One of the major indie hits of 2015 is, without question, Toby Fox’s UnderTale, an awesome RPG that wowed audiences and moved the hearts of many-a-gamer. The game made quite an impression when it first released, quickly climbing the popularity charts and with fan art exploding all over the place. With it being over two years old I decided to take a step back and see if the game still resonates with me now as much as it did back then, and I feel that it’s a great time to go over what exactly helps UnderTale remain such a classic. Before we begin it’s important to note that I will be talking about the entirety of the game; so if you haven’t played it yet, you should go do that if you don’t want to be spoiled (and you should! It’s a great game to experience blind). At the very least, consider watching a Let’s Play of it; Jackscepticeye did a wonderful LP of it while doing some pretty neat voices for the characters, and yours truly also had his gaming persona play through the game as well. Now, for those of you still here, let’s get started.
The Game Play
Core game play mechanics and how well the controls work can really make or break any game. Fortunately, the controls in UnderTale are nice, smooth, and responsive. Which is great, because something else the game did was instead of the expected turn based where you click attack and watch your character attack you get…a bullet hell minigame. With each enemy being something different as well, which was a nice touch and really helped give each monster their own personality and identifier; and if you choose to kill monsters you get that neat little timed button press with even multiple presses for weapons that hit multiple times like the ballet shoes. The other neat thing is how you can go about making friends with monsters in order to spare them – I mean sure you could beat them into submission but that’s not very nice – and again, each monster has a sort of “puzzle” involved in trying to beat them, as each monster needs different ACTs to get them to ease down on you. And for some monsters, like Mettaton Ex, Undyne, and Papyrus there’s additional challenges in how they affect the way your SOUL moves about the battlefield, which really helps these fights stand out even more.
I like how in UnderTale you can really play how you want to, and discover what path you want to take and experience the repercussions; even in the neutral ending there’s tons of possible outcomes depending on what bosses you kill and how many monsters you kill to the extent that flow charts exist showing the possibilities. Personally, I like the pacifist route the best because you get to make friends with all the monsters and even help Asriel regain his humanity if only for a few short moments, and you end up with that warm and fuzzy feeling. That and I don’t feel like turning into an evil killer and having to deal with the wrath of sans. Which is another thing the game does right – the difference between Pacifist and Genocide are almost like night and day. Go pacifist and the game becomes so over the top and heartfelt and anime-ish that it’s pure awesome; go genocide and UnderTale essentially becomes a disturbing horror game where you’re the killer.
The Plot and Characters
Solid, innovative game play can make for a fun game, and even a memorable one, but games that add in a compelling story with great characters can really add to things and help make a game timeless – which is something else UnderTale still sells me on. So many great and humorous – and yes, even heartfelt – moments were had while playing through the game, and looking back on them I still find them just as heartfelt. The characters all still appeal greatly to me, especially the bone head brothers sans and Papyrus. But what UnderTale did great was show us different sides of these characters through the different ways to play, which really adds depth to them and shows that they’re more than just cookie cutter characters. And I’ll always remember facing down Asriel and how he turned God-like, learning through his dialogue and battle that the notorious former flower is really just a child that’s scared and alone, and is trying to feel something. Pretty heavy.
Speaking of themes, this is something else I still really love about UnderTale. When I reanalyze the game I find that there’s so much more than the game encouraging being a good person and the power of DETERMINATION and friendship. Heck the game even has a dialogue with its supposed non-violence message: we first see hints of this during the battle with Asgore, where you have to fight him, but can choose to spare him, then there’s the fight with Omega Flowey, and finally at the end of the game on a pacifist run you can actually find and talk to Asriel, who tells you, “Don’t kill, but don’t get killed”, which develops the pacifist ideas and gives it an applicable, realistic edge. There are a lot of other themes at play too, such as forgiveness, learning to let go and move on, and even questions of how far one should take their experimenting – after all, if Alphys wasn’t tinkering around with how to increase the DETERMINATION of monsters Flowey wouldn’t have came to being. But things would’ve been a whole lot more boring.
As if UnderTale didn’t have enough going for it there’s the music, scored by Toby Fox himself. Someone really needs to hire this guy to do more music for video games or any production really, because I can imagine that this guy would have a trade mark unique sound that adds emotion and drama to whatever it’s played over.
One thing I continue to love about the soundtrack is how it blends together orchestral music with chip tune sounds. It would’ve been so easy to just roll with a retro-style chip tune soundtrack, but Toby Fox went one step further with that, creating a blend between the two that I don’t really hear often – if I do even hear it at all. And each song is just packed with feeling, from the faux friendliness of “Your Best Friend” to the heart pounding “Spear of Justice”, to really emotional themes like “Asgore”, “Hopes and Dreams”, and of course “His Theme”. Some track parings even express different sides of a character, such as with “Nyeh-Heh-Heh!” and “Bonetrousle”. It’s a well rounded soundtrack that really matches with the multitude of characters and emotions the player experiences throughout the game – heck the soundtrack was so good that I didn’t even hesitate to throw down the extra money to purchase the soundtrack on Steam alongside the game. It’s a great, complex soundtrack that stands out as perhaps one of the greatest gaming soundtracks out there – and as someone who takes his music seriously, that’s saying a lot.
There are a lot of metafiction elements to UnderTale, and something that still impresses me is how okay the characters in the game are with it. The game never parades around, demanding attention for being “clever” in being “self aware” – which annoys the ever loving ash out of me whenever I see a work acting like that – and that is commendable. The characters are in a game –literally. They know it, but they just accept it and present it as the world they live in. There’s examples of this all over the place, with Toriel telling the player they will enter a FIGHT when they encounter an enemy, then there’s Mettaton’s words falling out of his dialogue box and exploding while he exclaims “EVEN MY WORDS ARE BOMBS!”, there’s sans trying to get you to quit on a genocide run by never letting it be “your turn” – and the little bag of bones even dodges your attacks rather than stand still like other monsters – and perhaps more infamously there’s the Omega Flowey fight, where he literally takes over the game and re-names the game’s window “FloweyTale”.
The game’s commentary also stands out to me. It really takes RPG and even gaming tropes and asks “is this right?” or comes up with unexpected twists. Who can forget learning that EXP, something you usually want to increase in an RPG, meant “Execution Points”, and that LV or LOVE was “Level of Violence”? That the game pulled this is crazy now just as much as it was when it first happened. And ultimately, it shows the implications behind a player character that’s able to reset everything and do whatever they want – true you get to see more of the game and see different sides of the characters by doing neutral and pacifist and even a genocide run, but the game seems to want to ask you “Do you think this is right?” sans, perhaps one of the most self-aware characters, even explains that he doesn’t care much about his life as he knows the player will simply reset everything – so why bother? And of course, trying to do everything means doing the genocide run, which infamously blemishes your save file to the point that even “resetting” and getting a pacifist ending means that the evil Chara gets out and kills everyone. Creepy stuff. I also like how the game doesn’t let you off easy if you get a pacifist run either with Flowey pleading with the player to not reset the game and ruin everyone’s happy ending. That’s some powerful stuff that really deconstructs RPGs and even gaming without being overly flaunty or annoying about it.
While some feel that UnderTale has a notoriously “toxic” fanbase, I still feel like I need to give credit where it’s due – after all, the constant fan art and parodies that littered my Tubmlr feed when the game first came out is what eventually got me to investigate this strange game that all of a sudden everyone and their goat mom was posting about. And there’s been some really great fan works – just check out this epic orchestral version of “Hopes and Dreams” I found the other day on YouTube:
Fan comics are also a plenty in this fanbase, and one of my favorites is a Tumblr series called A Dreeemurr Reborn that’s set in an alternate timeline; one thing the fans of UnderTale really want to do is find some way to save Asriel so he can remain a goat and not turn back into Flowey, and Dreemurr Reborn gives is that as the beginning of the series sees Frisk fusing his SOUL with Asriel, giving the child a body he can live in – and thus the two end up sharing bodies and all kinds of hilarity and heartfelt moments ensue.
There’s even been some great fan games and mods too, such as the alternate genocide final battle where the player fights Papyrus instead of sans – with him acting like you’d expect; he even apologizes if he hurts you – or the modded Red boss fight. Speaking of Alternate Realities apparently making AUs and naming them “___Tale” is a thing in the fanbase too. Well, if it inspires people to get the creative juices going and create something awesome then I’m okay with that.
And those are the reasons why I still think UnderTale is a great classic even after its two year mark. If you read through this and haven’t experienced the game yet I really must implore you to do so – it’s quite unique and unlike anything you’ve played. And there’s still other elements and secrets I didn’t get to – Gaster comes to mind, especially with his own metafiction implications – so there’s plenty for you to go out and explore. Toby Fox’s first foray into gaming couldn’t have been more impactful, and I really hope he continues to make more games and score more music. He is definitely a creator I’ll keep my eyes on in the future.
What are your thoughts on UnderTale? Do you feel that it still holds up as much as it did when it first released? Got any of your own reasons why it’s awesome – or even why it isn’t? Sound off in the comments below. Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you all next time.