Conversations With Myself: On Undertale’s Universal Appeal

Undertale [official site] is a brilliant game and I want everyone to play it. I worry that people will think it’s so deeply rooted in nostalgia that they’ll need a degree in RPGs to enjoy it, or that it’s a series of quirky in-jokes. It isn’t but I don’t want to tell you precisely what it is – I want you to see for yourself. To that end, I’ve had a big conversation with myself to answer some doubts concerns that those of you who haven’t yet played might be harbouring. There are no spoilers.

Even though I spend parts of my working life trying to explain why some things are superior to other things, I rarely persist if somebody isn’t enjoying a thing I recommended. For many of us, there are more games available than ever before, and many of them are available cheaply and almost immediately thanks to the magic of the internet. There was a time when I’d persevere with a terrible game because it was the only one I was likely to own for the next few months – a birthday present judged for its cover rather than its content.

Whenever I find myself longing for the days when I had more free time than expendable income, I force myself to remember that I spent three months playing vampire cyberpunk adventure BloodNet because it had sucked up all of my spending money. Hell, I completed movie-themed Amiga platformer Oscar at least five times and managed to convince myself the titular character was cooler than Zool (note: nobody before or since has been cooler than Zool).

Nowadays, there’s little point in persisting with something that isn’t immediately appealing. Sure, that appeal might be in the promise of pleasures to come – few people pick up a complex strategy game and has the time of their life before learning the ropes – but if something isn’t for you that’s fine. Walk away and play one of the other million things available. Like the inhabitants of a seaside tearoom, we all have our own cuppa and that’s just fine.

Except when it isn’t. Undertale, which is our game of the month, is one of my favourite things of recent times. I want everyone to play it but I’ve already met several people who’ve been dissuaded from picking it up for various reasons. Here, without spoiling a damn thing, I’d like to address some of the wariness I’ve heard from people who think this marvelous, beautiful game isn’t for them.

Because I think it is. I think it’s for all of you.

All of you: Well, you’re definitely wrong, it isn’t for me because just look at that retro pixel art. Eugh! It’s like a NES did a sick on my monitor and it’s certainly not what I bought this leaning tower of PC for.

The apparent simplicity of the art serves two purposes, as far as I can tell. First of all, it does appear to be self-consciously old-fashioned but that’s not for the sake of tickling your nostalgia-glands – rather it’s a reflection of the naivety that is the topmost layer of the game’s world. This is Naïve art, or an approximation of it, rather than what I tend to think of as pixel art. It is young rather than old.

If the fact that they serve as a perfect costume for the world that is wearing them isn’t a good enough reason to appreciate – or at least accept – the graphics, then here’s another good reason. As you move through the game, unusual effects come into play. A zoom on a certain character or a playful bit of lighting might not sound unusual but the lack of high fidelity trickery makes these moments dramatic, hilarious and touching. Undertale is a perfect lesson in making small gestures count for a great deal.

All of you: Ugh. Fine. But it does do that annoying random combat thing, doesn’t it? I’ll be walking around and suddenly an enemy I couldn’t see will attack me and the music will get all excited while I’m getting all bored because I have to repeat the same fight again and again and again.

Well, yes, but the combat is really good fun. The interface looks like a standard JRPG type of thing, where you choose to attack, use an item special ability or flee. The key to Undertale is learning about your enemies though rather than just bashing them into bits. So you can look at them to see how they’re feeling or what they’re planning to do. Then you might want to cheer them up if they’re down in the dumps, or flirt with them if that seems appropriate. Combat is made up of two mini-games, essentially, and the first is in those choices of action, learning how to pacify, befriend, weaken or frighten an opponent.

The other mini-game is a tiny bullet hell shooter that takes place in a little box below the enemy portrait. I say ‘shooter’ but it’s a ‘dodger’ really. The enemy’s attack is shown as a series of projectiles and if you manage to avoid them for a few seconds, the round ends. If one hits, you lose HP. The beauty of the system is that the pattern of the attacks fits the personality and mood of the enemy, and it’ll change as you interact with them. On top of that sometimes the attacks aren’t attacks at all – they’re gags or messages that seamlessly fit into that little box as if they were intended to be something else entirely.

Also, there isn’t a great deal of random combat. You might find the first couple of areas a slog if you’re moving slowly and looking at everything but things calm down. Most areas of the game don’t punish you with invisible enemies every two seconds.

All of you: Great. But is it supposed to be funny? Because I played the demo and the only bit that made me laugh was that one bit with the rock that was confused about being part of a puzzle. There’s nothing more awkward than something trying to be funny right up in my face when I am just not laughing at all. Makes me feel uncomfortable and nauseous.

I hear you. A few years ago I went to a friend of a friend’s stand-up show one time and nearly had to flee in embarrassment.

