Toby Fox’s indie hit Undertale took the world by storm when the game was released in 2015, with its distinctive art style and colorful array of characters. Praised for its fantastic soundtrack and compelling story, as well as for questioning your morals and asking what’s right and wrong. But is it as good as what people say it is? (Spoiler alert: Yes, it is.)
The game starts with your character on a bed of flowers after falling into Mt. Ebbot, which you later find out is something kids like to do in this world. You make your way to the next room and are greeted by the innocent-looking Flowey — a kind and helpful flower who wants to help you with your new life in the underground.
You enter the combat screen with him as he explains how your soul is the very culmination of your being, and it can be strengthened using your LV (your love of course). He says that love is shared through ‘friendliness pellets’ and asks you to run into them all. If you do run into them, you take damage and Flowey’s true intentions shine through.
“It’s kill or be killed,” he says, as you realize the friendliness pellets are just regular bullets, and you’re about to die. That is until Toriel — the caretaker of the ruin — comes to your rescue. This immediately tells the player that no one can be trusted.
Toriel acts as a mother figure to the child, holding hands as she keeps you safe in the ruins. This is cleverly shown as you realize “Toriel” is a play on the word tutorial. You then make your way through the Ruins with Toriel, completing various puzzles and fighting multiple enemies. Which is a good segway into talking about the combat system.
When you encounter an enemy, you are given four options: Fight, Act, Item, and Mercy. Fighting is your basic attack — as a bar goes across the screen, the closer to the middle you stop it, the more damage you’ll do.
Acting, however, is a lot more complex, as when you select it, a few options — such as compliment or threat — will open up to you. These options vary for each monster, and in using these acts you’ll discover you can Spare an enemy instead of killing it. For example, if you were to compliment the Froggit in your first fight, it would say “Froggit didn’t understand what you said, but was flattered anyway”. This will allow you to spare the Froggit and end the fight peacefully.
It is possible to spare every enemy and boss — no matter how difficult it might seem. However, you won’t earn any experience points this way, therefore you will never level up or increase your HP. This makes Undertale more difficult, but the satisfaction of keeping everyone alive should be enough to keep you from killing everyone. Right?
Well, more on that later.
After reaching the end of the ruins and finding Toriel’s house, you end up asking how to get home. She tries to tell you that your home is in the ruins now, but you keep asking. You must fight her — even though all she wants is to keep you happy. You can spare her though, and after you leave the ruins you meet Flowey again.
He will ridicule you no matter how you end the Toriel battle — either calling you weak for not killing her or a sicko for murdering her. You ignore his taunting and move on to Snowdin. However, I won’t talk about the rest of Undertale in as much detail, to not spoil the game.
There are a few key parts of the game that really make it stand out, and that makes it one of the best games of the decade. The soundtrack is one of my favorites of all time — with great boss fight themes and fantastic area music. I often find myself listening to it, and so did many others, as it was nominated for many video game soundtrack awards.
The themes in Undertale are also amazing; some of them are so hard-hitting that it sparks emotions in the player, like Alphys’ depression and Asgore’s desperation to help his people while losing his wife and children. Some are more light-hearted — like Papyrus’s inability to make friends. It can really start to take its toll on the player and genuinely make them feel bad for the characters.
Speaking of characters, this might be my favorite aspect of the world of Undertale. Not only are the main characters interesting and fun to interact with, but they all have deep stories and lives to care about. You can go on a date with Papyrus, talk about snails with Toriel and lie on the ground with napstablook — just floating into space, with just your thoughts and feelings accompanying you… umm, where was I? Oh yeah, the characters.
Even the regular enemies are painted out to have lives outside the battle screen, with appearances in the overworld, and sprinkles of backstories littered across the world. It makes you want to spare them so they can live their lives, and it makes the player feel bad about killing them (at least the first time it might).
Spoilers ahead: If you haven’t played Undertale yet, stop reading here. Buy the game if you can, and return here to read my opinions on the endings of Undertale. (NOTE: These following paragraphs can be ignored if you want to be completely spoiler-free. Just skip to the conclusion )
Undertale can end in one of three ways: Pacifist, Neutral, and as I’ve alluded to, Genocide. If you decide you want to go through the game normally, killing a few monsters here and there for exp and killing any bosses that might seem impossible to spare, you will reach Asgore — the king of monsters. He doesn’t want to fight you, being a kind-spirited monster, but he must in order to break the barrier and free the monsters.
