Undertale – Masterpiece or Overrated?

Flowey the flower

Undertale. When one mentions that title, fond memories come to mind, or the thought, “That game again?” Indeed, since its release in 2015, Undertale has become something of a phenomenon in the gaming world. Created by Toby Fox, Undertale is a sprite-based RPG that has the look of an oldschool RPG like Earthbound. The game was so big on PC, it was ported to PS4 two years later. This past September, it was ported over to Nintendo Switch. The game has a very loyal fanbase, with tons of fan art and animations populating the web.

When anything becomes this popular, people will emerge saying the media in question is overrated. Many of these people have never played the game, yet will cringe when anyone mentions it by name. (It is similar to the My Little Pony phenomenon that began in 2010 and continues to this day.) These people who jump in forums to say something negative just because the title is poplar do not contribute anything.

Do not mistake me though. While there are many people who despise popular things just because they are popular, there are  those who legitimately think something is overrated. In Undertale’s case, perhaps some may say it is not as good as people claim, or it got overblown in popularity simply because it has quirky characters. That is the aim of this article: to explore Undertale and see if it is a masterpiece, or greatly exaggerated in quality. Before continuing, it is important to note that one thing cannot be denied: it is an acclaimed title. Every version of the game – PC, PS4, Switch – has a score of 92 on Metacritic. This means that many critics agree the game is well made. What we’ll be looking at is what makes Undertale an experience, and if that experience is a good one, or an overrated one.

To begin, one has to go back to the start of the game.

frisk meets flowey

After the intro and choosing a name for the ‘Fallen Human,’ you are given control of the playable character, whom we later learn is named Frisk. The child moves about on a grassy field, and then you can move Frisk into the next area. In this area, there is another grassy field with a little flower in the center of it. The flower has a face, and greets the main character.

“Howdy! I’m Flowey. Flowey the Flower!” the flower says.

I remember my thoughts as I played this opening sequence. The seemingly friendly flower notices that Frisk is new to the Underground. He explains the battle system on another screen. I notice a little heart, which Flowey explains is my SOUL, “the very culmination of your being!” Flowey then mentions that my SOUL begins weak, but can get stronger with LV. Makes sense, right? Flowey then says that LV stands for “LOVE.” Already, the game is playing with the player’s expectations when it comes to an RPG. “LV” would normally mean “level,” but not in Undertale. The next part is what really kicks the game off.

Flowey states that LOVE is shared through “friendliness pellets,” and proceeds to share some with me. I happily run into these pellets, not knowing the flower’s nefarious plan until they decrease my health to just one percent. Flowey gives a sinister smile and says,

“In this world, it’s kill or BE killed. Why would ANYONE pass up an opportunity like this?!”

At this point, I’m shocked by what’s happening. Interestingly, the dialogue changes if one had decided to avoid the so-called friendliness pellets. It is interesting to consider why someone would run into the pellets, or avoid them. Either way, Flowey surrounds me with pellets and proceeds to kill Frisk. However, he is stopped by another character, whom is called Toriel. Toriel takes Frisk to her home away from danger.

At this point, I’m glad, but am a bit unnerved when Toriel later says, “I’ve also prepared a curriculum for your education.” Wait, what? I can’t stay here lady – I gotta get back home. After requesting how to escape the RUINS, Toriel tries to convince me not to go and goes on ahead to block the exit. However, I have to push forward. Toriel says, “Prove to me you are strong enough to survive”, and thus begins the first boss battle. Because I liked Toriel, I tried to find a away to spare her, because the beauty of this game is that it offers a “Mercy”, button, where you don’t have to kill an opponent. Undertale’s tagline is, “The friendly RPG where nobody has to die.”

Sadly, I did not find a a way to spare Toriel, and ended up killing her. (It didn’t occur to me that I could reset my save file to try again, which is a concept that will be mentioned soon.) After exiting the RUINS, I see Flowey again. I remember my exact thought during this: “Not that thing again.” After Flowey taunts the player, he leaves, and Frisk leaves to the next area. This is where the title screen pops up. This is where the adventure begins.

Simply put, the opening act of Undertale is an engaging way to begin the adventure.

