Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Undertale: The 8-Bit RPG To Make You Laugh, Think, Feel

About a month ago one of you suggested I play Undertale, an 8-bit indie game billing itself as "The RPG where you don't have to destroy anyone." I was immediately intrigued. And once I logged on to Steam and saw the overwhelmingly positive reviews - plus the low $10 price tag - I was sold.

You may have seen some Undertale fan art or cosplay around the web, since this little game has already taken parts of the geek community by storm. So even if you don't plan on playing, here are a few non-spoilery reasons I've learned it's so great:

- It's funny.

This is my #1 reason for why you *should* play Undertale, and my chief take-away from my time with it. Most video games suffer from clunky, over-long dialog and convoluted storylines. By contrast, Undertale keeps it relatively short, weird, and laugh-out-loud funny.

I'm a humor writer, so it takes a LOT to pry a laugh out of me, but Undertale's unexpected twists, groan-worthy puns, and gleeful sense of humor kept me chuckling through much of the journey.

 - It's short.

I finished the whole game in 3 nights (at maybe 3 hours each), so Undertale doesn't require a huge time commitment. There's a lot of exploring, though, so you could easily spend more (or less) time in the game.

- It's almost completely non-violent

Almost every battle can be won without fighting, and let me tell you, the non-fighting options are the best part. You can flirt, pet, mimic, or compliment your opponents - often with hilarious results - and those options change with every new baddie you encounter.

This aspect can be a *little* frustrating, since the bad guys are still attacking you, and it takes trial-and-error to figure out which non-violent approach will work for each enemy. But hey, just because the game doesn't require killing doesn't mean it should be easy, right?

On the few occasions when you do have to fight, from what I can tell there is always a "mercy" option after you've knocked their HP down a ways. Be careful, though; I accidentally killed a character very early on, and that messes up the whole storyline and the "pacifist" ending. So try not to kill anyone.

Which reminds me: the mini-games inside the "fights" get surprisingly hard. On some of the boss encounters John and I took turns playing (and losing) over and over. So prepare to die a LOT. Heh.

- It's different.

And in the world of video games, that's huge. It's refreshing to see something this creative, and completely gratifying to watch so many fans embracing it.


The gaming industry as a whole WILL take note of these successes, so remember to vote for what you want to see in gaming with your wallets.

I'll end by saying if you don't choose the pacifist route through Undertale (even by accident, like me), then you're guaranteed to feel like crap by the ending. (If I'd known this at the time, I would have re-started the game immediately after I killed that character.) I won't go into details, suffice to say Undertale is a lovely, heart-felt game that makes you want to solve things peacefully, so by the time you get to the end, you really don't want to fight!

I have to believe this is intentional on the creators' part, and it's admirable, but that doesn't make the non-pacifist ending(s) any easier to swallow as a player. I FELT things, you guys. Unpleasant, singing Behind Blue Eyes to myself feelings.

So next time - since I strongly suspect there will BE a next time - I'll be sure to play much more carefully, and not kill anyone. :D

OK, guys, your turn: have you played Undertale? What'd you think? Share in the comments, but do try to keep it spoiler-free for everyone else, k?


  1. Jen, it's totally worth a playthrough again, and there'll be more to the story this time! I'm guessing some of the pictures above are pictures from the internet, no? And not screenshots of your own game? The name does have some significance too...

  2. If you're not much of a game player, like me, Steam Train did a hilarious blind play though of Undertale. First a pacifist run (they didn't kill anything) and then a genocide run (they killed EVERYTHING!) The "blind" aspect of this is the important part. If you're not intending to play it yourself, the guys playing it are just as surprised by everything as you are and their reactions are great! And, seriously, the FEELS on the genocide run get real! Plus they do some pretty awesome vices for the characters (one of these guys is a voice actor and animator). Here it is if you're interested:

    But seriously, spoilers! So don't watch unless you've already played or aren't going to.

    P.S. These guys know the creator of the game and some of the people who worked on it so they toss in fun little facts every now and then.

    1. Steam Train is how my daughter discovered Undertale. She loves the GameGrumps and their game play started her obsession. Great videos!

