Undertale Review — Dapper Blook (PS4)
When I first played Undertale in 2015, I was largely skeptical. The amount of praise that was showered upon Toby Fox’s Earthbound-esque role-playing game seemed unbelievable. Could this game that wasn’t even on my radar a month ago really be the best game of the year?
It was. Despite all of the high praise I saw showered upon the RPG, it managed to surpass all of my expectations. It didn’t just live up to the hype, it managed to surpass it. Now the delightful game with its colorful cast of characters is out on PlayStation 4 and Vita (with minimal new features besides some backgrounds and a dog shrine), and I can only imagine how skeptical some non-PC gamers must be.
For those that are new to Undertale, it’s best described as a role-playing game where you don’t have to kill anyone. The player has full agency over their actions. If you want to play it like a normal RPG, where the player goes after every creature in sight, feel free. You might feel awful afterwards, but that choice is up to you. On the flip side, players are also able to find a friendly way to end every battle.
I Couldn’t Do It
My goal for this review was to do a Genocide Run of Undertale, where the player kills every creature in sight instead of befriending them. I couldn’t do it. I got to the first major battle in the game, and couldn’t bring myself to harm Toriel, a goat-creature who acts as a mother figure to the protagonist. She was too kind, and I ended up abandoning this attempt at experiencing something new.
Instead, I played Undertale like I did the first time around and managed to have a blast. I used the game’s mechanic of using actions during battle to eventually befriend the monsters that were attacking me. This turns each battle into a puzzle of sorts, where the player has to figure out what will calm the creature down. The Tsunderplane (which is literally a tsundere plane) just wants you to come closer to it. Woshua, a weird bathtub creature, just wants to wash the protagonist. Players get to learn about the enemies as they battle them, and Undertale manages to make the foes into the game’s most likable characters.
Befriending these creatures isn’t just a puzzle, though. It’s also a test of reflexes. Every action is met with a response from the enemies, and this is usually an attack. The player controls a small on-screen heart, and then has to try to avoid attacks. At first it’s pretty standard bullet-hell fare, but soon players are dodging the flexing biceps of a seahorse named Aaron. It gets wonderfully ridiculous, and new concepts are consistently introduced throughout the 10-hour adventure.
Being Nice is Hard
One thing that I didn’t remember clearly about Undertale was just how difficult it was. My initial playthrough was with a friend by my side, who was able to both lend support and give me tips when battles became seemingly impossible. It was a much different experience alone. Undertale throws some truly devious bullet hell segments at the player, and I found myself staring at a game over screen many times.
I didn’t give up, though. Much like the unnamed protagonist, I was filled with determination. Undertale makes players persevere against the odds in order to be nice. Walking the route of a pacifist isn’t an easy one, and just like in real life, being nice can be quite the challenge. The momentary frustrations of dying and having to retry a battle has nothing on how the intense difficulty manages to reinforce the themes of the story.
It’s that story that manages to be Undertale‘s greatest accomplishment. Despite a constant barrage of silly jokes and slapstick humor, Toby Fox’s script manages to deal with some very complex themes of loss and love. Under the guise of silliness is a serious plot that’ll leave the player thinking about it for months to come. The characters and their stories as individuals all will last within the player after the credits roll.
Nearly two years have passed since Undertale originally released, and it still manages to be an incredibly fresh experience. Every battle is a unique puzzle that the player has to solve, and it’s impossible to count how many times I laughed at the bad jokes of Sans. I’ll never see all that the game has to offer, but that’s okay. I’d rather make friends than destroy them.
Undertale PS4 review code provided by publisher. Reviewed on PlayStation 4 Pro. For more information on scoring, please read our Review Policy.