Loved by PC gamers since its launch in 2015, now the unique and eccentric Undertale has arrived on the PlayStation 4 and Vita, bringing a whole new world to console adventurers everywhere.
Packed with charmingly weird and wonderful characters who interact with you in constantly unexpected and interesting ways, every encounter – yes, even those with humble random battle fodder monsters – can be tackled in different ways. With a host of potential endings to the journey, the game invites you to experiment with how you face the challenges presented.
First, a quick note: while Undertale is a memorable, fun, and emotional journey to take, it isn’t a graphical looker at all, sporting retro style 8-bit friendly sprites. The thing is, once you get into the story – you play a young child who falls into a mystical underground place known as the, er, Underground – you’ll likely be so hooked in and enchanted by the whole tale that the graphics will be the last thing on your mind.
As mentioned, the action takes place in a massive subterranean netherworld, home to monsters who once lived in peace with us humans on the surface but who were banished after losing going to war against mankind.
When you first arrive, a sentient flower called Flowey runs you through the basic game mechanics. Alas, Flowey is not to be trusted and attempts to kill you and take your soul, but you're saved by a good-natured goat-like monster who introduces you to the puzzle elements of the game and offers advice on getting through battles without having to kill.
From then on you’re free to enjoy the fourth-wall breaking, emotional journey where every choice you make holds consequences and will affect the ending you get. As you learn more, you’ll come to realise that your mission is try and defeat big baddie Asgore Dreemurr, the King of the Underground.
The combat system is superb and unlike any we've come across before, marrying turn based choice-making with minigame bullet hell reaction tests. It takes a little while to get used to and the creativity employed in mixing up the different attack modes of the various monsters will keep you on your toes, but there's surprising depth to be found and huge satisfaction to be had when you pull off a tough victory.
The puzzles that populate areas of the Underground are rarely too difficult to work out, and with the usual character levelling up dynamics as well as equipment trading and upgrading to be done, there's plenty to keep you going. And, of course, whether you try for a Neutral, Pacifist, or Genocide ending depends on how many monsters you kill on your journey, so each encounter must be considered in order to fit in with your end goal.
The humour and attention to detail of the writing and dialogue are what really help set Undertale apart from the host of other indie RPGs out there. When you realise that LOVE here is being used an acronym for 'Level of ViolencE’ and your EXP is actually ‘EXecution Points’, it gives you a flavor of the genius thinking behind the game. As you find fun items such a racing snail named Thunder or learn to call the friendly goat monster Toriel "Mom", you’ll find yourself laughing and possibly shedding a tear or two as well.
Undertale is landmark RPG for those who appreciate something a little different – a game that wrong foots you and delights with the way it mixes up the tried and tested formula which so many adventure games stick so tightly to. A rare pleasure.