  3. Oh man, this game! I played it blind for my Youtube channel (Wenchfaery Games, if anyone wants to check it out) and I get the feeling you and I killed the same character near the beginning. And, like you, that was the ONLY PERSON I killed and the game makes you feel TERRIBLE FOR IT. The end boss mechanic made me a little frustrated but I'm really looking forward to going back and doing a true pacifist run (not sure I have a genocide run in me as I *LOVE* the characters)

  4. I coincidentally finished this maybe a week or two ago, after being pestered to try it by my better half since he bought it sometime over Christmas. He strongly - without spoiling anything! - encouraged me to go the no-fight route, since he had the same experience as you did, and was kicking himself after he looked all the different endings up later. I'm quite pleased since it suited my playstyle (I always try to play the path of least conflict on any game, at least on the first playthrough - my Mass Effect character passed the "pure Paragon" thing at the end of ME3 etc :D), but frankly, if he hadn't underlined the fact that you Don't Have to Fight, I'm not sure I would've figured it out either. Wonderful game, all in all! Very challenging but not the bash-head-against-wall type at all, and the deeper story behind it... man. Heartily recommend to anyone who likes a good tale... actually, scratch that. I'd recommend this to anyone. Anyone. Do yourself a favour, support this game by buying it and enjoy the ride! ^_^

  5. I loved Undertale. The 'true pacifist' ending is amazing. I couldn't bring myself to do a 'genocide' playthrough, though, so I just watched that one. Ouch.

  6. I'm not much of a game player but my nephew (15) and son (8) LOVE Undertale! My son has gotten a WEE bit obsessed with it!

  7. I have a friend who is absolutely OBSESSED with this game and has been trying to get me to play it for MONTHS. He's done both the pacifist and the genocide run, and he said the genocide ride is gut-wrenching. Between your review and his, I may have to give this game a chance (I've been resistinf up to this point).

  8. Sounds like you're not much of a gamer, huh? That's fine, that's fine, but it does mean half of what makes Undertale brilliant... kinda got glossed over.

    I'd add:

    4) It's original. Besides all the characters (who are so ridiculous/funny/lovable they look like they came from a cartoon, not a game), the world itself is so... weird... and the combat system was invented for this game. It's an RPG-meet-bullet hell, two genres that don't usually mix...

    5) It actually, unlike every other game out there, tries to address the underlying issues and assumptions game makers and players have. All that falls straight into *SPOILERS*, but suffice to say, the true meaning of the SAVE, LOVE, EXP and ending systems are going to hit hard-core gamers really close to home.

    6) There's no real, honest to God bad guy, in the ENTIRE game. Sure, they're enemies, villains, people who NEED to be stopped. But not "bad guys." The difference is hard to define but really easy to see in the game. Especially when, well...

    7) Alternate endings have a HUGE impact on the gamer. Not the game- the player. Be nice? You'll end up crying. Be cruel? You'll still be crying (but oh, for a WHOLE different reason). Most alternate endings are kinda dumb in games. Maybe a few characters are alive at the end, maybe an event or two changes. Not Undertale. Every ending- the main three or even the (what, 20?) different Neutral runs- will effect you.

    And oddly... the game isn't complete unless you see all three. Yes, even the cruel one. One character, in particular, can only be seen this way- and another character, well, quite a bit of what they do only makes sense with that ending- and another, lastly, you finally get to see what they really, honestly is like...

    But ya. Undertale amazing, everyone should play. Just... get a box of tissues. You WILL cry at some point. For many, many different reasons.

    1. Your points are all sound, but surely you didn't mean to sound as condescending as you did in the lead-in to your post? o_O

      I think the measure of a good game - of any good creative work - is that it can be appreciated on multiple levels of analysis and from different perspectives. Yes, Undertale is written with elements which shed a critical light on a lot of the assumptions which inform how we think about and interact with games, but if the game can be engaging even without pulling up those points, then that speaks well of it.

      Meanwhile, this post is a SPOILER-FREE recommendation for a good game which Jen enjoyed. You said it yourself: the significance of all the points you listed would require spoilers. To assume that they were omitted out of ignorance is a pretty big assumption, don't you think?

      Furthermore, regular readers of this blog are likely to side-eye you heavily for that comment, as we read Jen's periodic game reviews. Of course she is a gamer! She plays games.Obviously. :)

    2. I'm siding with Ren on this one; your first comment reads a little gatekeeper-y. It's bad enough we have to prove ourselves as gamers to guys, but to have to justify it to our own gender? C'mon, y'all.

    3. I've spent much of the day thinking about this post and how I would like to respond. I want to be kind and honest, and am having a difficult time with the kind aspect. (We're all huge Jen fans here, so much of it is just the "protect the family" gut response.)

      I'll just say that in my view the only wrong way to be a gamer is to be an exclusionary one. Let's raise each other up, regardless of our relative expertise.

    4. Ooh, I leave my comment section for ONE DAY... ;)

      I'm genuinely curious what I said to give the impression I'm not much of gamer, Wildstar. Was it the part about how I kept dying? 'Cuz I'll admit, I'm not a very *good* gamer. There are a few franchises I love passionately, though, and will happily fangirl with the best of them over all the BioShocks & Portal, plus I enjoy a little Borderlands, some of the Lego titles, GB, etc. If you're curious, you can always check my previous game reviews here on Epbot for more.

