You’re filled with determination!

If that reference completely went over your head, UNDERTALE was a game released in September 2015 by Toby Fox, who completely developed the game himself.

With the exception of some artwork, he created everything from the storyline to the soundtrack. That’s right, he composed the entire soundtrack!

“But Bella, it’s the end of 2016, not 2015! Why should I care about an old game?”

The end of 2016 is exactly why you should care! Without going into detail, this year has been exciting and infuriating on all fronts. We’ve seen ups, downs, and sometimes rock bottom.

But video games have continued to captivate us, to offer little disappointment in an often disappointing world. And it doesn’t just stop with what’s been released this year!

Countless games that have been released in the past continue to give us something today, which is why I want to tell you about UNDERTALE.

READ: Sin City Series: Sexist or Strong Women Galore?

UNDERTALE was built with GameMaker: Studio, a software program that was initially released over 15 years ago. It allows users to make games without needing an extensive knowledge of computer programming. It’s a simple program that really only creates 2D games.

Now, you’re probably wondering why anyone would want to play a low-res 2D game!  Especially when you consider the fact that the gaming industry has moved towards 3D photorealism (a la 2016’s PS4 release of RISE OF THE TOMB RAIDER).

Well, this is exactly what Fox wanted to move away from. He chose to focus more on the story than the appearance. And we are so glad that he did!

Undertale
Undertale

In the game, you control Frisk, a human child who falls into the Underground where monsters live. Monsters and humans used to coexist, but a war broke out between them and the monsters were banished. Frisk navigates through the Underground, encountering the different characters and making choices that will greatly affect the rest of the game.

UNDERTALE developed a strong following upon its release, with its simple retro-style appearance but beautiful storytelling. There were many reasons why the game was critically acclaimed, but I’ll just give you a few.

CLICK: Here’s our breakdown of the new GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY trailer and why you should be excited!

Simple, Classic, and Enjoyable Game Mechanics

Like I said earlier, Fox completely created this game using a software system that came out over 15 years ago. He didn’t have a lot of experience with game development, but it was his inexperience that pushed the mechanics of UNDERTALE.

It’s reminiscent of older games like EARTHBOUND and THE LEGEND OF ZELDA: A LINK TO THE PAST, where the angle is top-down and players can only move in four directions (up, down, left, and right).

The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past

The main focus of the game is to explore, so Fox didn’t include repetitive tasks or quests as they involve a lot of backtracking. You simply navigate Frisk around the Underground, encountering and speaking to different monsters.

And I’m serious when I say that “speaking” is a huge objective in the game; there is A LOT of dialogue.

Although voice actors weren’t used, each character still has its own voice; the text in their dialogue boxes are all accompanied with a sound effect specific to the character. The text “voices” mimic sighs, stutters, and even laughter to create the feeling that you are genuinely speaking to someone in the game.

Some of the characters also have different fonts in their text boxes, which highlights their different personalities. For example, two brothers named Sans and Papyrus use the comic sans and papyrus fonts in their text boxes, respectively. As someone who studied English as an undergrad, I wholeheartedly appreciated this humorous detail!

The battle scenes are also unique to each monster. During your fight with Mettaton, a robot that is also the only TV star in the Underground, you have to dodge his dance legs and a disco ball’s light beams. When you fight Undyne, a fish monster who leads the Underground’s Royal Guard, you have to dodge the arrows of her spear.

I was serious when I said “disco ball”

Each battle is different and so is the way you navigate through it. This aspect leads to the most crucial part of UNDERTALE’s design: choice.

You don’t have to fight every monster you encounter, you don’t even have to fight at all! There are four actions in battles: Fight, Act, Item, and Mercy. The action that you choose, specifically with fight, act, and mercy, will influence the rest of the gameplay.

“Item” is used when you need to eat candy or snacks to raise your health points, but you can also use it to give things to monsters. The “Fight” option is exactly what it sounds like…fighting back and attempting to kill your opponent. “Act” allows you to check an opponent, seeing their attack and defense levels; however, you can also use it to talk, cheer up, or even flirt with your opponent (it all depends on who you encounter). Mercy is the option to either spare or flee.

How polite!
How polite!

This isn’t exactly an original idea; many games offer you the chance to be either good or bad.

READ: Is It Still Moral to be a Fan of AMC’s THE WALKING DEAD?

What makes UNDERTALE as unique as its monsters, though, is that the game will REMEMBER the choices you made in previous playthroughs.

If you played Genocide in your first run, which is killing every monster you encounter, and then you attempt to play Pacifist in your second run, the dialogue between characters and even the game’s ending will be altered.

It remembers each playthrough unless you delete your save files in order to start fresh.

And without spoiling anything, there is a character who is fully aware of how many times you’ve played the game and it can get emotional to hear them talk about it, especially during Genocide.

