Thursday, November 10, 2016

My Videogame Club: Undertale

By Patrick Hawes-DeFrias
Each week I meet up with a group of friends to play through a game that at least one of us never had the opportunity to play. On this particular instance, I was the only one who hadn't touched the game.  My friends had talked about Undertale plenty of times, but I'd always held off on it. Well, on a whim we booted it up one day, and I can safely say it's one of the best RPG's ever. The very best? Well, that's hard to say, but I know it's going to be one of my most memorable gaming experiences... which is why I'm not going to talk too much about it. This is a game that I feel everyone should play, so I don't want to give anything away. I will talk about my experience with the game, but I'm going to be a bit vague. If you want to play the game yourself, it's available on Steam and Undertale's official website, where there’s a demo available. So give that a shot if anything below interests you.

The first thing that really stood out to me was the art style. It closely resembles SNES-era RPG's, especially Earthbound/Mother 2. Everything is, for the most part, in that simple Earthbound art style. Colors are crisp, sprites are well-detailed, and it's very clear what everything is supposed to be while at the same time allowing for the player to fill in details with their own imagination. This style aids in navigation as well- there's a very definitive fire area, water area, and so forth just as older RPG's tended to do. So, if you decide to backtrack in the game for any reason, you have the benefit of knowing exactly where you are at any time. However, the art style will alter in a couple key points in order to fit a different mood, though I can't talk about them here without giving anything away.

The gameplay is very simple. Throughout the world are puzzles that must be solved in order to progress, and there are battles. The battles are actually puzzles in and of themselves. The main gimmick of this game is that nobody has to get hurt. You can kill your opponents, but you can also try to reason with them. In either situation, when it’s the enemy’s turn to fight you move to a board reminiscent of a top-down shoot-em-up, where you have to dodge projectiles to survive. Sometimes, the rules will change for certain boss fights, but that’s the basic idea behind the system. It’s simple and engaging, and while it does require fair reflexes and concentration for later fights, it doesn’t require expert gaming skills, per se. My guess is that this was intended to be a game anyone can play. You probably shouldn’t have Dark Souls be the first game you ever play. You NEED to know how videogames work, general combat strategies from similar games, resource management, and so forth to really be able to approach that game. Undertale, however, would be a pretty good choice. If you can recognize patterns and have at least decent reflexes, you can reach the end of the game.

The music, you can't talk about this game without discussing the music. Why? Well, the creator of this game, Toby Fox, is a composer most known for his work on the Homestuck series. In addition to making the game, he also produced the soundtrack. As such, the music is one of the most important parts of this game's tone. Every track in this game conjures up a certain mood for each scene it's tied to, whether it be somber, goofy, awkward, heroic, and so on. Much like the art style, the music tends to be reminiscent of SNES-era games. In fact, audiophiles might notice sounds in the music very similar to pieces from their favorite games. I'm not sure if Toby Fox actually used the sound fonts of other classic games to do this or not, but the effect remains the same- it makes the game sound as "classic" as it looks. Much like the art style, there are scenarios where this style is dropped to fit a cerrtain mood. In terms of the actual style of the music, it's very eclectic. I noticed jazz, rock, orchestral-emulated, a few songs that'd be right at home in an anime, even a song that reminded me of the background music for Rugrats. Once you hear this OST, I guarantee you won't be forgetting it anytime soon.

The story of this game... It’s really simple, though there are some interesting twists here and there. However, the truly remarkable thing about this game’s story is how it’s told. This is a game that takes into consideration pretty much everything you do. Responses to what characters say, how you defeat monsters, even what items you’re using will impact what characters say to you. The game actually notes certain things you do when you save, so if you do something, then reload the game to try it again a different way, characters might react as if they’re experiencing deja vu. It’s all very meta. By the end of this game you’ll be seeing video games in a different light. Now, the reason the game can get away with something like this is because it’s fairly short as RPG’s go. It took my group a few days to beat it, but that’s mostly because we had complicated schedules. If you buckled down and went at it as much as possible, you could possibly see everything this game has to see in a day or two. But, that just means that it’s a very focused experience, which is pretty refreshing in today’s gaming market.
Also, the writing’s full of puns, which I appreciate.

The last thing I want to talk about is the characters. As I said before, Undertale is pretty short. As such, there aren’t very many characters to speak of. But, the ones that are there are very well developed and memorable as a result. I can safely say that I know and can describe every main character in the story off the top of my head. The fact that the game’s characters are that memorable is a big accomplishment. There’s also plenty of side-characters in towns and such, many of whom don’t even get names. But everyone’s got something interesting or funny to say, so even if you don’t remember them you’ll probably remember some of their lines. Keep in mind that you can reason with the monsters you fight, and while they all have something to say as well, some are just more memorable than others.

And there you have it, Undertale in a nutshell without any spoilers. I can’t recommend this game enough. At least give the demo a shot.

c’mon, don’t be a bonehead.



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