I’m very happy to introduce a guest post from my brother, S., one of this blog’s loyal readers. Undertale is a game which has featured on this blog a couple of times now, chiefly in relation to last year’s GameFAQs best-game-ever competition, which it unexpectedly won. I haven’t got round to playing Undertale yet but am very interested in hearing different perspectives on it. Here is what S. has to say.
We thought that Undertale would take like 4 hours, but so far we’re 6 hours in and still not finished. So, here are our thoughts so far.
The first face that Undertale presents is one of a lighthearted RPG with one or two twists to the classic formula. You find chippy music, random encounters, interesting combat, and hints of character progression. With this type of game you go in with a lot of expectations, and at this early point Undertale subverts these in quite an effective way. Even with the hefty reputation Undertale has developed, I found myself laughing out loud at some points out of pure joy. Coupled with the genuinely nice and well-crafted sound design, this sets up what could have been a really memorable game. However, there’s a fine balance between subverting expectations based on a history of exposure to RPGs and traditional fantasy story tropes, and the unfortunate manner in which Undertale spends the rest of the game trying to make you laugh.
After the gentle introduction to the game the humor devolves into the ‘LOL RANDOM’ territory and remains firmly there for the next 5 hours of gameplay. The humor not only misses the mark wildly, it’s also injected into your experience at points that serve to massively frustrate (that is, if you don’t enjoy memery and senpai jokes). At times I would be moving the player character down a long corridor, only to be interrupted by obtuse ‘text messages’ a dozen or so times. The interruptions to your progress don’t serve to convey any information. They are meant to make you laugh. They don’t. See, this game has an obsessive focus on the idea of unrequited friendship and love. Half or more of the characters in this game are, one could say, ‘losers’. A major aspect of the game is being nice to pitiable, unlikable people, who, due to their lack of friends, don’t know how to appropriately interact with other people. This kind of character hounds you for the entire game and you’re supposed to put up with their shit. I’m sure it must be a relief for certain people to find relatable characters in a video game – finally! – but I don’t see what the rest of us should enjoy about this interaction.
Typically that would be enough to turn me off a game. That’s not the worst part. The worst part is how the game treats combat as you progress.
I should point out, we heard that the only way to get the ‘real’ ending of the game is to avoid killing anything in combat. That’s actually possible in Undertale. There’s an interesting combat mechanic where you can interact with monsters in different ways (‘tickle’, ‘pet’, ‘flex’, ‘clean’, and so on) that basically makes the monsters like you, and stop fighting. Of course, this approach completely negates the entire character progression system in the game. If you take this route, you will be level 1 at the end of the game. None of the combat items you pick up will have any real utility. You will have practically no hit points. There is a massive bullet-hell component to the combat as well, where around 5 hits will end your life. You will spend half of the combat healing yourself–otherwise, you die. I can not stress enough how much I dislike this shitty and broken system.
On top of that nonsense, there is literally no way to know how you’re meant to make some of the boss monsters stop fighting you. This is the way to get the only ‘real’ ending, and I have to fucking look up what to do online? I have to rely on the idiotic, trolling community to give me the answer? Please. On top of that, when you inevitably die the 10th time in a row, the game gives you a wink and says ‘You need to have more determination!’ Playing this game has been infuriating at times, in large part due to this kind of shit.
For me, a game that subjects you to massively frustrating combat while feeding you memery and stupid inane jokes is almost intolerable. This game can’t be salvaged by the few occasions where the humor really does hit the mark. The music is lovely at times, the sound effects are really creative and enjoyable, but I’m afraid that’s the best compliment I can give this game. I haven’t finished it yet, and supposedly some great revelation happens for players at the end of the game. I can’t see it changing my mind, though I would be happy if Undertale could violate that expectation.
With not long to go until the end, Undertale is on target for a 2/10.
Many thanks to S. for sharing his thoughts on a game which continues to divide opinion. When I get round to trying it myself, I’ll be sure to share my own thoughts here, too.