It’s hard to review a game like Undertale.
You see, I don’t even want to write a review. I don’t want to weigh the pros and cons, and I certainly don’t want to give it a score. I’ll admit I have an ulterior motive here.
Really, I just want you to play it.
But if I go through an item-by-item description of what makes it special, I will spoil the experience of playing the game. And this is a game that has to be played to be experienced. This is not some game you can just spectate.
Let’s be honest, there are plenty of modern games you can fully experience just by watching a playthrough, narrated by your favorite flavor of YouTube personality. You don’t really have to play those games. But this game needs to be played.
Now, you may look at the game’s screenshots, or see the trailer, and not be impressed. You may already know, in your heart, that this is overhyped indie game of the year #1,345. And that’s fine. You’re right to think that.
Maybe you’re tired of the politics in gaming, the viral marketing, the lightly interactive Unity engine indies, or bloated AAA rehash after rehash. When you see a game get this kind of response, this universal acclaim, you probably should be suspicious.
But why then, how then, in this world of 100+ games in the backlog, achievement hunting, and million-dollar advertising budgets, does a modest-looking RPG largely created by just one person with no advertising whatsoever, get this kind of hype?
Well this game, it touches people. It makes them feel things. Maybe it’s the innocence of the game, or the way it doesn’t take itself too seriously. The game is whimsical, cheesy, pun-filled, and has a soundtrack filled with tunes that are somehow already nostalgic on the first encounter. Oh, and it’s full of surprises.
Toby Fox has worked within some very basic limits in a very creative way, to create a game that is more than the sum of its parts.
You’ve probably heard the comparisons to Earthbound, Wario Ware, bullet hells, and other indie RPGs. None of those comparisons are wrong, but none are completely right.
The pacing, the humor, the characters, the messages, the little touches, and the basic game mechanics all work together to create something that many people feel is very special. At times subtle, at times goofy, at times loving, and at times frightening, this game manages to effortlessly excel at being itself.
If you like traditional RPGs, a good story, clever dialogue, dogs, interesting mechanics, or the chance to play a game that understands the value of life, rather than simply rewarding the destruction of it, you should probably give it a shot.
I’ll be honest—you know what’s the hardest part of talking about this game? I’m afraid. I’m afraid that you’ll play it and you won’t have the same feelings I had playing it. Not because that will devalue my experience, but because I so desperately want everyone in the world to play this game and have a similar experience. And that may not happen. What one person adores, another may not. That’s just how it works.
But the idea that someone out there is playing this game for the first time, and feeling something they haven’t felt in a long time?
It fills me with determination.