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Thursday, 21 April 2016

Undertale.


While I forgot to add this to the post earlier, I do actually have a full Let's Play of Undertale, so go check that out.

Undertale.



Here's a review I've been putting off because I'm not sure where I'd start with it. Undertale's a critical and fan darling, topping a dozen Best Games of 2015 lists, massively well-received by players with a gigantic fandom (to the point where even if you've never played it, you probably know at least something about it), and quite possibly the most Let's Played game on Youtube, I say as someone who jumped on that particular bandwagon (albeit rather late) and Let's Played it on Youtube. That's a little intimidating to review, actually.

Set in an underground kingdom of monsters, Undertale follows a child who falls down into the Underground from Mount Ebott, a mountain from which it is said that nobody returns. Seeking to leave the Underground, the child sets out to reach the Barrier, located in the castle of King Asgore, where they might be able to pass through and out into the human world. Along the way, they meet a colourful array of monsters, including the motherly Toriel; the skeleton brothers Sans and Papyrus; reclusive scientist Alphys; hot-blooded royal guard Undyne; and Flowey, a sinister and malevolent flower who, nearly unique among the Underground's residents, is aware of the child's ability to manipulate time with the power of 'SAVE.'

Leaves.

We'll start off with the gameplay, because that's probably where we'll find the most problems. In the overworld, you can walk around, solve puzzles, shop, and talk to people. In battle, Undertale functions very much like a typical top-down turn-based RPG with bullet hell elements - in your turn, you can use items, attack, or use skills; and in your enemies' turns you must control a floating heart, evading their attacks. 

The bullet hell segments can be pretty frustrating, with the difficulty spikes for bosses often meaning you have to play a boss ten to twenty times before you defeat them - and while some playstyles will see you become powerful enough to one-shot everything in your path, most players will find themselves in frustratingly long boss battles where all they can do is try to avoid attacks.

Mitigating that frustration slightly, gameplay is mixed up with the use of blue and orange attacks (which you don't avoid but instead negate, either by not moving when they hit or by moving as they hit) and, in boss battles, with the use of soul colours, wherein a boss will turn your floating heart from red to another colour, bringing with it a change of gameplay. When playing as a blue soul you cannot float, only jump, turning bullet hell segments into platformer/endless runner sections; when playing as green you cannot move at all, only turn to deflect magical spears away from you with a shield; when playing as purple your movement is limited along a set of strings; and when playing as yellow you can fire shots of energy, turning your battle into a Space Invaders knock-off.

I remember you! I usually run away from battles, but you were mandatory.

But what people really love Undertale for is its story, and it is a genuinely good story. While the game's slight preoccupation with being 'quirky' doesn't do it too many favours (although the barrage of jokes is funny more often than it isn't, and there's no shortage of genuinely hilarious moments - it's just that there's also plenty of jokes which fall flat), there's a genuinely deep, interesting, and thoughtful story here, one which is not only adept at producing an emotional reaction, but also plays with the medium of video games in interesting ways.

There isn't a lot I can actually say about the storyline without spoiling it, and it's a story best experienced unspoiled, but I will say that mixed among the laughs there were moments which were genuinely touching and, moreover, moments which were actually quite sinister and frightening. The game feels like a modern day Alice in Wonderland - warm and friendly, but with a few slightly unnerving edges to it as well.

The library.

On the technical side, the game is pretty simple. The game mechanics are pretty simple, the graphics are very simple, and while it does some interesting things in its coding and programming, it mostly does so through innovative uses of programs and technology that have existed for well over a decade. The game doesn't have any voice-acting for me to praise, but it does have an excellent soundtrack, probably easily one of the best game soundtracks of 2015, and even if you don't play the game, I'd probably recommend finding the soundtrack if you need some music to listen to.

Undertale is a game that, in a rare turn given the relatively flat, emotionally lacklustre state I was in when I played it, managed to actually produce some degree of emotional response - laughter, a bit of sadness, a lot of being creeped out - even when my old favourites and standbys were failing me in that regard. For that reason alone, I am possibly unreasonably fond of it, but it's a game that is not only solid and well-made, but also startlingly unique and interesting. It's earned its hype, and given how hyped people were and still are over it, that's fairly high praise.

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