There were loads of lines in Undertale’s demo that made me chuckle but it’s more likely to make you smile than laugh out loud. Its the kind of humour that you chew on, grinning all the while. The tone does change a few times though, targeting different parts of the funny-bone. While the early game has a tendency to poke fun at RPG mechanics, the later humour is more character-based with a smattering of (intentionally) groan-worthy puns and one-liners.

I made note of the fact that Undertale’s world is one in which characters are often trying to be funny rather than one in which everyone just so happens to be stoically witty at all times. People tell jokes or amusing anecdotes because they hope it’ll make them more acceptable. Everybody wants a friend, or a family.

All of you: Bloody hell. It sounds a bit worthy, this Undertale. Is it going to make me have what the kids call ‘the feels’? Because I’m telling you now, I cannot be arsed with that sort of rubbish. I’m not crying because a pixel is lonely.

If you don’t cry, you don’t have a soul. No, but seriously, Undertale is not a tear-jerker as such. And I’m not even sure any of us have souls or what a soul is (maybe just little unhappy ghosts that are trapped inside us?)

Remember To The Moon? You probably avoided that one as well but if you did play it you could fairly point out that it was emotionally manipulative – there are a couple of scenes in there that practically attach wild horses to your ducts and have them jerk the tears out of you.

Nowt wrong with that. I love having my emotions manipulated every once in a while. Undertale does something far more subtle though; its most devastating moments aren’t simply scripted events, you work toward them through your actions. They’re still these wonderfully written moments of shocking clarity and sadness but they wouldn’t even be happening if you hadn’t made certain choices – or, more insidious still, played the entire game with a different mindset.

Point being, Undertale might well make hit you somewhere between ‘openly sobbing’ and ‘pretending it’s just dust’, but it’ll never do so at the expense of telling this one weird funny strange interactive story that you’re caught up in.

All of you: What if – and stick with me here – what if I have no interest in RPGs, adventure games, retro games, nerd humour or fantasy dungeons and dragons bollocks.

First of all, it’s really weird that you’re even a voice on this website if you don’t like any of those things. But here’s the thing: Undertale is brilliant because it is its own thing. It’s a beautifully absurd comic story that has as much to do with old RPGs as Don Quixote as to do with chivalric Romance stories. That’s to say it’s shot through with the texture of those things and the more you know about them, the more you’ll get out of some of the particulars. But if you’re clueless? There are still plenty of jokes about poop, class, bravado, misadventure and odd couple relationships. And that goes for Don Quixote AND Undertale, I think. I’d have to double-check on the whole poop thing.

You can pick up Don Quixote and enjoy it even if you’re not familiar with the historical moment or works in the genre that it’s satirising. In the same way, Undertale might seem off-putting in those opening scenes when it’s deconstructing itself and poking you in the ribs to point out how droll that is, but there’s much more to the game than that. It thrives thanks to its allusions but is capable of surviving them.

Look, even if you hate everything else it’s actually impossible to dislike the music. And the whole thing is the perfect length to fit as a side course between main meals. Just don’t be surprised if you go back for a second helping, or find yourself thinking about it far more often than whatever 60 hour epic you’re burrowing through.

All of you: Someone told me it’s scary. Surely not?

There’s this flower, see…

I did find some of the events and implications deeply unnerving but it doesn’t pull an Eversion.

All of you: OK. Fine. But I won’t get it unless I’ve played that old Nintendo game about a sad boy with a fat head, will I?

If you mean Earthbound, don’t worry about it. I haven’t played Earthbound either. In fact, I’ve played the first half hour about twenty times but find it really boring and just find myself wondering if it’ll ever become interesting.

Oh god. Someone’s going to have to write one of these for me, about Earthbound aren’t they? It is the only way.

93 Comments

  1. Niko says:

    Speaking of how JPRGs should affect the experience with Undertale, I have played a few of the first Final Fantasies, Chrono Trigger, a few other games, but I’m not a JRPG fan, haven’t played Earthbound either. My first association when I’ve started Undertale was Moomins, so I don’t think it’s some highly referential thing depending on other things.

    P.S. Speaking of music, there’s an astounding amount of mashups on Soundcloud. My favourite is “undertale temmie get money for colege”: link to soundcloud.com

    • HothMonster says:

      I can’t tell if it is the shitty headphones I have at work or if the bass is just way overdone. I think if the beats were a little crisper that would be great song. But the best Undertale inspired song I have found is Temmie’s cover of Raining Blood. link to youtube.com

      • HothMonster says:

        Hooray, it was just shitty work equipment, thats a jam.

    • Pliqu3011 says:

      YES. I love those Undertale mashups! Hotland Funk remains my favorite: link to soundcloud.com

  2. Premium User Badge

    Oakreef says:

    On the subject of random battle and grinding and such: I despise grinding in games. If a game is throwing repetitive battles at me I stop playing. If a game wants me to repeat something over and over again so the numbers go up I break out cheat engine. Undertale doesn’t do this.