Frisk meets sans

The main goal of Undertale at first is to escape the Underground. However, to escape, Frisk will have to battle King Asgore. You see, as the intro sequence explains, there was a war between monsters and humans. The monsters, led by Asgore, were driven underground. Now there is a barrier, and the only way to break it is with seven human souls. Asgore has six already, so if he gets the soul of Frisk, the monsters will be able to return to the above-ground. It is an interesting dynamic, as monsters are not inherently evil. This dynamic results in a fascinating sequence at the end of the neutral run, which will be addressed soon. But first, one has to mention the characters Frisk runs into along the way.

During the journey, Frisk meets a number of diverse characters, such as the humorous, yet mysterious Sans, Sans’ corny, yet lovable brother Papyrus, the “The heroine that NEVER gives up” Undyne, among others. These characters have diverse personalities, which is thanks to the writing. I couldn’t help but smirk at Papyrus’ dialogue, or be unnerved at Metteton’s love for an entertaining show. Toby Fox is a master of creating likable, well defined characters. One is never tempted to skip the text boxes, because the player always wants to see what they will say next.

Undertale’s cast of characters is unique and diverse.

flowey mercy or fight

So what’s the deal with a game where no one has to die, you might ask. This is where the true beauty lies in Undertale, and is something that makes the player ask philosophical questions. It is almost always easier to kill enemies and opponents than it is to have mercy on them. It often takes passion to look for ways to spare a character. Killing characters has an impact on the story as well, showing how much thought was put into this game. You have a choice: kill or have mercy.

In the battle against Asgore, the player gets extremely close to finishing the king off. As Asgore kneels defeated, he gives his story on why he wants to free monsters. It’s emotional, and at this point, the game gives the player the choice of whether to finish him off, or have mercy. After hearing his story, how could one still be motivated to kill him? I picked the mercy option, and the king was surprised and happy. However, something else kills him, and Flowey emerges. After taunting dialogue, such as Flowey saying he’ll save over my save file so he can kill me multiple times, you battle the final boss of the neutral run, Photoshop Flowey. I want to discuss the aftermath of this fight.

After the souls revolt, Flowey is defeated. We see a picture of him battered and bruised. At this point, the game gives you the option to either kill or have mercy. I’ll tell you, I very much wanted to kill that flower. As opposed to Asgore, whom wasn’t really a bad guy, Flowey was a psychopath. He wanted to kill me at the start of the game, and he tortured and taunted me during this battle with him. I was ready to kill him, but I knew mercy was there as an option. But why would I have mercy on something that has caused me so much pain?

Here’s the thing, if you do decide to kill Flowey, he looks at you with a deranged smile and says, “I knew you had it in you!” before dying. At this point, does the player feel accomplished, or a bit melancholy? Was killing Flowey the right thing?

I decided to go the mercy route. Why? You see, Flowey’s philosophy is that “it’s kill or be killed.” By having mercy on him, I am showing that actually, there is true love and mercy in the world. It doesn’t have to be “kill or be killed.” Here’s something to think about. When first picking the mercy option on Flowey, it doesn’t end the event. You have to keep going to the mercy option. In-between, Flowey will say, “Do you really think I’ve learned anything from this? No”, “I’ll come back,” “I’ll kill you, ” “I’ll kill everyone,” “I’ll kill everyone you love.” During all this, you still have the option to stop pressing mercy, and kill him. The game challenges you as Flowey says these things; are you DETERMINED to be a merciful person? Are you DETERMINED to showcase a philosophy that is the opposite of his? As you press mercy, Flowey becomes angry and questions what the player is doing; he doesn’t understand. I think this is one of the most fascinating encounters in gaming history.

Undertale forces the player to take a stance: have mercy, or kill. Are you willing to have mercy on the worst kind of person, someone whom has wronged you? It’s much easier to finish that person off than have mercy. Are you willing to go the extra mile and take a merciful stance? Are you DETERMINED to do so?

photoshop flowey

Undertale’s story is certainly interesting, but how about its actual gameplay? In order to be critically acclaimed, you must have good gameplay. Undertale’s gameplay is unique in that it avoids the usual RPG format. You control a heart in real-time and avoid enemy fire. It’s fun, and led to some great boss encounters. The battle against Photoshop Flowey is one of the most memorable boss fights in recent history. This is helped by the glorious soundtrack. I think it would be hard for anyone to deny that Undertale has a good soundtrack. From the fan favorite ‘Megalovania,’ to the ominous ‘Another medium,’ a major part of what makes Undertale engaging is its soundtrack. ‘Finale’ and ‘Hopes and Dreams’ are two beautiful final boss themes.

