"And that's the real secret about Undertale."
hOi!!! dis my undertale REVUE!! im shuddered wit exCITEMent n i
...okay, as much as I considered writing the whole review like this, I'll spare us both. Before we begin, there are what may be considered mild spoilers below, but I will keep discussion of that as broad as possible (i.e. I won't get into plot details).
I was worried about playing Undertale for the first time in 2018. I've heard tales (...) about its greatness since 2015, and I don't usually do well with that kind of thing. I have a good enough memory that when countless people insist that a game, movie, or book will change my life, it's hard to not think of those things when I experience it myself. Despite hearing constant unabashed praise over the years, somehow I managed to avoid all but a couple spoilers. Still, it was hard not to go into a game like this without having high expectations in the back of my mind.
So I played.
I expected that at some point, around some bend, beyond some plot twist, everything would click and hit me at once. "Ah, now
I understand everyone's love affair with Undertale. This is the thing that causes people to lose their minds! I get it!"
But that moment didn't come.
Sure, the music is infectious to the point where I'd find myself humming it days later. Yes, the dialogue is stunningly well-written. Meeting and experiencing the varied cast is a delight, since you never know what will come next. And okay, yeah, there are countless little touches and fleeting moments that would make me stop and appreciate what was happening.
And that's the real secret about Undertale.
There isn't one thing that makes it special, because everything makes it special. It has a heart, a soul.
As those moments of delight — the carrying bird, the copious amount of descriptive text for the environment, and everything with Papyrus — kept making appearances, I found myself in love before I knew it. It was a slow burn, but now I can't get any of it out of my head.
The characters are what make the world so engrossing. In an RPG, that can often refer to your party and some key NPCs. In Undertale, it literally refers to everyone. Every monster you encounter has its own personality, quirks, and often fears. Talking to monsters in the field will reveal some of Toby Fox's stellar dialogue, but it's the battles that seal the deal. Each encounter is unique, and unless you want to plow through the game and just kill everything (I refuse), your non-lethal options vary each time. One monster values personal space, so the way to peacefully end the encounter is to "un-hug" them. One monster likes to clean things, and if you let it clean you it will be content. Even if you think you know the solution, it's fun to try other options just to see what happens. It's a system that invites experimentation and thinking on your toes; finding the right way to befriend everyone is wholly satisfying.
Undertale's music is unreal. I'd heard songs here and there, but I felt it was one of those games where I'd be best served hearing each song in context first. I was right. My favorite short song is the theme of the aforementioned "carrying" bird. It's a 25-second song created for a specific moment, and it turns a cute little bird into a bonafide hero. The major characters have battle music that I just never want to stop listening to. Most tracks on the soundtrack are under 2 minutes long, and that Toby Fox managed to make such catchy and effective themes in such short loops is amazing. The calming tones of the Ruins when you meet Toriel early on make you feel so at ease, while some of the late-game music is so forebodingly dark that you feel nervous about what's to come.
The short of it is that Undertale's music is emotional, inspiring, beautiful, and simply unforgettable. Actually, that also sums up the whole of Undertale. Oh. Wait. We're not at the end yet. Sorry.
When Undertale was announced for PS4 and Vita a couple years ago, fans of the original PC release were curious how the console versions would handle a particular late-game event that seemed only possible on PC. Without going into specifics, the Switch version uses the same method as the PlayStation release. Not knowing the details the first time I saw this sequence, it still proved quite... effective.
Those versions also introduced a little "shrine" side area that wasn't in the original PC version. It added a tiny optional event that is fun, but doesn't alter the overall game. The Switch version has its own little addition too, and if you want to know what I think of it, read on.
(just a little more)
I know it's kind of cliché to fall back on a notion like "I don't want to say any more, because you need to experience as much as possible for yourself firsthand," despite all of my friends (and even one stranger) telling me this is the case with Undertale. But, you know, I'm glad my friends did that and kept me in the dark, because they were right.
Trust me, I want to talk about some of the genius callbacks in dialogue and events that are so masterful they're up there with some of the best recurring jokes in Arrested Development. I want to talk about how hard I fell in love with the cast and how there's a different reason each time...and what those reasons are. But I can't. For the same reason, I can't talk about the game's three paths/endings in detail. (also, our reviews of the PC
versions can fill you in if you prefer)
But I will say this.
I only intended to play through the game's "neutral" route before writing this review, simply to save time with a looming deadline. I think it took me about ten hours. Again, my vague friends on and off RPGFan nudged me and explained that I really hadn't beaten the game. So I decided to peek into one of the other routes, and was not prepared for what awaited me. I couldn't stop midway, so I completed this route as well. It fundamentally changed how I saw parts of the game, and even a commonly-used expression took on a drastically new meaning.
Once again, the quiet insistence of friends paid off, and my adoration for Undertale — to my own surprise — grew far deeper.
I suppose if I'm going to stop offering up details, it's as fine a time as any to wrap this up. And I will do so!
• If you haven't played Undertale, do it. It's a masterpiece.
• If you have played Undertale elsewhere, do you need it again on Switch? The Switch-exclusive addition is minor, but if you're going to play again anyway, why not do it on a console you can seamlessly take from bedroom to
• Finally, how did this damned dog get in my drawer?
This review is based on a free review copy provided to RPGFan by the developer. This relationship in no way influenced the reviewer's opinion of the game or its final score.