    There are random battles but the encounter rate is low enough, the game short enough and the enemies varied enough that you will not spend many fights against the same monster (well, you might in the first area, but every subsequent area has more variety in monsters). And as stated in the article every monster fight is quite different with everyone having their own bullet pattern, dialogue and ACTions to match the personality of the creature.

    And as for grinding – it’s quite doable to finish the entire game without ever earning a drop of EXP.

    • HERP DERP NANOMACHINES says:

      “I break out cheat engine” BUT THAT’S UNETHICAL AND UNFAIR WAAHHHHHHH YOU SHOULD BE ASHAMED FOR NOT WASTING YOUR TIME LIKE I DO

    • Kitsunin says:

      Indeed, past the first couple areas I’m pretty sure I never even saw the same enemy twice, the encounter rate is that low.

    • joonazan says:

      You can flee from combats with monsters you’ve already spared!

      I’m pretty sure most of the encounters are scripted, not random.

  3. Wulfram says:

    That headline makes me kinda determined to hate it

    • Snidesworth says:

      The urgings of this article…they fill you with determination.

      • LionsPhil says:

        No, the way it seems to have been built to make the Internet quote bits of it does that.

      • aoanla says:

        Yeah, sorry, I’m already a bit bored of “…they fill you with determination”.

        • Premium User Badge

          Henke says:

          Really? This is the first time I’ve heard it, and I’ve been on the internet all week!

          • aoanla says:

            To be fair, I’ve been following a bunch of people who’ve been playing Undertale recently, so my exposure is probably anomalously high.

    • Nevard says:

      I know it’s hard to fight that urge, but “people keep telling me that I’ll like this, so I won’t out of spite” is really a self-destructive feeling.
      If lots of people think something is good and you’ll like it, there’s not bad odds that they are right. And if not, you’ve not lost very much finding out.

      • alms says:

        Push come to shove, you can always rationalize that you really really like it and it’s really really a masterpiece because obviously if everybody else is raving about it, who are you to disagree?

        BTW Bastion called and said hi, mentioned something about Transistor being late for the hype train, and metacritic scores.

      • Consumatopia says:

        If lots of people who know me and my specific taste say they’ll think I like something, then it’s worth checking out. But if lots of people like something and think I’ll like it because I’m a person and everyone should like it (which kind of assumes that what makes a creative work good is objective)? Bad odds.

        To be fair, it’s only the headline that claims “universal appeal” while the article itself is aimed at RPS readers, and given that this is the only gaming website I’ve followed for who knows how many years, then I can’t really take offense when an RPS writer claims they’ll know what I like, even if they don’t know me personally. I’ll probably play the game.

        But as a general rule, outside RPS? There is a whole lot of popular yet terrible media out, far more than I have time or money to consume. It seems like every new TV show is accompanied by web articles trying to convince me that it’s the Best Thing Ever. Tell me about the work or your subjective experience with the work, and let me decide for myself if that’s something I’m interested in.

        • Kitsunin says:

          I’ve found that if the vast majority of people like something, ninety-nine times out of one-hundred I’m gonna like it to. The few cases where I’ve seen something people rave about and then disliked or been bored by it, there’s always been a subset who thought it was bad or awful, too.

          The goodness of something is largely objective, but statistical in its effectiveness rather than binary.

          • Consumatopia says:

            There might be statistical science to which stimuli the vast majority of humans find to be a tolerable distraction from their suffering, but beauty and meaning are outside such reductive formulas–they are things that each of us can subjectively apprehend, but none of us can objectively comprehend. Every individual experiences different qualia from the same stimuli, and therefore different kinds of beauty. Perhaps those different beauties and experiences are all points are all part of some larger structure, but this structure is not the sort of thing that can be mapped by opinion polls, because beauty and subjective experience are context dependent, and the popularity of a thing changes its context, which changes our experience of it.

          • invitro says:

            Interesting statement, and I think I agree.

          • Kitsunin says:

            I agree, but if we’re talking about whether or not one will enjoy something one hasn’t tried, it really can only come down to statistics. Statistics weighted by individual traits, certainly, but unless one of those traits is closed-mindedness I don’t think you can ever say more than “There is a decent chance I won’t like this, even if it is ‘good'”.

            I’ve never expected to dislike a movie with an 8 or greater on IMDB and then been proven right, for instance. I have been surprised by ones I expected to like, however (Dark Knight Rises comes to mind). This is why I think statistics is a suitable comparison; regardless of taste (Not because taste is unimportant, but because it’s much less impactful than the quality of the work when the quality is extremely high) you’re probably going to like something most people like, but there’s always a chance you won’t.

    • HERP DERP NANOMACHINES says:

      Hipster reflexively hates something they don’t know anything about, news at 7.

      • Wulfram says:

        Its more sulky teenage contrarianism than hipster.

        “You’re not the boss of me RPS, you can’t tell me what I like!”

    • Beefenstein says:

      Breathing is universal too: why are you still alive?

  4. wcq says:

    I think this “I want everyone to play it” bit is what some people are starting to get turned off by.