Undertale’s gameplay is fun. The boss encounters are interesting, and the soundtrack greatly enhances the experience.

 

True Final boss

Now we come to what makes Undertale a truly complete experience. After you beat the game the first time around, you can do it again to get the true ending. By going back and having mercy on everyone and completing certain things, you gain access to the true final boss and true ending, the “True Pacifist Route” as it’s called. Here you encounter Flowey again. He absorbs the souls of everyone and transforms into a dark final boss in the vein of Sephiroth from Final Fantasy VII. This battle is a fascinating final encounter. It even says, “It’s the end.”

You see, the battle is reminiscent of the final battle in Earthbound. In Earthbound, you battle Giygas. You can’t beat him conventionally. Instead, you have to “pray.” There is no other way to beat him, except through the power of prayer. In Undertale, you can’t beat Flowey conventionally. Instead, you first have to “save” the souls of those he has consumed. Finally, you have to “save” Flowey himself. Flowey’s backstory is fascinating, and here we have Frisk appealing to Flowey. Flowey, seeing the love all these souls have for Frisk, and his own past memories with the Fallen Human, gives up and breaks the barrier. It’s bittersweet, as Flowey (real name Asriel) stays behind because he will transform into a soulless flower again. At this point, Frisk is given the choice to hug Asriel. It’s an emotional ending.

Sans

However, what happens if instead of having mercy on everyone, you decide to kill everyone in the game? This results in the “Genocide Route,” and Frisk eventually being taken over by Chara, the original Fallen Human. This is intriguing, and features an incredibly memorable battle against Sans. Here’s the really interesting thing: if you do a Genocide run before doing a True Pacifist run, you will lose the Pacifist ending. Instead of getting the happy ending, in the sequence we see red Xs on the characters faces in a portrait, and later Chara laughing at the player. This is brilliant, because it shows that there are consequences for completing a genocide route. You can’t go back and save everyone after killing them. Rather, you have to live with the fact that you decided to engage in the Genocide route, and there’s no going back.

Undertale’s True Pacifist Route is a brilliant final chapter. The game gives you the option: pacifist, or genocide. There is no middle ground here, there is only one final ending, and you have the choice of either having mercy, or killing everyone.

Ending

In conclusion, I have to say that Undertale is a great experience. I would call it a masterpiece – with its engrossing story, unique gameplay, diverse characters, and philosophy. The game is something of a deconstruction of the RPG genre, and comes down to a single question: What is your true DETERMINATION? If one does not experience the game the same way, that is fine. Not everyone will find Undertale to be the unique experience I consider it to be. A little while ago, I played the critically acclaimed game, Journey. Although I knew it to be well-liked, I didn’t get anything out of it. It didn’t mean anything to me. But, it meant a lot to others, and that’s what matters. Undertale is not a game that is loved by everyone, but it does mean something to a lot of people. That is something important to keep in mind.

There are many games out there, but I can say that Undertale is one that will always stick with me as particularly memorable.

 

Super Mario Odyssey Review

SuperMarioOdyssey_-_NA_boxart

Super Mario. Those two words mean a lot of things for many people. For some, it references the nostalgic days of playing Super Mario Bros. on the NES in the 80s. For others, it’s about modern installments such as going through the new arrivals list in Super Mario Maker. And then for the rest, it’s a constant reminder of what quality platforming looks like. Super Mario Bros. was not the first video game, but it set the standard of what a quality platforming adventure is all about. In fact, Mario has been in the business of setting standards in the video game industry. First with Super Mario Bros., then with Super Mario 64 which defined 3D platforming going forward. This year marks a special time for Nintendo. The company released its latest console, the Switch, in March. Just as with any Nintendo home console, a new main Mario game was announced. That game was Super Mario Odyssey.

When Mario was jumping over barrels in 8-bit form while Mayor Pauline sang the now iconic ‘Jump Up, Superstar!’ at New Donk City, it was at that moment I knew that Super Mario Odyssey was a revolution. Not only was it a revolution, it was a celebration of what has made Super Mario the face of video gaming as a whole. It takes the concept of previous platformers, specifically Super Mario Sunshine and Super Mario 64, and delivers an exciting experience for the current generation. As you walk up the stairs of the dark Ruined Kingdom, and later rush into the wedding hall for the final showdown, you know that Odyssey will go down as a legend.

