Up, down, left, and right. Z is yes, X is no. Those are all the controls you need to learn in order to play and experience Undertale. There are no stat distributions, skill builds, combos, and intensive equipment upgrades.
There’s just a boy, a flower, bullets you need to dodge, choices you have to make and some sweet-ass music.
To be honest with you, I still cannot wrap around my tiny little human brain bound by its human limits around this otherworldly work. Calling it the most revolutionary game ever created is quite an understatement. Undertale is not just a video game, it’s THE video game. If I have to choose one game that can represent the culmination of everything we have been doing all these years as lifeless degenerates with a passion for worlds made of pixels then this is it.
And yes, I am the cancerous type of Undertale fan. The type of guy who gets weird feelings when doing an article, choosing fonts, and stumbling upon Sans and Papyrus fonts in the choices, the ones who hide in their closets surfing Deviantart for skeletons with a weird fashion sense. See what I did there? Closets? Skeletons? Skeletons in my closet? Anyone? Come on guys.
Reviewing Undertale is not about its gameplay, music (which is so good I cannot stress it enough), or even its revolutionary story. It has far transcended the realm of what makes up a video game. I even think that I won’t be able to do the game any justice and that’s big coming from a self-proclaimed video game enthusiast and journalist like me.
But of course, I’m gonna try to pathetically contribute to its pool of fan-based content because that’s what everyone’s been doing for a whole year and I need some kind of self assessment that I did the game justice other than cashing out my hard earned bucks buying the god damn game from Toby’s filthy hands.
Brace yourselves, minor spoilers are coming.
Character, no s, singular. No I’m not talking about Sans or Papyrus or fan favorites like Gaster and Mettaton. I’m talking about “Character” as in the attribute that makes Edgar Allan Poe’s poems the equivalent of a timeless work of art made by an edgy guy with drinking problems. Character in a philosophical sense, the thing that makes your regular mug of coffee the “George the mug, the highly caffeinated goblet of dying will”.
I’m talking about “life” and how it exists in the tiny little world of Undertale.
But how do you determine the existence of life in a video game? In an obviously subjective description, you just feel it. You can feel that these characters and the world of Undertale were not made because the video game needed it for content. They were made because deep down inside something or somebody needed them to exist. Existence precedes essence as my existentialist friends would say. It’s fair to say that Undertale’s existence was to do these character’s concepts justice.
They exist because there’s a need to be. What’s that need you ask? I do not know for sure, but maybe, just maybe, we needed a sincere game as the ones who play them. A confirmation of our own irrelevant existence in the grand scheme of things. The concepts for the world and these characters did not happen in a strategic thinking process, they were fortified by the collective hive mind I’d like to call the “gaming consciousness” through years of making and playing video games.
Snowdin did not exist because Toby Fox needed a snow themed place for a game, Sans and Papyrus did not exist because Tobuscus Pointy Eared Dog wanted to make puns of MS Fonts (maybe he did), Toby Small Wolf did not compose Heartache and Undyne’s theme because he wanted some sweet ass BGM, Toriel didn’t exist because
Toberius Small Forest Hound wanted a mother figure like all of the other RPGs that came before (maybe he also did).
They exist because they just do, they had to. There came a time in our lifespan as the collective consciousness of gaming when we have formed stereotypes, ideas, concepts, and norms that are begging to be represented in a physical and playable form. That’s what Toby Fox did, that’s what makes all the elements of this game naturally fall into place along side each other. As otherworldly the presentation of characters and the world of Undertale may be, none of its aspect feels forced or is trying too hard to be different. They were not created with a purpose in mind, they were created because we unconsciously willed it as the entire gaming community.
Or maybe I’m just reading too much into it and the idea of a weaboo fish girl with a spear or a fat skeleton with bad puns are really just what they are — nice concepts that make great m e m e s. Heck, what do I know?
Did I just do that? Am I really doing this? Yes I am. I’m snorting all sorts of stuff now (mainly caffeine and weird looks from my office mates) and I can’t think of what category should I use next to review Undertale. So there you have it, Philosophy, we are going there lads.
Undertale is not a game that will tell what you should do and how you should do it. It’s a game that constantly asks you questions. What would you do? How will you do it? Do you like butterscotch or cinnamon? Should I kill every monster or spare everyone? Is anime real?
It’s philosophy of choice is all over the place — from dialogues to how you do battles to making you choose between killing enemies gaining experience and leveling up or sparing them and witnessing seemingly irrelevant story. It tricks you, using common video game tropes such as gaining experience, leveling up, even saving and loading as a means to elude you into making choices you always do in other games and then it gives you surprising and often eye opening, mind blowing answers for your actions, but oftentimes, dogs, it answers with a dog. It’s a lovely game, 10/10 would fall in an underground bed of flowers again.
Unlike choice centered games which asks you questions that are obviously trying to mirror deeper meanings, Undertale asks you questions just for the heck of it. It questions you because it wants to know YOU, not because it wants you to realize complex mumbo jumbos like all of these story driven games with choices that are there just to corner you into a certain scenario. Undies Story is not that surprise date that turns out to be a marketing ploy for a networking scam. Undertale is that sweet blind date with a normal human being that is sincerely getting to know you with mild hopes of somehow getting into your pants to play snakes and ladders leaving you in the morning confused with a severe case of anxiety about your choices in life, but hey, at least it took you to a date deserved by a human being.
It wants to know you so much that it remembers your choices even after you reset the game. The steps you’ve taken, enemies you’ve killed and spared, your answers, who you interacted with, everything. It’s a living world that reacts and adjusts to your actions, shoving its answers right at your face whether you like it or not. It’s a game that asks questions, and it remembers your answer each and every time, showing you facets of yourself that you were not even aware of.
Will you play Undertale forever? Most likely no. Will it be the same game as it is now if it was released during an earlier/later generation? I think not. Will the experience stay forever? Definitely.
We are still at a point where we are not sure where to go next in the realm of gaming. Like puberty, dazed by the shining promises of virtual realities, augmented realities, and a working 1080p 60 FPS Skyrim for a home console. Undertale is made specifically for where we are now — a stage of anxiety on where to go next. How long will it stay relevant? That I am not quite sure, but it will be for a long time.
Undertale works because it was released at the most optimal time with the most optimal dosage. It was released on the right time, right in the middle of our generation where triple A titles are shooting for the multiple choices and long play hours to give the illusion of “content”. It’s short enough not to become a drag but long enough to leave a lasting memory.
It does not beg you to replay it, in contrary, it begs you to leave it alone after you get the best ending. It literally says that the world is okay now, don’t do anything, don’t reset anything. It begs you to leave it alone with the good ending and be at peace.
Do you have the choice to deny the game of its request? Of course you do, you can press the precious reset button at the start menu and start all over again to do the “other” path — the one void of beaches, sunshine, and good endings. A world where no one will greet you as you approach, where you will turn against your friends, even the music will leave you. It will allow you to do another run just to see what would it be like if you were a totally different person.
But as I’ve told you, it will react to your choices with an irreversible answer, and it will give you a really bad time.
Undertale is a touching experience that “fills you with determination”. It exploits everything that you know and plays with how you think you are as a gamer and as a person conscious of his choices. You do not play it, it plays you. It has simple graphics and simple gameplay coated by captivating music that I admit can all be done years ago, but it brings along messages that can only be appreciated now because it banks on existing experiences and a collective thought about everything that is video games.
It’s the culmination of everything we have been doing delivered through bad puns, talking flowers, obliterated fourth walls and insane amount of dog jokes.