    I’ve played Undertale and I thought it was good, but even I’m getting kind of irked by how the gaming side of the internet seems to be full of people who are gushing about the game and pushing it to everyone who’s willing to listen.

    It’s the Dark Souls situation all over again.

    • HothMonster says:

      Well there are always people that want to hate things that are popular just to be contrarian, no need to worry about them. Undertale deserves the praise and as someone who was initially turned off by the demo I’m glad it got so much attention because it was a worthwhile experience and I’m really glad I gave it a go.

      Dark Souls isn’t for everyone but also deserved the praise and it was something people should at least try or be aware of because if it was for you it was amazing. I think Undertale is actually as ‘for everyone’ as any one thing can be.

      • wcq says:

        Just to clarify, the feeling I’m talking about is a bit different from hating popular things just because you want to be different, even thought I’m sure that happens as well. I think that some people start to (probably unconsciously) push back when they feel that something is getting pushed too strongly to them. What I’m trying to say is that the game’s getting “pitched too hard”, if that makes sense.

      • Snidesworth says:

        While you’re right, being repeatedly urged to do something is going to irritate (as well as inflating expectations). Undertale is really lovely, and I do think it’s for everyone, but it’s far better if you investigate because you’re curious rather than feeling that you must.

        • Y2Kafka says:

          Unfortunately Undertale isn’t one of those games that can grab your attention from pictures alone. Also unfortunate that people will judge a game solely on screenshots alone. I agree that constantly nagging someone to try something is bad, but when you’re fighting upstream against first impressions… Let’s just say my friends have thanked me for forcing them to play it.

    • Rhodokasaurus says:

      I played Undertale and I didn’t like it at all. It is literally for babies, I mean look at the effing screenshots in this article. I also wish everybody would stop pushing it so hard, it makes me think this entire industry is made by and for children, and nothing but.

      • Nevard says:

        It’s designed to be suitable for audiences of any age but I’d struggle to describe it as “for babies”.

      • captainparty says:

        I gave this game to a baby and it couldn’t even beat the first enemy so you’re full of it mister.

      • freedomispopular says:

        “It is literally for babies”

        Are you 12?

    • alms says:

      You mean The Phantom Pain situation all again, right?

    • Premium User Badge

      Harlander says:

      So far the Undertale fandom hasn’t been as determinedly obnoxious as the worst of the Dark Souls “get gud” crowd, in my experience, though I guess there’s time for that kind of behaviour to emerge.

  5. tumbleworld says:

    As a former 80s gamer who won’t see 40 again, the “occasional” and “charming” bullet hell combat sections are a brutal pain in the hand, quite literally. The combats are also way too frequent for their entertainment value, and it feels like slogging through FFX or Pokemon again. Plus, finally, being led by the nose to a “You just murdered all your friends” tragedy (NOTE: Not a spoiler, just an irrelevant illustration) when you’ve just been following the required path is *always* manipulative, however much it claims otherwise.

    So yeah, sure, sperg out all you like, but there is no one holy gaming grail, and slamming people who don’t share your taste as bad is an extremely teenage pursuit.

    • Niko says:

      Sperg?

    • Halk says:

      I agree with your point about the bullet-hell! Some of the bosses are incredible pains. But…
      There is no *required path*.
      You made the choices. You were explicitly told, by the game itself, that starting over, that not playing it, are viable choices. You chose to stay on the same path. You shouldn’t blame the game for you not accepting responsibility for the decisions you made. If you didn’t like the ending, you had every chance to change it.

      • LionsPhil says:

        Ok, I took the “not playing it (beyond the demo)” ending.

        This is true of basically any game, and “you chose to proceed so this is ultimately your fault, player” has always been trite and stupid.

        • wcq says:

          Um, I don’t think that holds true for this game, since bad things happen only if you consciously choose the evil option instead of going for the other solution that the game explicitly says you can use.

          • mechtroid says:

            It does when you try to do nothing, and nothing happens, you try to talk, and it explicitly tells you “it’s not working”, so you try to maybe whittle down her health so she knows you mean business and then maybe she’ll give up but suddenly TWO HUNDRED DAMAGE CRIT OH MY GOD YOU HORRIBLE PERSON HOW DID YOU NOT KNOW YOU NEEDED TO CHOOSE “TALK” 14 TIMES IN A ROW YOU “CHOSE” THIS PATH THIS IS YOUR FAULT.

            Which, incidentally, is why I’m not that interested in continuing the game.

          • wcq says:

            A couple of points. MILD SPOILERS MAYBE.

            A) One of the frogs in the ruins pretty much straight-up tells you how to resolve the situation.
            B) You are expected to load your save from just before the fight if you didn’t like the outcome.

            Mistakenly killing her and loading a save does not permanently shove you onto a bad route, it just shows some additional dialogue that’s meant to show how saving/loading is actually a thing in the game world.

