Re-inventing the RPG genre in truly spectacular fashion

21st March 2016

It's pretty telling that the last blog I wrote about videogames was nine months ago. I mean, I know I've been really, really crap with writing blogs lately, but that doesn't change the fact that not only have I not really had time to play videogames much in the past year, there's not really been anything that's grabbed my attention enough to warrant writing about.

Fallout 4 was great, but more of the same, while Metal Gear Solid: The Phantom Pain had interesting gameplay but a pretty below-par story that left me disappointed.

Undertale had been recommended to me several times before I actually got around to playing it for the first time a couple of weeks ago, but it took a while for me to really understand what the game was about. It doesn't market itself very well – the art style is a little trite in the Steam screenshots and, as pixel art goes, it's not the best. Granted, it's supposed to be a little bit of a throwback to Earthbound - a comparison that becomes ever more prevelant as you begin to play – but on the surface, it's not very pretty.

On reflection this was totally unfair for me to judge as there are sequences in the game which use some very nice effects and are nothing short of beautiful. And although it isn't immediately obvious what the game is about, it's because it's probably the freshest, most unique RPG for quite some time.

The battle system is nothing short of genius. Bullet hell is not a genre you'd expect to see in an RPG but it works incredibly well and honestly I can see variations becoming more common. Every single enemy battle is unique, with different obstacles and actions for victory, and this is where the Earthbound comparisons inevitably begin. Like Shigesato Itoi's timeless masterpiece, there's a sense of humour, charm, humility and sadness that strikes through the very core of Undertale, and there are very few – if any – other games that truly make you feel guilty for killing your enemies instead of sparing them, and this is largely due to the unique personalities of each monster that have been so carefully crafted – from the pun-cracking skeleton Sans to the motherly Toriel and everyone in between.

At a base level, the story isn't that original – a human gets trapped in a world of monsters and has to make his way out – but the deep lore and the sheer amount of thought and creativity that has gone into making the world so charming is incredible, and although the main story is fairly short at only around 5 hours long, the various decisions, challenging nature and fun boss battles provide enough content for multiple playthroughs. The game remembers every single decision or action you take, even if you die or reset, which really helps immerse you into the world like few other games do, and the final boss is hilarious, terrifying and satisfying all at the same time.

Undertale is more than just an Earthbound-inspired RPG, it's a reinvention of the genre as a whole and a message to the whole industry: people don't want the same old crap. As the phenomenal success of this game proves, people want something fresh, original, something that makes them think.

I am revisiting my game of the year for 2015 – Fallout 4 has fallen, but Undertale is rightfully deserving of its place.