A Solid New Experience
In the current climate of socially intertwined personalities , people tend to have the propensity to judge games based on the influence of agenda infused "merit".
Undertale is the de facto example of deluded opinion. Dissecting the game is never easy, given that there are heavy influences of criticism with underlying motives. This will be my attempt to break down Undertale without being distracted by it's meme fodder, hopefully there will be no influence in my perception of its quality.
Undertale is a game that has been criticized as social propaganda. There is no allusion to this. Frequently referred to as "Tumblrtale", the narrative has been suggested as to appease a certain sort of demographic. This is not really true, in my humble opinion. This may be a spoiler, but the game challenges the RPG design trope of "grinding"...in essence, it translates the game design choice of defeating multitudes of enemies for the resources of "leveling up" and progress into personal choice of purpose. Is grinding enemies in a universe with strict continuity a matter of genocide, or is it excusable under the context of detachment from the chronicle? The game has a morality. The difference between a rpg like Undertale and something like Final Fantasy 6 is that Undertale attempts to push it's questioning of it's morality as a almost but not quite fourth wall breaking expose, as opposed to a serial storyline arc within the odyssey.
From a visual perspective, the game has took comparisons to something akin as Earthbound. It is a cartoonish retro look that seems heavily influenced by the early SNES title. Where the game contrasts is most of the characters have a modernized “hyper trendy” look that reflects on a current year hipster look. For a better analogy. If Earthbound was created as a artistic interpretation of a adolescent child's view of the world, then this would be that child grown up in their early twenties. This is likely what added to hitching this game to the Tumblr culture bandwagon. While it may portay characters with trendy clothes, facial piercings, and brightly colored hair, that is where the influence ends. Do not worry, the game does not have characters discussing real world issues like veganism, feminism, race issues or anything of the like. The game simply parodies the visual aesthetic of youth culture.
As far as adventuring in the “dungeons” of Undertale, this is where the visuals are kind of a let down. Since the game takes place entirely underground, the game has a lot of black. Black backgrounds galore. I think the game would have been better with more color. It feels like a old Amiga game sometimes and takes me out of the experience.
Undertale has been criticized of just not having that "core gaming experience". To fully analyze this, we should take a look at the strategic concepts of turn based RPGs. Undertale utilizes a sort of bullet time combat system. Below the standard Dragon Quest-esque field POV of seeing you enemies, there is a box with fun little minigames that replaces the standard “FIGHT MAGIC ITEM” action list. You have to either dodge, avoid, interact with, or utilize in some other fashion a way to conduct a very unorthodox approach to standard turnbased rpg mechanics. It works very well, and it is surprising it has not been thought of earlier. It is actually the most subtle event that Undertale outshines and shows superiority over classic turn based JRPGs. There is interaction, there is surprise, there is a sense of wanting to see all sorts of interaction, as opposed to just selecting from a list in hopes to find the correct response to a attack or defense. It is more influential than anyone has really caught on yet. The guessing game system of how to react to enemies and appeasing the non-violent paragon of peace option is also interesting. In summary, the combat system for a RPG is interesting and very innovative.
Here is where the negatives lie, The world of Undertale, with the exception of the memorable storyline participating characters, is empty. Sidequests are minimal, and NPCs, while silly and garnering visual attention...do not really contribute to the overall thematic understanding of the universe. It all feels too loose and not cohesive. To parallel this thought, most of the puzzles are not challenging, and just feels like padding. This alone creates a very inconsistent experience.
For every story beat and deep moral soul searching moment, there is times of uninspired exploration and undetailed world building. While the game does present a moral query on the existence of the people in it's world, it does not quite exactly seem to know what the world these inhabitants live in exactly is. Its a very juxtaposed creation, where you are enticed, yet drawn away and coherced by the promise of beleaguered ingenuity.
Overall, I would have to recommend Undertale. It is a tasty treat, although it is covered in a lot of unappealing froth in which you have to exhibit effort to dig into, but once you do, you will find a game packed with charm and originality, which are exactly what has made this game such a breakout hit.