I had originally considered making this a review simply consisting of incoherent text conveying both laughter and sobs of emotional turmoil, but I knew this game deserved more than that. Coming in as my unexpected diamond of 2015 is Undertale; a indie title released on Steam late last year. While belated, it needed to be talked about here on Novastream.
Undertale pits you in the shoes of a young human who falls into the Underground, a large fictional region below the Earth’s surface inhabited by sentient monsters. These monsters, once equals to humanity on the surface, have been driven underground and sealed there following a long and harsh war with the humans. Throughout your time spent in the Underground, you will meet and interact with these monsters and uncover a story that covers all peaks of the emotional spectrum. To say anything more on the story would honestly take away from the experience.
Graphically, the game is comprised of pixel art sprites hashed out by several independant artists resulting in the creation of a retro 8-bit style world determined to fill your heart with nostalgia. Not only that, all of the characters, both major and minor, are designed visually and narratively to be fun, thought provoking and loveable.
Gameplay is quite unique when it comes to undertale, taking several cues from other genre’s to establish it’s own unique style. Outside, you will explore the vast region of the Underground in a typical RPG style format with random encounters. But it’s while battling that the game truely shines.
The combat system is part RPG, part diplomatic/dating sim, part “bullet hell” and all sorts of fun. A huge part of Undertale and how it’s story unfolds depends on choices you make. For every monster encounter, you can chose to “Fight” or “Act”. You will take it in turns with your opponent, entering fast passed “bullet hell” style dodging segments to avoid incoming attacks, with each being unique to each enemy variant.
It’s completely up to you if you want to walk through these monster dwellings slaying all you meet or befriending them. For instance, if you encounter a dog monster, you could stab him with your toy sword or throw a stick for him to fetch. This spare or slay mechanic will drastically change the game. Choices you make will dictate who you fight, how they react and the entire narrative of the story including its conclusion and how you get there can change. It’s a game that itches to be replayed over and over again, and a game that remembers what you have done.
A absolutely beautiful score of music ties this whole game together. Between the wit and humor of excellently written dialogue (which often treats the fourth wall as it’s own play thing) are audio snippets that just befit every scenario. The music is calm when wandering, creepy and sad when the situation calls it and builds to climaxes that play out in visual form. It never seemed to miss a beat.
In all honesty, this game felt flawless to me. Being realistic, it’s simplistic style and old school representation may deter some audiences but I believe this game is solid proof that games don’t need to have true to life graphics and A-class voice acting to tell a story that goes right to your core and stays with you long after the credits have rolled.
Review by Pat Braithwaite