It’s been a year and a half since Undertale was released, and I still can’t get it out of my head. Theories keep popping up, new easter eggs are still being found, and the fan community continues to make artistic contributions to this universe. Despite the fact that I only did one playthrough — I couldn’t bear to start my file up again after achieving the True Pacifist ending — I find this game still at the front of my mind, largely thanks to all of the phenomenal covers of Undertale’s soundtrack.
It’s not hard to see why there are so many takes on the soundtrack; Toby Fox’s original is one of the best gaming has to offer. But what is perhaps most intriguing about Undertale is how seamlessly its music lends itself to other genres. Even, say, smooth jazz.
Prescription for Sleep: Undertale is an Undertale cover album arranged and performed by GENTLE LOVE. GENTLE LOVE consists of pianist AYAKI and saxophonist Norihiko Hibino, whom you might know as the main composer on the Metal Gear Solid franchise. Undertale is the fifth installment in the group’s “Prescription for Sleep: Game Music Lullabies” series, an ongoing project that’s part of the Hibino Sound Therapy Lab, a production company with the purpose of “providing whole therapeutic music experiences.” Whether or not you believe in “the healing power of sound,” you can definitely feel this intent come through in these 15 beautiful tracks.
The album opens with “Once Upon a Time,” the perfect introduction to the type of therapeutic music experience you’re in for. AYAKI’s piano is gentle but precise, and Hibino’s saxophone flows in, reedy and warm. The song invokes all the sensory cool of a smoky jazz bar, but one where you can curl up in the corner with a cozy blanket and a cup of hot cocoa. It’s a wonderful welcome back to the world of Undertale, especially if, like me, you couldn’t bear to bring yourself to play a second time.
Track two, “Fallen Down,” is where the album really lives up to its prescribed use. You don’t get so much a feeling of falling as floating in this soft, smooth cover. Hibino’s saxophone fades out in the second half, leaving AYAKI the freedom to shine through with his piano. This happens so seamlessly that you don’t notice the saxophone’s absence until it resurfaces on the next track. To me, this highlights one of the best things about the arrangement of this album: the performers work just as well solo as they do as a duo, and neither is afraid to step out of the spotlight to let the other shine. It’s a beautiful example of how seasoned performers have the ability to deftly weave in and out of songs — how they build and how they withdraw in a puff of smoke. The interplay of the two performers is akin to a conversation between two close friends: organic, easy, and with an intuitive understanding of the other’s way of speaking.
“Heartache” — a fan favourite — shines through in the middle of the album. There’s noticeably more power, more melancholy at the beginning, immediately setting it apart from many of the gentler tracks that came before. However, this somber tone quickly begins to fall away after the first two minutes as Hibino’s saxophone comes in, infusing a joyous energy into the song. The piano quickly follows, spurred into dynamic variations until the saxophone returns at the end, bringing with it the same weighted solemnity from the beginning.
Toward the last quarter of Prescription we have the titular “Undertale,” which is perhaps my favourite track on the album. It’s the only song that is entirely solo piano, and AYAKI does not waste this opportunity to completely captivate you with his performance. There’s an exuberance to his playing that is at once both trusting and vulnerable, echoing the heart of the game itself. Undertale (the game) is a journey of weird monsters, bad puns, strange fonts, and overcoming the barriers between us with the strength of compassion. So, much in the way that a lone child must feel as they brave the Underground, determined to save all they meet through the power of friendship, “Undertale” (the Prescription track) echoes the weighty exhaustion felt from an ongoing trial coupled with the (fittingly) childlike hope of saving the world.
The album ends with “Finally Home,” an original song composed by GENTLE LOVE. Undertale’s music is famous for its use for leitmotif, so while it is a bit strange to have a song that doesn’t echo the melody of a dozen others, the composers do a great job at capturing the spirit of the game. This is an original composition that can happily sit beside any of the others on the Undertale soundtrack (maybe with a warm slice of fresh butterscotch cinnamon pie?). Personally, I’d love to see Toby Fox try his hand at covering this piece (hint hint). It’s a sweet, peaceful ending to a long day of adventuring.
Prescription for Sleep: Undertale is a fantastic album for fans of Undertale, jazz, or even both. It’s the perfect album for tricking your non-gaming relatives into listening to video game music, and it’s one I highly recommend for weddings, holiday parties, or chill study sessions. GENTLE LOVE does a stellar job of giving new life to beloved melodies, breathing their own life and style into them while never straying so far that you forget what song you’re listening to. Side effects may include: loss of tension, easing of stress, evoked nostalgia, and happy ears.