“In the skies above Peach’s castle…” the text says as you start a new game. We’re then shown as exciting  sequence of Mario doing battle with Bowser atop the latter’s airship as Princess Peach hangs in the balance. Bowser in his new wedding tuxedo manages to hit Mario with his top hat, and the hero falls a great distance. Mario’s hat is shredded by the airship’s propeller, and soon we meet Cappy. The opening isn’t quite as thematic as the intro to the first Super Mario Galaxy, but it still nicely sets up the story. So, Mario meets a little ghost whom can transform into different hats and “possess” other characters. It turns out that Bowser also kidnapped Cappy’s sister, so he and Mario have a common goal: stop Bowser’s wedding with Peach. Cap Kingdom serves as a great tutorial area as the player gets to know Mario’s controls (anyone who has played Super Mario 64 will feel right at home) and how Cappy works. Let’s discuss Cappy for a bit.

Some part of me was worried that the game would rely too much on Cappy’s “capture” ability. This ability was heavily featured in marketing. It looked fun, but at the same time, if the game relied too much on the gimmick, some of the quality platforming could be lost. This is not the case. Cappy is used to enhance the experience and provide unique ways to go through the levels. From Mario becoming a frog in Cap Kingdom, to becoming a Banzai Bill to break through stone blocks, Cappy is smartly utilized. I haven’t mentioned how thrilling it is to become a Tyrannosaurus Rex or to swim through the water as a Cheep Cheep. Cappy is also utilized greatly in the boss fights, such as possessing a Gushen to blast water at Mollusque-Lanceur, and having Madame Broode’s golden Chain Chomp ram into her. Also, there’s almost nothing as satisfying as reigning down blows on Bowser with the Koopa King’s own hat.

Mario Lake

The boss battles are well designed and a lot of fun. Who can forget taking control of Knucklotec’s fist and then ramming it into his face? How about using a tank to blast away the MechaWiggler that’s wreaking havoc in the Metro Kingdom? I’ll never forget those, but perhaps the most epic was the fight against the Lord of Lightning atop the Ruined Kingdom. This was an example of showing how realistic graphics can exist in a Mario game. The Broodal fights are simplistic, but fun. Typically, the boss battles aren’t too difficult. This is understandable because the Mario series has been known for being accessible for all ages. Whereas a game like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild might attract older players, the Mario series attracts audiences of all ages. The boss fights, while not too difficult, are unique and provide a memorable experience. The final Bowser battle provides some good challenge and patterns to memorize.

As with previous Mario games, the worlds in Super Mario Odyessey are incredible. Whereas Sunshine and Galaxy are limited by theme, Odyssey holds no limitations. We have the standard grassland in the form of Cascade Kingdom, the frosty Snow Kingdom, the food-themed Luncheon Kingdom, the New York City-inspired Metro Kingdom, among other fantastic worlds. These worlds are a nice size. They are not too big where players feel like they’ll never get all the moons. (None of the worlds are as annoyingly daunting as Hazy Maze Cave from Super Mario 64.) A fantastic soundtrack accompanies the kingdoms. From the soft Lake Kingdom theme to the intense Lost Kingdom theme, the music is a treat. And of course, ‘Jump Up, Superstar!’ is an absolute masterpiece. As a whole, the soundtrack might not be as strong as the Mario Galaxies’, but it’s still fantastic.

Finally, Odyssey is full of special surprises. I had a blast going through the short 8-bit sequences, which are an incredible throwback to Super Mario Bros., reminding the player when Super Mario began. I already mentioned the incredible sequence with 8-bit Mario jumping over barrels and eventually defeating DK as a homage to Mario’s first ever appearance in the arcade game, Donkey Kong. There is also this atmosphere of grand gameplay never before seen in the franchise. No one will forget when Mario turned into Lord of the Rings as the player faced a dragon at the Ruined Kingdom. Maybe even more epic was the Moon Kingdom, doing an even better job at putting Mario in space than the Galaxies. (The ominous wedding bells were excellent.)

It’s here in the Moon Kingdom when the game features a Metroid-like escape climax. As the characters break through blocks to escape as the beautiful song ‘Honeylune Ridge: Escape’ plays, it’s at this moment when the player realizes this might not just be the greatest Mario game, it might be the greatest game ever made. That’s why the final scene is a letdown. To really finalize the epic experience, the game should have had Mario tie the knot with Peach. The game plays around with that idea, but then it doesn’t happen. It’s a shame and insulting to over 30 years of the characters’ relationship. After such an epic climax, it’s too bad the game ended on a comedic note.

