Typeface-themed skeletons. Spider bake-sales. Melancholic ghosts. Showbiz robots. Overly-excitable dogs. Cinnamon-butterscotch pie. Anime.
Welcome to the crazy and adorable world of Toby Fox’s game UNDERTALE: the friendly RPG where nobody has to die.
The game’s opening (literally) drops the protagonist, a young human, into a vast cave populated only by monsters, who were driven underground after war with humanity. Though most monsters fear or hate humans, the player finds a guiding hand in one kindly monster, who teaches them not to fight, but to make friends.
I was lucky enough to play the demo of Undertale a few years ago, so I was somewhat familiar with what was to come in the full release. Then and now, it had presented me with a simple moral choice: fight the monsters, or don’t.
The storyline of Undertale hinges upon this mechanic, and it is undeniably a love-letter to classics of old, with a style heavily reminiscent of Nintendo’s 1994 game Earthbound, amongst others. That said, it’s a love-letter with a slightly accusatory tone. As you progress through the game on your way to freedom, it almost dares you to fight; to give in to your experience of other games and walk the path of no return. Fighting even rewards you with EXP and increased LV – acronyms which most RPG geeks will recognise. Having played the pacifist route, I ended the game on the exact same LV I began it, and had not gained a single EXP. And you know what? I had a darn good time.
This is, of course, testament to the quality of the writing and storytelling. I couldn’t bring myself to fight the game’s multitude of crazy characters not because I had no reason to fight them, but because right from the outset, I didn’t want to. Undertale isn’t just a game of morals and consequences; it’s a hugely enjoyable work of comedy, horror, and tragedy. Even the random encounter monsters have their own personalities, from the easily-mystified Froggit to the world’s best janitor Woshua, and not forgetting Jerry (who’s kind of a drag and whom the other monsters would prefer to just ditch). Undertale’s ‘boss’ monsters, if befriended, persist long after they’re first encountered, and their side-stories were, I believe, the most enjoyable moments of the game. Their personalities are among the most memorable of any character I’ve encountered, and I dare any player to fight them without their heart breaking just a little.
Perhaps the most heart-breaking moment, however, was loading up the game again once I’d finished my ending, only to be begged not to reset my save data. It had been a long and difficult journey, after all. Could I really put the protagonist and everyone else through everything again, just for my own enjoyment? It’s a bizarre notion that this might stop me playing the game again, given that it’s all just fiction.
But I still haven’t reset.
UNDERTALE is available for £6.99 on Windows and Mac OS (distributed by Steam).
Featured image from Kickstarter.