      Anyhoo, I think Ren covered everything else: saying that Undertale is "different" is the same in my mind as your saying its "creative." And yes, keeping it spoiler-free meant I couldn't go into those kinds of specifics. I like your points, though, and I'm glad you shared them.

      I also REALLY like that everyone in this convo kept it civil, so thanks for that. You guys have proved to me yet again that I can trust this readership without comment moderation. So hey, high-fives & fist bumps all 'round!

    5. Eh... sorry all! I really, really, did not mean to sound condescending or mean. Or exclusive...

      The only reason I really said that is because what stood out to me the most was that Undertale made a point of deconstructing how games work. And that's what I've seen a lot of other people- especially Let's Players- point out. I guess I was just expecting to see it again, and assumed Jen didn't mention it because she didn't notice... and that she didn't notice because she wasn't a gamer.

      Both are wrong, and I shouldn't have assumed that. I'm sorry about that.

      (Oh, and I didn't even notice the dying thing- I must have died in the Ruins about twenty times, and more on every other area).

  9. I am now re-listening to the Title Song of the soundtrack to relieve the "feels" your post brought back... It's SO GOOD!

  10. My daughter is currently OBSESSED with Undertale. She's learning to play Sans' theme and Tam's theme on the piano, she has one of the songs as her ringtone, and she recently cosplayed as Frisk at the St. Louis comicon.

    Even more disturbing, while we were at comicon, we saw one vendor who was selling Sans and Papyrus body pillows. *shudder*

  11. A friend of mine recently discovered this game and she has been positively RAVING about it. She's the same friend whose constant fangirling about Doctor Who finally prompted me to check it out, so chances are I'll be giving Undertale a try at some point. I'm generally not much of a gamer, but this does sound pretty good.

  12. I wasn't expecting to like Undertale as much as I did! It's a fantastic little game. I'd also say that, as much as it makes you feel terrible, having that first playthrough be less than perfect is probably the ideal way to do it. It makes the second time through that much better.

    My favorite aspect of the game is all the little changes in dialogue that happen depending on where you are in the game and what you've done. So much attention to detail! I loved the game so much I drew fanart for it (something I never find time to do!) and I made these little stickers of Sans and Papyrus.

  13. Okay, so we aren't gamers at all, but I convinced hubs that we needed to try this. We downloaded it last night and played it for 45 minutes. We're just taking our time and figuring everything out, so we only got to the 2nd place where you can save.

    So far, we are finding it kind of dull and repetitive. Not sure if that's just because we have no idea how to play or if that's just part of the game. We keep having to "battle" the same monsters over and over, and based on your recommendations, we're keeping it mostly fight-free and just trying to choose "act" or "flee" 75% of the time. We fight a little to experiment, but we don't really know how much is enough and how much will kill the monster, so we're being careful.

    Anyway, I don't want to look up anything about Undertale online because I don't want to accidentally read spoilers, but I was wondering if Jen (or anyone else) can tell me if playing Undertale strictly pacifist means never fighting any of the monsters at all or if it just means never killing any of them. Jen wrote that there are a few occasions when you do have to fight, but how will we know when we get to one of those places? Will the monster keep killing us until we fight back?

    Also, if someone can recommend a website where I can find Undertale tips or guides that don't contain spoilers (although that's probably impossible), then please let me know.

    I'm sure it'll become more entertaining as soon as we figure things out and get a little deeper into the game.


    1. My tip is not worrying too much on your first playthrough about getting everything perfect.

      The game gets a lot more interesting once you get out of the first zone area, it is a bit repetitive to start with, but the rest of the game is much different from this first area. As far as fighting monsters, if you want to end things peacefully, you need to get your opponent's name to show up as yellow (instead of white.) Then choose MERCY. It takes a little experimenting to find out what works the best (and it's not always instant!), but that's the fun of it. I can't recommend any good guides, but people are generally pretty good about being spoiler-free with this game, so it might be easy to look for some. Good luck and have fun! :)

    2. Thanks, Jillian! We probably never would've even noticed the color of the name, so that's really good to know.

      Thanks for the other helpful info, also!


    3. Oooh, Jillian, that name-changing-yellow thing is super helpful - I wish I'd know it when I was playing!

      And KW, I'll just say ditto to what Jillian said. I did flee some fights to save time when it got a little repetitive, but that happens less often the further into the game you get.

  14. I am a TERRIBLE gamer. What do you mean by hard? Should I enlist a buddy with better timing and hand/eye coordination?

  15. don't trust talking flowers who want to share there ''friendliness'' pellets with you...

  16. I actually have an Undertale tattoo. I have a relatively severe chronic illness, and I played the game right as I was waiting for a huge life-changing surgery. The whole "stay determined" tagline really meant an incredible amount to me. So I have a tattoo of the seven hearts, and the line "stay determined" in Undertale font. :D


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