Undertale is a thoughtful and memorable RPG that serves to get the player thinking about alternatives to violence. Originally released back in 2015, the game more recently arrived on Nintendo Switch, a platform that seems oddly appropriate, given Nintendo’s history publishing the RPGs that the game takes so many cues from.
begins with something of its own creation myth: Here, in the beginning human
beings and monsters shared the world before breaking into all-out war, the
vanquished monsters sent below the ground.
What really makes Undertale stand out is its sheer commitment to what creator Toby Fox once described as a desire to, “[S]ubvert concepts that go unquestioned in many games.” One admirable area this carries over to is Undertale’s combat. The game presents the monsters as sympathetic creatures, either reluctant or forced to fight. The player can also choose to talk to the enemies instead, and the game’s story is ultimately affected by their choices. This method gets players to think about exactly what they are doing and to reflect on the in-world violence.
The game’s story similarly constantly upends players’ expectations. One instance, early in the piece, has a very cute and charming character attempt to kill the protagonist.
In game battles unfold in a way that is also both familiar and new, alternating between the standard turn-based move selection and a ‘bullet hell’ mingame where the player defends a heart from a volley of projectiles.
Undertale’s graphics and sound effects are similar to old-school 2D RPGs from the NES and SNES eras, but manage to be both charming and distinctive. One of the game’s absolute strengths is its music. The main theme, ‘Hopes and Dreams’ has become an iconic song in its own right, remixed and used as an entrance theme for Kenny Omega’s last match in New Japan Pro Wrestling. Having the chance to see this song in its original context is a highlight.
Undertale subverts so much of the standard RPG tropes, while simultaneously celebrating them, delivering a game that somehow manages to be entertaining in the process. With multiple endings, you will want to play it, think about it, and then play some more.
Undertale is now available on Nintendo Switch, PS4, Xbox One, and Steam.
Jonathan Foye is Insights’ Editor