I’m going to have to be a bit controversial when it comes to Undertale. Maybe it was all the hype for years leading up to me playing it, but I guess you could say that the game just didn’t capture me in the same way as everyone else. I don’t know what I was expecting, but I felt deeply let down by it a lot of the time, and it just didn’t resonate with me on a level th-
Nah, I’m just kidding. The game is absolutely wonderful.
Asking me to review Undertale on PlayStation 4 is sort of like asking me to review sex. Even when it’s “bad” it’s still incredible, and the extremely brisk pace and short length (there’s a joke here I’m sure) of the game means that if you hit a puzzle or gap you don’t really enjoy, it will be over quickly enough that it shouldn’t bother you.
Undertale (PS4, [reviewed] PC, PS Vita)
Developer: Toby Fox
Publisher: Toby Fox
Released: August 15, 2017
Undertale is one of the best games I’ve ever played. It manages to take a genre that has existed since the earliest days of video games and actually do something new and unique with it while drawing the player in with a beautiful, heart-twisting storyline, quirky hilarious dialogue, bizarre and wonderful characters, and one of the best soundtracks ever produced. There isn’t a single moment of Undertale that isn’t imperative to the world building and storyline. Not a string of dialogue, battle, or puzzle goes wasted.
All in all, Undertale transformed my expectation of what a good role-playing game should aspire to be, and it’s almost upsetting to think that I may never have an experience like it again. It just seems an all too rare lightning-in-a-bottle occurrence, and I doubt I’ll ever look at other RPGs in the same way or resist the impulse to compare them — and such a comparison would be woefully unfair.
I’m not going to go into any details about the storyline. You, the non-gender specific human character, have fallen into a cave and found a subterranean monster world below the surface of your own. With the aid of a friendly monster named Toriel, you are able to get your bearings by navigating through a tongue-in-cheek tutorial dungeon which introduces you to the basic mechanics of the game. Before long, you express your desire to go home, and decide to leave the comforts of Toriel’s comforting abode and butterscotch cinnamon pies. And I will leave it right there, because revealing just about anything else about this six- to eight-hour experience would be a major spoiler.
Like other RPGs of this kind, you will have to deal with random encounters as you explore the underworld. But taking cues from games such as Shin Megami Tensei, you have a number of alternate options to combat which vary on each unique encounter, allowing you to interact with your foes in a more passive manner. You will be taught very early on that fighting and killing your enemy is just one option; there is always an alternative to fighting available to you, so part of dealing with battles is uncovering the right order of actions to perform in order to do so. If you do kill an enemy, you will be granted experience points and gold, and will get stronger and more resilient in combat. If you spare a monster, you will only be granted gold, and the combat will be harder to deal with as the game goes on. It’s up to you to decide how you want to proceed through the story, and every single choice you make will greatly affect the final outcome.
Combat is not a simple matter of rock paper scissors. Your character is represented as a heart in a tiny dialogue box which can be moved about for a very brief amount of time each time a combat action takes place. Each enemy attacks in a unique way, the battles playing out more like a bullet hell game where you are weaving between projectiles, whether they be falling tears raining down from above you, or a monsters flexing muscles rising up to hit you from below. There are variations on how attacks work, with some projectiles being green in color (which heal you) and some blue, which will hurt you only if you’re moving when they make contact. But every single battle is a surprise, boss battles being particularly insane. The story doesn’t pause and take a break, leaving you waiting for the next critical dialogue; interaction with boss characters is intertwined within the combat itself making each encounter special.
As far as the PS4 version goes, it runs perfectly fine. Undertale is simple; there is no online multiplayer, no challenges, no big extras. Avoiding spoilers, after you have finished the game you will immediately be given the opportunity to jump back in, and to see everything you will need to do this a few times — not a new game plus, mind you, but…well, you’ll see if you get there. You get a few colorful borders to play with since the game is natively 4:3, some other basic settings, and that’s about it. I did not run into any performance issues while playing.
Surprisingly this was the first time I actually got around to playing through Undertale, but I did have the PC version to compare it too. And frankly it doesn’t matter which version you choose; what matters is that you play it. If you like RPGs even remotely, and especially if you have any love for the 16-bit era classic EarthBound which it takes several cues from tonally, Undertale fits exceedingly well in that list of “classic” RPGs and in many ways, surpasses them. Emotionally it accomplishes what many games take sixty hours to convey in a fraction of the time, and this isn’t done at the sacrifice of engaging gameplay. Undertale embraces the fact that it is indeed a video game, and it demands your attention and interaction throughout the entirety of its brief length — it can be very difficult sometimes, and despite joking about literally holding your hand in the intro, when it actually matters, the game does anything but.
Undertale is a clever and charming masterpiece, through and through. I didn’t look back at our original review until after beating it and deciding for myself what I wanted to say about it, but I have very little to add or modify. No game is perfect, but a very rare handful are special, exceptional examples of the best there is to offer, and Undertale stands proudly beside them.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]