          • Kitsunin says:

            When you do nothing, something does happen. It’s just that because you have a history of playing games which use “…” to mean nothing is happening, you assume “…” means “this command has no use” not “The character fighting you is being stoic”. If you do it more than once the message changes. That’s about as fair as you can get without saying “HEY GUY, DO THIS IF YOU DON’T WANT TO FEEL LIKE A BASTARD”. I mean jesus, how else could you possibly avoid making it feel cheap if this feels cheap to you, without just making it something everyone will figure out?

            I, too, assumed the fight was going to play out like pokemon when the talk command wasn’t working and Mercy gave me “…” The crit is there to tell you “No, this isn’t pokemon, you can’t just beat her up and make her work with you.” It’s not there to trick you into killing her by mistake. When fighting actually is the nonviolent solution it:

            A: Makes sense given the character you are fighting.

            B: When you talk it says “ACTing won’t help you here” rather than “Talking doesn’t seem to be the solution.” Indeed, talking wasn’t the solution because there wasn’t anything to be said.

        • Nevard says:

          I don’t think the game ever actually does tell you to “stop playing” in order to avoid consequences, the only time it asks you if you might want to do that is in an “are you sure?” message when you try to reset the game under certain circumstances.
          I hate that argument too, and didn’t encounter it in Undertale.

    • Bradamantium says:

      I don’t think the article (or anyone supporting Undertale’s widespread play) is slamming the taste of others, just supporting it as a wonderfully unique game and rebutting some of the “Meh, why do I care?” responses.

      That said, you’re right about the difficulty. It’s the only aspect that’s given me pause in recommending the game. I’m good at most games and a fan of bullet hell-y shmups on occasion and a handful of fights completely blocked my progression for a decent chunk of time. I feel like that’s a caveat that oughta be more often mentioned.

    • banananas says:

      I have to agree with you and just want to stress the pain of the bullet-hell fights as well! Overall Undertale sure is a clever game, and a very charming one with all those little quirks and silly dialogues. But those fights man! Over the course of the pacifist playthrough I went from “oh, how neat!” to “eugh, this is getting stale” to “this boss is annoying the hell out of me” and finally to “god, I JUST want to finish… Can you PLEASE let me finish?!”, and it soured the whole game for me in the end.
      So be warned, if bullet-hells aren’t your thing (though very clever ones, I gotta admit), they may literally suck out your fun by the time you’ve reached Asgore. And getting telled you need to “stay determined” doesn’t help at all…

      • MichaelPalin says:

        You can always buy the temmie armor if you are having that many problems with the bullet hell. It is not an ideal alternative (it requires either a lot of money or a lot of deaths), but it is there too.

    • Premium User Badge

      Oakreef says:

      You have to really, really go out of your way to be evil for the game to start throwing in the “jesus you’re awful” stuff. Spec Ops The Line this is not.

  6. Zantium says:

    Okay, okay, I’ll give it a go. I’m in the camp that it doesn’t appeal to on the gameplay and graphics but I like a game with a good story.

  7. satan says:

    ‘I made note of the fact that Undertale’s world is one in which characters are often trying to be funny rather than one in which everyone just so happens to be stoically witty at all times.’

    Could I have an example of stoically witty please?

    • Alevice says:

      basically any sort of smartass that is funny because being badass contrarian or whatevs

    • Bradamantium says:

      It’s funny that it’s rampant in games and I know it but I can’t think of any examples. I’d say, since I’m playing it at the moment, stuff like Victor Vran’s Disembodied Voice making blatant references to The Stanley Parable – an obvious joke – yet doing it with a straight face. There’s no reason for the joke, it is simply A Joke with no grounding in the setting or character or the moment of story.

    • ffordesoon says:

      Search “csi miami caruso one-liners” on YouTube and you’ll get plenty of examples.

    • HERP DERP NANOMACHINES says:

      Any modern AAA game protagonist really. Nathan fucking Drake is a sociopathic waste of pixels that I hope burns in hell for eternity, especially for his terrible jokes.

    • satan says:

      Ah just dry then, thanks.

  8. BannerThief says:

    “The combat is really good fun” Nah, it really isn’t. It’s not nearly precise enough with the directional arrows, and it’s not fluid enough on an analog stick. It’s an interesting idea that’s unfortunately brought low by its wonky execution. I like a lot of the humor, and I like the (seemingly) amazing amount of reactivity that so many games strive for and few achieve. But I wish the combat had either been more finely tuned or jettisoned entirely in favor of a more traditional approach. It also has a bad habit of relaying a series of rules to the player upfront, and then relies on the player purposely trying to ‘break’ certain mechanics in order to progress to certain points. (I can’t be any more specific without spoilers, so I’ll just point to the ‘spare’ mechanic as one of the chief offenders in this regard.)

