Wednesday, January 27, 2016

[REVIEW] Undertale (PC)

Played on: PC
Genre: RPG 
Developer / Publisher: tobyfox

Whenever I hear of a quirky role-playing game, I immediately think of one of my favorite game series of all time: Earthbound (a.k.a. Mother). That series's cult following has spawned quite a few projects inspired by it, and Undertale is the latest in that club. What sets this particular title apart, however, is that it has loads of original ideas thrown in the mix, providing an experience that is honestly unlike anything I've ever played. A mere clone this is not.

The world of Undertale is characterized by a struggle between humans and monsters. Humans, possessing stronger souls, won the war and confined the monsters to the underground. You play as a human child who inadvertently fell through a hole, finding himself stranded on monster land. From there you'll encounter a host of quirky characters in your quest to get back to the surface, experiencing some pretty great writing along the way. The musical score is also worth mentioning, as it's a superb collection of intensely hummable chiptunes.

What makes Undertale truly unique is how it allows you leeway on how you want to go about the adventure. Every single battle you enter, from random encounters to boss fights, can be solved through non-violent means (some of which further showcase the funny writing). Deciding whether to engage in combat with any given foe can have big consequences on the storyline, too, including future interactions with new characters. If you do choose to battle, though, you'll be treated to several different real-time, minigame-like sequences that make the whole process an absolute blast.

At around five hours from beginning to end, Undertale is short as far as RPGs go. This means, however, that the prospect of doing additional playthroughs, making different decisions along the way, becomes a lot more palatable. Right after I was done with the completely mind-blowing final boss fight, I immediately rebooted the game to start over, which really is a testament to how interesting the world and lore in the game are.

Undertale's main flaw, in my eyes, is how sometimes the storytelling takes away from the challenge. Often you'll be faced with a seemingly awesome puzzle, only to soon realize you'll never even get to solve it, all for the sake of a punchline. Other sections are so heavy in storytelling that gameplay end up all but absent, save from button presses to switch from a block of text to the next. It helps that, like in Earthbound titles, the writing has a pretty great mixture of comedy and poignancy, with doses of plain weirdness thrown in, which in turn makes you care enough about the characters that the extended dialogue sections aren't a chore to go through.

My main impression after finishing the game twice over is that the hype is certainly justified, as Undertale is a game that won't be easily forgotten by those who play it. Even if you're not that big on RPGs, there are enough quirks and new genuinely good ideas on display that just maybe you'll find yourself as enthralled by this curious little title as most people seem to have gotten.

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