Undertale (Not a) Review- PC

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.

-Bearshaman.

Native Gods

“There is nothing left to win.”

“No, Rodrick. There is always something left to win.”

The town of Lambest nestled in the valley below was bustling tonight. Its citizens ate, slept, and made love fitfully beneath the light of their ever-torches.

“It’s not right,” Pluvius said, tugging at the tip of the beard which rested on his belly in time with each stressed syllable.

“Of course it isn’t right!”

“It’s never right.”

Rodrick shook his head. “Just say it, Pluve.”

“It’s not enough that they aren’t considered slaves. To be told you are free and to know you are free are two different things.”

Rodrick hesitated. “Pluvius. You can’t stop it.”

Silence.

“You know what they’ll do,” Pluvius said. “You know what they always do.”

“Pluve, why? These creatures, they’re barely sentient. They aren’t slaves anymore. Isn’t that enough?”

“No.”

“All right. So tell me. Tell me what we’re going to do.”

“We’re going to arm them.”

“You’re insane!”

“With knowledge, Rodrick. What do you think will happen?” Pluvius put a finger to the sky. “What’s going to happen when they come back?”

Rodrick shrugged.

“They’ll kill them. Or worse, re-enslave them. Is that what you want?”

“That isn’t what happens, Pluve. At worst, they’ll be relocated to another planet. That’s the way it always goes.”

“Yeah, relocated to the last planet that we pre-pillaged. We force our leftovers on them. Is this what we’re doomed to do? Again and again? Is that what we’re meant for? Walking over another race just for the supposed benefit of our own?”

“C’mon, Pluve. It’s not like they even know how to harness the planet’s resources.”

Pluvius smiled. “Not yet, my friend. Not yet.”

Rodrick’s eyes widened. “You can’t be serious. We’ll be burned alive.”

“That’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make.”

“Pluvius, I’m begging you. They’re barely sentient. Chattel.”

“That’s where you’re wrong, Rod.” Pluvius smiled his best and most devilish grin. The uncertainty spreading over his friend’s face only made the grin widen. “We’re going to give them a fighting chance.”

Shapeshifting into two-legged lifeforms twice the size of the natives, Pluvius and Rodrick had no trouble convincing the locals they were gods. Then they went to work.

Teaching the primitive beings the secrets of tapping into their planet’s core was not an easy one. It took several lifetime’s worth of indigenous lifeforms just to finish creating the harvesting equipment. The refining equipment took twice as long. Rodrick eloped with one of the natives a few generations before the process was finished. A generation later, his wife surely departed, Rodrick did not return.

Pluvius found himself teaching the natives how to fashion not the weapons of war, not the tools of the conqueror, but good and useful things. The secrets of the ever-torch he imparted, and the earth-travelling disc, the hat of crystal rainbows, and stone oxen that would pull their plows every day and neither tire nor sweat.

Pluvius ruled them with a kindly heart and a firm fist. Crime faded into myth as the citizens thrived under their new god, and they created paradise with their new-found technology. Pluvius smiled each day as he awoke and he smiled himself into sleep each night.

To his surprise, and with the aid of the planet’s essence, they constructed new and original wonders. They made walking statues of alabaster as tall as twenty natives, equipped with spears like steeples that pierced the hearts of forest creatures again and again, until they returned with a kabob so full it could feed an army, had ever known armies. They made fountains of cackling essence that sparkled up to meet the stars, and they fashioned discs that could break the atmosphere, that they might meet the stars themselves one day, should the desire or need arise.

It was another two generations before the Intergalactic Conglomerate reappeared. Their last rock depleted, they had finally returned to claim the treasure they believed had remained buried.

Rodrick was at their side. He did not look into the face of his former friend as Pluvius was shackled. The natives were confused, and many were angry, but Pluvius told them in their scattered, chittering tongue not to be afraid as he was led away to the colonization craft.

“You’ve taught the mice how to reach out and touch the sky, Pluvius,” the Lord of Space and Time said in an amused tone. “And how do you respond to the charges against you?”

Pluvius smiled his best and most devilish grin. “I did it. I did it, didn’t I? Taught the little bastards everything. Your precious new planet is quite used, yes, nearly used up, I’m afraid. Now, will you let them be? Will you return to the stars and simply let them be?”

The Lord of Space and Time was quiet for a moment, then replied, “I’m afraid that is an impossibility, Pluvius. You never taught them how to kill. How do you expect them to survive? They will move to another planet once this one is drained, and they will die in the process.”

“I thought not, my Lord. No, I thought not. You will kill them, won’t you? You have to kill them. You can’t let the poor bastards live now, can you? Yes, have blood on your hands soon, will you? Will you?” Pluvius burst into laughter, a long and joyous laugh, the first laugh he’d had  in many, many generations.

-Bearshaman