    • BannerThief says:

      For what I think is the closest review to how I feel about the game (and for anyone who’s looking for real criticism of a game, not just a ’10/10 best game ever’ or a ‘0/10 killed my dog with its badness’ kind of negativity) KillScreenDaily has a great feature up on their site about it. Fair warning, there are some fairly moderate spoilers for early areas of the game. link to killscreendaily.com

      • aoanla says:

        Yeah, having only played the demo (which does include the part which is spoiled in that article), it’s certainly a weakness of the design of Undertale. (I didn’t make the “mistake” mentioned, but only because I had experienced enough “ambient spoilers” to suspect that I was supposed to behave in a particular way in this context – I think that without those externally-originating suspicions, I would have made the same mistake as the author, and have basically felt identically to him.)

      • Tacroy says:

        People talk about how a reviewer’s experience of a game is different than that of a normal player, and I think this review is emblematic of that.

        After the event he talks about happened, I kept on going until the part that references back to it; and at that point, I realized that this world-state I’d created was not one I was happy with.

        So I went back and changed it.

        But that’s not really a luxury I imagine most reviewers have; doing so required that I replay one of the most tedious parts of the game, and if you have a pile of games yea high on your to do list, you’re just not gonna do that.

        • LionsPhil says:

          That situation is not unique to being a reviewer. We are into a world where the sheer fire-hose torrent of content to be consumed dwarfs our time available. Entertainment that wastes that time with “go do this unenjoyable thing again” gets ditched to make room for something that doesn’t.

          (Pre-emptive rebuttals: No, pacing is not wasting time. Slow-burn strategy is not wasting time. But trial/error back-to-the start gameplay usually is.)

          • Y2Kafka says:

            Hold on, hold on. I’m confused about what Trial and Error means in this case. Are you saying that Undertale has trial and error things or that games in general that have trial and error things are pointless?

    • lokimotive says:

      I wasn’t really finding these problems on the first run where I killed two major characters without realizing there was an alternative, but now I’m playing it again on the purely pacifist path and the final areas are getting incredibly difficult. I can’t really sustain much more than one or two hits from the enemies, and there’s stertches where you have to make it past several enemies between save spots. I tried using an analog stick, but that doesn’t really seem to be much more precise (plus my stick is going and drifting to the left, which certainly doesn’t help). It’s getting rather frustrating, knowing that I’m going to have to endure a few more tough enemies before the end of the game.

      That being said, I really don’t know how the game could work without this type of defensive mini-game. If you took the purely pacifist route, and hits were generated traditionally, you’d have to heal after every encounter. Plus that would really go against the rather more pacifist nature of the game, because it’s a bit ridiculous to just sit there and take it while also being pacifist instead of at least trying to dodge.

      • MichaelPalin says:

        Buy the temmie armor. And use a D-pad for movement, not an analog stick. 8-directions –> D-pad, always.

        It is interesting how we are taking points out of Undertale because one difficult game mechanic, unavoidable I guess as we get older and lose reflexes, but I think Undertale still is quite fair on this. Always stock on healing items, learn the bullet paths and strategies, go back to previous save spots if needed and even the hardest bosses can be overcome in a few tries. And, if you keep failing, buy the temmie armor.

        • lokimotive says:

          Oh, don’t think I’m taking points away for it because of this game mechanic. I totally understand its inclusion, and I’ll readily admit that I’m just generally not very dexterous. I still think the game is great, I just wanted to note that I found the pacifist path even harder than the neutral path. Which certainly makes sense.

      • Nixitur says:

        1 or 2 hits? I think even the final boss takes at least 4 hits to kill you, unless you’re using really bad defensive items. And you can lower their attack, making them even weaker.
        Also, I’ve heard that your Soul goes slower if you’re holding X or whatever you use to cancel. It makes dodging much easier. I don’t think this is ever stated anywhere, though, which is kinda bad.
        Also, if you’re dying a lot, there’s always the Temmie Armor.

    • MichaelPalin says:

      If you are going to play a 2D game like Undertale, the way to go for movement is the D-pad, not the analog stick. The first one is always much faster in reaction time, while the second one is more precise for direction. That is why, when you play a 2D game with 8-directions movement, there is no reason to use the analog stick.

  9. slerbal says:

    When I first heard about this game I was intrigued, but now I am increasingly less interested. It’s great that you are enjoying it, but I’m definitely in the over-exposed to the hype about it crowd now, sorry.

    Also, and I cannot stress this enough: I really, really dislike JRPGs with a passion, and I’m not someone inspired to vitriol much at all. I really hate every element of them. Again I have no problems with other people liking them, but even games which use JRPG mechanics for inspiration or comment are kicked out the door. Also: I’ve said this before, but I have realised that I am definitely not the market for most games out there these days so I need to carefully consider my purchases :)

    Enjoy Undertale. Maybe one day down the road when all the hype has faded I will too. But today is not that day.

    • TheAngriestHobo says:

      I’m right there with you on disliking JRPGs and JRPG mechanics, but that never became an issue during my playthrough – likely because a pacifist playthrough subverts the whole concept by rendering stats more or less pointless. It really becomes about enjoying a well-written story, interspersed with occasional “battles” which are actually some of the funniest parts of the game.