Despite UNDERTALE’s simplistic appearance, there is a deep level of design to the video game.

Emotionally Influential Dance Music

One of the most crucial aspects of developing a video game is creating music; it’s also one of the most difficult parts.

The UNDERTALE soundtrack currently has 101 songs, with each one ranging in different levels of length; and keeping with the retro style, each song sounds like it belongs in an 80’s video game.

Remember when I said that Fox composed the entire UNDERTALE soundtrack himself? Yeah, I was dead serious about that…

Fox explained that he had composed all of the tracks before he even started creating the game, claiming that it helped him decide how different scenes would play out. And this makes sense, considering that each song influences how you feel as you play!

Many of the characters also have their own musical themes that play throughout the game, often in new and exciting ways while still maintaining the general melody. This creates both a nostalgic feeling and a new experience as you move through the game.

For example, “Bring It In, Guys!” (which plays during the credits) combines Sans, Papyrus, and Undyne’s themes with Mettaton’s battle song. The track also includes melodies that you heard as you navigated through different parts of the Underground!

This is a strong tactic for a video game soundtrack; what better way to induce a specific emotion than to play the musical themes associated with our favorite characters? Especially when the game is over!

The soundtrack was just as successful as the game itself, with many fans creating different remixes to their favorite tracks. My personal favorite is a song that plays towards the end of the Genocide run (fans of the game will most likely know which one I’m referring to), and I have yet to find a remix that disappoints me.

This ability marks the beauty of each track; you can make it unique (like Fox did) or can you just enjoy the original song.

Progressive Without Trying To Be

Again, UNDERTALE is very reminiscent of an old-school, bit-style video game. If I knew nothing about it and saw one picture of it online, I would’ve thought that it had been released years ago. It’s made to feel retro, but it’s also really progressive…and it doesn’t care about how progressive it is.

The game is set in a world where sexuality and gender identity aren’t considered problems or subjects of ridicule.

The characters are all diverse in multiple ways, but their diversity is not the subject of the game. You’re not meant to focus on how a character is, just that they are the way they are.

CLICK: Speaking of diversity, read this article on diversity in media!

Gender Identity

Frisk, the character that you play as, is completely gender-neutral. We’re not told whether they’re a boy or a girl, and guess what? It doesn’t matter!

The monsters don’t treat Frisk as a specific gender; they treat Frisk as a human child (which is exactly what you are in the game).

And that is honestly the bigger issue: your presence as a human. After all, humans fought the monsters and eventually banished them. They’re more concerned with history repeating itself than Frisk’s gender identity.

Somehow that face is still adorable!
Somehow that face is still adorable!

Sexuality

Then you have Papyrus, who asks you out on a date at some point. Some players may choose to consider this interaction as homosexual or heterosexual (depending on how they view Frisk), but it’s actually just two characters going on a date.

And Papyrus honestly treats it more like a battle by trying to impress you and appear more experienced at dating.

He REALLY wants to impress you!
He REALLY wants to impress you!

At the end of the date, he doesn’t even like you the way he perceives you to like him. Yeah, you get friendzoned by a skeleton without even trying anything!

Then you have Alphys, the Royal Scientist  who many perceive to be either lesbian or bisexual. It’s mentioned that she used to have a crush on Asgore, the king of the Underground, but she’s attracted to Undyne when we meet her.

She’s an incredibly timid character who has a hard time confessing her feelings to Undyne. Alphys is also really secretive because of her actions in the past (I won’t explain further due to spoilers; it’s also really complicated).

These are the traits that make her a target of mockery, not who she is attracted to. Like Papyrus, her sexuality isn’t important to her development as a character.

UNDERTALE highlights the ways a character can be diverse, but it doesn’t focus on their diversity because being different from the person next to you shouldn’t matter. There are countless types of personalities, and Fox simply tried to incorporate as many as he could in his game.

UNDERTALE is progressive because it doesn’t care about being progressive.

WANT more? Check out this article on ADVENTURE TIME!

Its Overall Message…

Everything that I’ve explained to you so far simply scratches the surface of the level of effort that went into this game.

Fox took great care with each aspect of UNDERTALE, from the way you play to what you listen to as you play. It isn’t “just” a game; it’s a demonstration of how video games can become a form of art, using its medium to tell a story.

Whether or not you feel strongly about how a game should look, there is no denying the strength of the story it tells and the way that the characters are handled. Even with its retro appearance, UNDERTALE manages to incorporate a rich story with a strong message:

To figure out what you need to take from it.

That’s right! I can’t tell you what the message is because the message is different for every person! Let me remind you, the sole focus of the game is CHOICE. You choose how you want to play, you choose who you talk to, and you choose the lesson that you want to take from it.

All I can tell you is that you should play UNDERTALE.

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