After choosing to either kill or spare him, Flowey comes in to steal the kill. He takes his soul, as well as the six other souls of humans previously killed. He becomes all-powerful, deleting your save file and crashing your game. He forces you to fight his aptly named photoshop Flowey form. After finishing the chaotic fight, you choose to spare or kill him for the final time. I decided to kill him, to begin with, however, this was a mistake as sparing him leads you to the ‘better ending’.
Flowey appears after the credits, saying that if you want a more complete ending you need to reset your file, and spare everything. As well as bond with some key characters, you must also visit the true lab — a disturbing area under Alphys lab. You learn that the royal scientist was injecting monsters with ‘determination’ — a power that allows a soul to carry on living after death. This power explains why the human, the player, returns after being killed. However, monsters weren’t powerful enough to hold this power, and they became melted amalgamates after the injection.
Alphys couldn’t bear to tell the families of these monsters, and so she became depressed. You make her feel loved, however, and then she comes out of her shell a little more. You are then sent back to Asgore for what seems to be the same fight as before — until all your friends come and they stop the fight. There is one last heart-warming scene that ties all the characters’ lives in one neat bow. They all lived happily ever after in the underground.
That would have been the case until Flowey returns and takes all the souls of every monster in the underground. He then takes his true form — long thought to have been the dead son of Toriel and Asgore — Asriel Dreemur. An epic fight ensues, and after saving the souls of your friends, you talk to a weakened Asriel. He talks about how as Flowey he is unable to feel emotion and just wishes that he can be happy again. So, in a final act of selflessness, he lets all of the souls free and breaks the barrier. This tugs at the player’s heartstrings, but allows your friends to be let free. A charming credits scene plays out, showing the characters’ new lives in the overworld.
Then, there is the Genocide playthrough. You realize you are not satisfied with this ending. You want more. You kill every monster in the underground. Not just everyone you encounter, however — you must seek out everyone and murder them. There will be a kill counter at every save point that displays how many are left. Your former friends are killed instantly, and the music becomes slow and distorted. It’s not meant to be fun; it’s grueling and soul-destroying (literally). Most jokes from previous runs are removed, and the characters are no longer found in the overworld. They’ve fled from you.
Flowey and Sans realize you are not human. You reach the area before Asgore, where Sans would normally judge your actions throughout Undertale. You normally learn that your Lv. stands for ‘Level of Violence’ and the EXP earned are your ‘execution points’. Sans does not want to speak to you, however. He knows that you know what you’re doing, that there’s no stopping it, and so he simply tries to delay it.
What comes next is the hardest fight in any video game that I’ve ever played. You can’t even attack Sans, and you are just simply there to survive all of his attacks. And you deserve this punishment. You killed everything. He knows he can’t win, however, and as he gets tired, you manage to land a sneaky blow and he’s dead.
You have now killed almost everything. Asgore is next. You don’t even allow him to talk. You start the encounter with him. Flowey kills him for you though, trying to gain your trust. Even he is scared of you now. You then relentlessly begin to attack Flowey until he is nothing but a trampled weed in the ground.
All this violence awakens Chara, a demon of sorts who reveals themself to be the first human child to have fallen into the mountain. That child became friends with Asriel and it was kind of adopted into Asgore’s family. Chara had died previously, but still, its soul lived on and it was powerful enough to influence you into killing everything. He then says that you no longer have any power, as a horrifying scene takes place where Chara strikes the player, and then… Nothing. Everything is gone. With your help, Chara destroyed the world, and he has tainted your save file forever.
Now while I like the simple/retro art style, It’s certainly not for everyone and can be too simplistic for most. I also have a slight critique of one of Undertale’s areas, the Hotlands, as the constant status updates and calls from Alphys really drag the area out and it feels like filler. The puzzles in this area are also very boring and surprisingly easy, considering it’s one of the final big areas.
Anyway, now that’s over I can finally give my final verdict. Undertale mixes light and heavy themes beautifully to create a stunning game with a killer soundtrack. Accompany this with interesting characters and engaging gameplay, you get a phenomenal RPG, albeit with a crude graphical style and a sometimes confusing story. I confidently give this game a 9.4/10 and would certainly call it a must-play.
UNDERTALE! The RPG game where you don't have to destroy anyone.
- Fantastic character design and dialogue
- Amazing soundtrack
- Great replayability
- Engaging and interesting story
- Unique battle style and mercy mechanic
- A steal at $10
- Simple art style (some may say boring)
- Some unnecessary filler
- Occasionally boring puzzles