      As for the whole “overexposed to the hype” thing, well, I get that too. I tried reading George R. R. Martin’s books, didn’t take to them, and am now bloody tired of how the IP has infested the entirety of the interwebs. And let’s not forget about last month’s daily MGSV coverage on RPS! The Undertale articles are downright rare in comparison.

      So, yeah, that complaint makes sense to me. Still, it’s best to remind yourself every so often that there’s a distinction between a product and its fandom. What’s annoying you isn’t Undertale, it’s the people who can’t stop talking about it.

    • sfoumatou says:

      You’ve got the right idea. To anyone who’s been overexposed to the hype, I’d say: forget about it, wait a couple years, go back to it when the hype is over and all that’s left in your head is “huh, wasn’t that supposed to be a special little game? Might as well try it”

      Then you’ll get the proper, non-hype-ruined experience.

      • TillEulenspiegel says:

        This is the ideal strategy for so many reasons. Over and over again, any new game that’s pretty good is gushed over as the best thing ever by gamers and journalists alike. See if people are still talking about it in 6-12 months.

        Dragon Age: Inquisition is one recent egregious example. People were absolutely fucking crazy about that for two whole weeks. Iron Bull everywhere. Now? Meh. Decent game, nothing special.

  10. aoanla says:

    To be honest, having played just the demo, I think Undertale is pretty good, despite the humour completely missing the mark for me, and the JRPG random encounters malarky annoying me. On the other hand, I mostly think it’s pretty good because of an experience I had fairly late on in the demo, which was only as good as it was because I was mildly spoiled. To get to that point, I practically had to force my way through most of the rest of it.

    I can totally see why people who got on with the humour, and like JRPG mechanics, think its their game of the year. I’m not so convinced it’s a game for everyone, though (I actually think that the most recent interactive experience for everyone is The Beginner’s Guide, and I’m not even sure if that’s a game, or a narrative about games, or a narrative about art or what).

  11. Premium User Badge

    Serrit says:

    leaning tower of PC

    /BigGrin

  12. 2fangs says:

    Forced myself to play it until the end. Was bored to death. Still “don’t get it”. I’m not part of the anointed it seems. Worry not, I’m going back to CoD (before you say so).
    + 1 or 2 decent songs
    + Helps insomniacs
    + Uninstall works

    • Premium User Badge

      Harlander says:

      If you’re going to force yourself to play to the end of something that bores you, something fairly short like this is probably a good choice.

      • 2fangs says:

        Undertale is not exactly short I’d say. According to Steam, it took me 8 hours to beat this thing on a pacifist run. Some idling here and there for card drops but still not a short game, which is good for those who enjoyed it.

  13. Uninteresting Curse File Implement says:

    I don’t like this refusal by RPS authors to reveal anything particular about games they recommend. I’ve bought some real garbage off these “just trust us” recommendations; I don’t do this any more. This is more of a complaint about the other two articles on Undertale; this one at least tries to explain something.

    • MichaelPalin says:

      Consider pirating them instead. It is clear that even when a reviewer is very in-sync with your tastes it can lead to bad purchase decisions. The only way to avoid them is playing the game before buying it.

  14. trn says:

    This one is curious. I did not like it. I found the plot and characters twee and grating. Replaying Final Fantasy IV recently I am reminded how engaging and moving a video game can be, and that’s not to mention the majesty of Dragon Quest V, which makes me well up just thinking about it.

    I found the humour unconvincing, like the writer was taking the surface elements of classic surrealist comedy without fully comprehending what made those elements funny.

    And the combat system, while unique and interesting, and a space in which subplots could play out was frankly repetitive and the same joke played out with minor variations. I much preferred Inazuma Eleven’s battle system, for instance, which felt a more organic extension of the game world, and never got boring.

    Reading this, as listening to Jim Sterling, Quins and others, I suddenly feel like my nerdy self at school clutching my copy of Reaper Man while listening to everyone and his dog telling me that ‘true’ fantasy begins and ends with Harry Potter.

    Nothing has ‘universal’ appeal. Some gamers will love Undertale, others will not. But I find it very uncomfortable when darling indie games are used to delineate between those gamers who ‘belong’ and those who do not. It never ends well.

    • sfoumatou says:

      I loved Undertale a whole lot but I entirely agree with you. I don’t mind reviewers gushing about something, but declaring that something is “universal” kind of hurts your credibility as a journalist. It drives wedges between people, like you said. Plus, it really hurts the product you’re trying to sell by putting it on a pedestal that it was never trying to claim.

    • Eight Rooks says:

      No Final Fantasy has a good story other than Tactics, TA2 and XII, and I’m playing DQV off and on right now, and while I’m only a few hours in and it’s pretty good I haven’t seen anything majestic yet.

      Snark aside, I, too, am somewhat uneasy around some of these ALL SHALL PRAISE IT AS I DO pieces. I tried the demo and I can totally see why someone would absolutely love it, but I don’t really think it’s for me. I don’t care what the point of the art or the rationale behind it is; to my eyes it’s still ugly, to the point of being downright off-putting. And while the reactivity and the different possible playstyles and everything is awesome, I could see the combat and the bullet hell mechanic driving me up the wall.

      Playing a number of PS2- and PS1-era JRPGs recently has just further convinced me no-one should ever develop a game with random battles in ever again. That is not meant as hyperbole. If you actually enjoy being attacked by invisible enemies you have no reasonable way of detecting or avoiding, you’re weird. You should not feel like that. I’m sorry, I can’t think of a more civil way to put it. Revisiting The World Ends With You just reiterated how that system is better in every conceivable way – no enemies cluttering the world map, big red button to tell you ah, there they are whenever you like, no enemy will ever attack you unless you want them to.

      So, yeah, I greatly admire Undertale, the thought and the craft that’s gone into it. I can easily see why some people really, really like it, and I’m very glad it got made and that it’s been a success. But I still haven’t bought it, and I’m feeling more and more that I don’t want to bother, and being told that “Oh, no, go on, you really should, everyone should” gives me a sadface.

      (And just to forestall any smartassed replies, I still click on articles like this because I greatly enjoy reading people who are good with words explaining why they like the things they like. I’m just saying, I’m not sure this particular approach is ever really a good way to go about it.)

    • Eight Rooks says:

      Just to balance my snark there a little, kudos for mentioning Inazuma Eleven’s combat. I keep meaning to go back to the DS titles again in English some day – I put quite a few hours into the original on import but never finished it. The spectacularly misguided (and frequently awful) voice work/localisation makes it a struggle, though. Anyway. Point being, “grinding” isn’t a problem for me if the battle system’s actually fun.

  15. Kefren says:

    I bought To The Moon against my better judgment after all the hype. I couldn’t stand it, which is what my warning instinct had told me. I had the same experience with Mass Effect (gave up on my second attempt at the game last night). Sometimes I just know I’ll dislike a game, whatever people say.

  16. iMad says:

    For people complaining about “random battles”, in truth there are only a limited number of battles in the game, and almost half of it aren’t random. This becomes more apparent when you enter genocide route. Also I can’t stress this enough; for the best experience, go Pacifist Neutral End>True Pacifist End>Genocide End>Etc, with the option of not completing Genocide if you don’t want to feel sick and miserable about yourself afterwards. You have been warned.

  17. Cropduster says:

    Recently started this, and it’s pretty great. Definitely best experienced cold though, a lot of this stuff will become prime meme soon a la Portal, so best played before you grow to hate it. So far it’s been getting better and better as it progresses. It’s much more Earthbound meets Stanley parable than final fantasy.

    Although claiming “universal appeal” if only people give it a try is maybe a little hyperbolic. Maybe to be avoided lest we recreate the reaction you get on neogaf if you dare to remark you didn’t enjoy The Last of Us so much.

    • alms says:

      You’re being too literal about the meaning of “universal”: it’s obviously untrue every single person on the earth will like this (or any other) game, so that can’t be it.

      “Universal” must then mean “across a wide spectrum of different tastes and demographics”.

  18. shadow9d9 says:

    My reaction to the article is, “Really? Again?” Enough pushing. We get it. It just looks desperate and off at this point.

  19. Flit says:

    Hey Adam, if you ever get the urge to try Earthbound again, I recommend trying the sequel ‘Mother 3’ instead. Earthbound is a lovely game but is very mechanically archaic and without a nostalgia filter I don’t blame you for giving up. Mother 3, on the other hand, is modern and playable. There’s no story to catch up on or anything, just dive in and see if you like it.

    I’ll try Undertale if you try Mother 3, eh? ;)

    link to mother3.fobby.net

  20. ViosKiller says:

    Undertale is way too hyped. I mean it, way too hyped.
    I played it blind and I liked it, not my favourite game of all time but hey, a decent addition to the indie game genre. So, if you have some spare money to throw at this game, I guess you could, maybe try it pirated beforehand and then decide to buy it or not. No reason to force anyone who doesn’t like it to play it though.

  21. dalekthy says:

    This happen to my first reaction after playing the game as well.
    I started talking to my 65-year-old landlord couple about it, and it’s the first time that I was able to generate a discussion about video games with people of different age group by simply talking about the interesting moments I had in-game.
    That being said, it was quite an experience. The BGMs still linger my head along with the emotional roller-coaster I had when playing the game.

  22. theninthlayer says:

    I thought it was a great experience. The people who are comparing the game’s battle system to Final Fantasy are really missing the forest for the trees; the writing is Undertale’s draw. It’s a very impressive work considering the vast majority was done by just one person. I would certainly recommend to anyone with a passing familiarity with JRPGs and internet culture.