however, is where this game truly differentiates itself from others, as it takes place in a wide variety of different locations, and has an insane amount of different character designs. My own personal experiences of witnessing many cosplayers dress up as characters from this game speak for themselves, and give testament to how much of a cult following this game has garnished since it’s release.
Gameplay – 8/10
The game focuses on a combat system highly resembling that of any classic Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest game, but it is in how players must evade enemy attacks where it becomes extremely enjoyable. The attack evasion system plays out like bullet hell games such as Galaxian or Gradius, with players having to evade an onslaught of objects on the screen. After being disappointed by a plethora of games that have tried and failed to combine turn-based and real-time combat, it was enormously refreshing to find a combat system that does this, and one that actually works well. It gives testament to Toby Fox’s ability as a games designer if he can succeed where many mainstream developers have failed spectacularly.
Controls – 10/10
Even with a very different control scheme from most other games of this kind to have been released over the last 25 years, the control scheme in Undertale presents players with no unnecessary complications or annoyances. Movement is straightforward, as are the combat mechanics, and like many RPGs before it, the developer didn’t try to fix what wasn’t broken and the game is the best it could be in this respect for it.
Lifespan – 3/10
Lasting around 6 to 7 hours, Undertale falls way short of the standard lifespan of an average turn-based RPG, and this stands out as the worst thing about the game in my opinion. If it had much less of a linear progression as it does, then potentially it could have been made to last far longer. Arguably, it can be put down to the fact the developer worked on a budget, but there have been indie games made on a budget with virtually infinite replay value, thus even under the circumstances, the game still feels far too short than what it ought to have been.
Storyline – 10/10
The story of Undertale follows a player-named human child, who has fallen into a mysterious realm called the Underground, where resides monsters that were once equal to humans, but banished there following a war that broke out between them. The human sets out on a journey to find the king of the Underground, Asgore Dreemurr, and reach the barrier leading back to the surface world. The game’s story was heavily inspired by Internet culture, as well as the concept of motherhood, further taking influence from Nintendo’s Mother series; the character Toriel, in particular, being perhaps the most prominent example of this. The story has a unique blend of comedy, tragedy and moral ambiguity, as players are presented with choices of befriending, fleeing or killing enemies, which in turn influence the direction in which the story goes. It certainly stands out as one of the better and more subtle narratives told in an indie game, and is worth experiencing at least once.
Originality – 10/10
Though the game takes inspiration from a variety of different sources, such as Internet culture, other game series’, and even UK comedy shows such as Mr. Bean, it present players with a gaming experience largely unlike most others. I was overwhelmingly satisfied to witness how well combat was handled against many other RPGs released throughout the previous generation of gaming, and most other aspects of it also contributed to make this a truly unforgettable experience, like it’s story and subtle graphical details. It can be looked upon as one of the most remarkable achievements in gaming in general; made even more remarkable by the fact that it was all the work of one man with limited financial backing, but with unlimited imagination.
Overall, Undertale is an engaging, subtle and extraordinary video game that will have players amazed and immersed from beginning to end. Though my biggest concern stems from wishing that it could have been made to last a little longer, what there is in the way of story and gameplay makes for an experience unlike many others, and I recommend it to any fan of the RPG genre.