Back in 2015, Undertale was the name on everybody’s lips. Toby Fox’s debut blew everyone’s minds with its fourth-wall breaking antics, adorable characters, and zany humour. There was nothing else quite like it. Fast forward to 2017, and studio 8-4, whose efforts have included translating games like Baten Kaitos Origins, Tales of the Abyss, and NieR: Automata, have helped Toby Fox bring the game to PS4 and Vita. Their original goal was to translate the game for Japanese fans, but the pair mutually agreed that Undertale should be ported to reach bigger audiences. This means that many players who missed out the first time can finally play this gem. It’s been two years, but let me tell you, Undertale is still worth playing.
Undertale sees you controlling a young boy who has fallen into the Underground, a place where monsters reside. These monsters are prevented from going up to the surface by a magical barrier, which leads to the human world. Your job is to get home in one piece. On your journey, you encounter various characters who are the heart and soul of Undertale, and they make each and every journey you take a joy to behold.
Fans who’ve already played the game will know everything that’s coming, and that’s something you can’t really fix in a port unless you make some changes. It looks just as good as it did on PC, and sounds just as magical too. Toby Fox’s soundtrack is nothing short of amazing and surreal, with a varied mix of chiptunes and live instruments. In terms of changes though, Undertale remains pretty much the same besides a few lines of text, which is both frustrating and a relief. It’s a shame there’s not much new to look out for, but at the same time, there’s something so special about Undertale that it’d be wrong to try and tamper with what is already great. One minor new area comes in the form of the dog shrine. Fans of the original will recognise the annoying dog, but this small feature brings in some additional laughs that returning fans and newcomers will chuckle at.
This is due to the game’s exceptional writing. I remember thinking two years ago how painstaking a task it must have been for Toby Fox to put this much thought into the narrative and characters. You don’t just interact with the creatures of the Underground, you build relationships with them. You’ll go on a date with an excitable skeleton and experience the emotions of an eccentric scientist. During your first playthrough, these scenes are hilarious; but your second time around, you might find them to be bittersweet as well. Even after the original’s release, to say why would be telling. While the emotional punch might be missing for those returning to the Underground, there are still bundles of charm and enjoyment to be had. I didn’t get bored revisiting every town and talking to every character again. Really, Undertale’s story is one best experienced first-hand, and even if little snippets have been spoiled, it’s worth picking up the game to get the full picture.
The game’s quality writing carries right through to the battles. By this, I mean that each enemy has a distinctive personality, and this is yet another of Undertale’s enduring aspects. How many video games let you flirt with your enemy? On the surface, fighting creatures in Undertale is simple — you select attack, time your button presses perfectly, and the enemy takes damage. But this game rightly earns the title of Pacifist RPG, because you don’t have to kill any of your enemies. By selecting the “act” command, you can choose to interact with each creature in a different manner. Some you need to laugh at their jokes, and others you get close to. As they attack you, you control a small heart in a box, dodging everything from leaping frogs to ghost tears dripping down the screen. No two attacks are the same, and this brings even more personality to the enemies.
One niggle I had with the original, and still have with this port, is trying to dodge the above attacks. A lot of Undertale is trial and error, especially the boss fights, and you’ll often drift too far to the right, or not far enough away from a beam of fire. In a game where you need to be pitch perfect at times, this can be a little bit frustrating, but it’s an improvement over the keyboard controls. It’s especially hard when every single boss has a different gimmick that you have to learn and quickly adapt to. Fortunately, the novelty of these particular battles outweighs my nitpicking. And for those who are curious, all said gimmicks remain intact. Newcomers, prepare for a few surprises.
The biggest draw for returning fans will be cross buy between your PS4 and Vita. Portable Undertale is a wonderful thought, and the fact that this is still the same game that came out on PC is fantastic. Unfortunately, the game has been ported with the original 4:3 ratio. You can put banners around the screen to fill the void surrounding the picture, but this can cause a distraction. The aspect ratio does nothing to harm the game on PS4, but on the Vita’s screen, the text is very small. This also affects battles, where your small box for dodging attacks has been made to look even smaller. The heart is tiny enough as it is, so you really need to focus and perfect your dodging techniques to get through the portable version.
What I’d forgotten since first experiencing the game back in 2015 was that Undertale is more than just internet jokes, amazing music, and crazy boss battles — it’s a heartwarming, beautiful, and tearful romp. I said at the beginning there was nothing like Undertale at the time, and there still is nothing else like it. It’s hard to explain what makes Undertale so special without spoiling a lot of it, but all you need to know is that this is a modern classic at its most accessible, and it’s worthy of your time, whether you’re new to the game or returning for another adventure. This review should fill you with determination to play Undertale.
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.