The story here is oddly Earthbound-esque, as you play the role of a child trapped in an underground realm of monsters. Your task is to escape to the surface or find a way to survive, but that in itself quickly proves to be a vehicle for the game’s true story…
The first thing to note is how the game alters over time. No matter how many times you complete it, things will rapidly alter. Go in and choose one option, then the other at a later date? The game will know and you will be called out on it. This results in more complex narrative threads as time goes by and builds upon its theme of pacifism. While you can fight, you can slaughter your way through entire levels, there is always the option to talk your way out of even random encounters. The very act of fighting itself turns into a strange mix of bullet hell elements with RPG screens, focusing as much upon timing and choice as quick reflexes. However, the rewards are crafted in such a way that even basic terms such as EXP take on a very dark meaning should you choose to rely upon your past knowledge of RPGs. Suffice to say, this is certainly quite a surreal experience.
Unfortunately for Undertale, its greatest strength proves to be a double edged sword. In the developer’s determination to carry over so many thematic design choices and elements from yesteryear, it can seem clunky and ill conceived. There’s a definite learning curve to be found in getting used to the bizarre nature of the game’s combat, and even the storytelling is extremely minimal. That’s a big part of its charm of course, but like Dwarf Fortress, you might have trouble seeing the fascinating concepts through the intentionally archaic design.
For all the good and bad present, Undertale proves to be one of those select few wonders of gaming person should play at least once in their lifetime. Whether you enjoy it or not, what it accomplishes and the ideas on hand are so fascinating and oddly charming that it easily stands out from its contemporaries.
UNDERTALE / DEVELOPER & PUBLISHER: TOBYFOX / PLATFORM: PC / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW