With Undertale, a small RPG was born in September 2015, which is putting several big titles in the bag in some respects. The following lines will explain why Undertale was perhaps one of the most important games of the past year.
Most of the time it’s the games that come out of nowhere that make me smile even weeks after I’ve played through them for the first time. Toby Fox’s Undertale doesn’t look like a game that I would immediately throw into my Steam shopping cart after I let the first screenshot work on me. Yes, I admit it: I let myself be crushed by the opulence of AAA games pattering down on me too easily. I don’t give enough room to the small, quiet games that are waiting on the product pages two, three or later to be finally appreciated.
But for a few evenings I was happy to forgo the usual togetherness with my PS4 for Undertale, in order instead to get involved in a game that initially begins like an ordinary JRPG: An accident transports the young protagonist with the official name Frisk into an underworld populated by monsters. He can only return to the world of humans by reaching the magical barrier in the castle of the monster king Asgore Dreemurr, created many years ago by magicians. But Undertale is more, much more. If it is not already this sentence that has convinced you, then let the following five points do it.
1 The Music
The soundtrack, composed by Toby Fox himself, is a reminiscence of days long past, in which video game music was produced with the simplest means and therefore had to convince with all the more catchy melodies. Every song, whether fast or quiet, drilled its way into my ear canals during my time with Undertale, where they amused me even more days later. But not only the melodies themselves but also the embedding in the game world make the soundtrack special: The music pieces changing depending on the location and game situation managed to drive me, to calm down or to let me escape. Even though the environments with their minimalistic 8-bit optics seem so unspectacular, it is the soundtrack with which Toby Fox manages to create a dark and bizarre underworld.
2. the strange humor.
Undertale is funny in two ways. The game is full of innuendos, pranks about RPG habits and jokes that are sometimes intelligent, sometimes completely pointless. I was constantly confronted with alternately weird, serious and emotional moments, which constantly confused my emotions. A nice example is my encounter with the skeleton brothers Sans and Papyrus right at the beginning of the game. While the foolish Sans (who appropriately speaks in Comic Sans) welcomed me surprisingly friendly, I immediately prepared myself for a merciless boss fight in the face of the choleric papyrus. But ah, the game tricked me. Instead of defending the soul of little Frisk in an all-decisive duel, I became a spectator of an insane quarrel between two siblings, in which Sans missed no opportunity to drive the choleric papyrus with his bad jokes into madness.
That was just one of many situations in which I was misled by Undertale. Although I was thrown with my hero into dark forests, factories full of death traps and other uncomfortable places, the ingenious joke of the RPG kept bumping into my head and pulling me out of the situations in which I was supposed to be afraid. In the end, I had the feeling of being part of a strange big whole that constantly made me sit in front of the screen, constantly flabbergasted by his world, the music, the characters and the humor with a “What the hell?
3 The Combat System
At first glance, the combat system seems to follow the well-known JRPG scheme, but on the contrary, it turns out to be a sophisticated, headstrong alternative that could not have fitted better into the bizarre world of Undertale. While the strength of the attacks is achieved by pressing the right button, the defense mechanism is more unconventional: A small red heart flutters in the middle of the battle, representing the soul of the young protagonist. If an enemy attacks you, you must keep it from taking damage in the manner of old Bullet Hell games like Spacewar or Space Invaders. With hundreds of hours of experience with Pokémon and Final Fantasy, I was about to wipe out the seemingly ordinary fighting system even before my first fight. But Undertale challenged me in a creative way that makes Pokémon and all other games of this kind almost maddening.
4 No one needs to be defeated.
In addition to the attack and item commands, you have the alternative option of “Act” monsters in combat and making friends with them – and this is the quintessence of the game, which can theoretically be played through without ever killing an opponent. Every opponent has their own fears, dreams and desires that determine your options for action: Whether you give them a compliment, pet them, or roll yourself to the ground like a dog, if you can soften the creature with the right actions, the fight ends without bloodshed. You won’t get any experience points, but you will get love, which increases your life energy and simplifies the game little by little.
5. decisions have an impact on the game
I myself only understood much too late how human the monsters really are. Out of habit, I lowered the health of frogs, knight-armored dogs and other grotesque creatures to zero, gained experience and raised my hero level. I wanted to defeat what I thought was evil and become a heroine – just as I knew it from the past. The shocking receipt for my “Genocide Run” I only got at the end.