Mario vs. dragon

Overall, Super Mario Odyssey should be remembered as one of the greatest games of this generation. The kingdom designs are diverse and engaging. You will not want to put down the controller. Cappy is the new F.L.U.D.D., and he’s just as smartly utilized as the water hose. There’s so much else to love about this game. It’s inviting and enthralling, not to mention epic. The callbacks to older games is an awesome touch for players who have grown up with the series. Aspects, like the hats/outfits and 8-bit sequences, enhance the experience. The soundtrack is a treat, and features two well done lyrical songs. Replay value is high, because there are over 800 Power Moons to collect. The game ended on a disappointing note, but the worlds, level design and just about everything works together so perfectly that I can’t hold back the perfect score. Super Mario Odyssey joins The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild as one of the finest games Nintendo has ever made.

10/10

Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle Review

KingdomBattle_charactersillustration

The Mario franchise is no stranger to different genres. Platforming is what the series is known for, but there have been many different types of games. There have been sports, RPGs, and even a dancing game on one occasion. Despite all this however, I don’t think many expected Mario to feature in an XCOM-style adventure. That’s the case with Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle. This game was a surprise when it was first announced. Not only is it the hero’s first foray with this kind of battle style, it’s also Mario’s first new game on Nintendo’s latest console, the Switch. Kingdom Battle delivers something special. It’s a unique, fun and sometimes quite challenging game that brings the heavily strategy-based XCOM gameplay into the colorful worlds of Mario and the Rabbids.

The story begins with the Rabbids warping into a human girl’s home. It’s a shame the story never went back there because she being a Mario fan was quite meta. Anyways, the Rabbids eventually warp to the Mushroom Kingdom. Because of one Rabbid’s fiddling of a helmet capable of merging, the Kingdom is now out of whack. Now Mario, the Rabbids and a few other Mushroom heroes go through four worlds to fix the Kingdom. The story is fun and engages the viewer from the start. Of course, part of that enjoyment is going to hinge on the Rabbids. Kids will probably like them, but for older players they can become jarring. Thankfully, the Rabbids never become overbearing. (I’m still wondering why we didn’t get Mario + Rayman instead.)

As fun as the story is, the gameplay is the primary winner here. Chances are if you’ve never played XCOM before, Kingdom Battle might look complex. Kingdom Battle’s gameplay however is quickly understood. By the end of World 1, the player is confident to press on. What makes this style of gameplay truly great is the amount of strategy it requires of the player. Players must make decisions on which weapons to use, which special abilities to implement, (should I heal my guys or make their weapons stronger?) which skills to upgrade, and how to use the environment to their advantage. One example is a battle that featured a Chain Chomp stage hazard. Eventually I figured out that I should use the Chain Chomp to my advantage. Another example of careful strategic planning is a battle that features an environment that circles around. The enemies featured here are mostly powerful Smashers, which do a large amount of damage. They however do not move very far; so players have to carefully maneuver and then attack them.

As one can see, there’s quality strategic play at work in this game. Sadly, quite a few battles are on the easier side. It’s understandable that Kingdom Battle works as an accessible point into the XCOM world, but more battles could have been given a slightly harder push. With that said, the game does feature quite a few genuine challenges that forces players to carefully evaluate their losses and come up with new strategies. When it’s hard, Kingdom Battle is a masterpiece when it comes to strategic play. The final boss heals himself twice, and makes the player ask the questions, “Should I concentrate on the minions and then focus on the boss, or focus all firepower on the boss? Can I do both?” The boss battles are diverse, from Rabbid Kong’s shockwaves to having to turn off the spotlight on Phantom of the Bwahpera.

3279789-mario-rabbids

To switch things up, the gameplay sometimes features “get to the goal” battles. Instead of fighting enemies, the objective is to get to the appointed yellow area. These were a nice change of pace. It especially gets interesting when you have to escort a non-fighter, such as Toad, to the goal without that character being depleted of his/her health.  While battles are the primary part of the game, you will spend a good amount of time exploring the maps. Here Mario and friends go from level to level often looking for secret areas that can yield artwork, new weapons, and other nifty things. You will also solve puzzles of varying difficulty. They are not a bad way to keep that strategic thinking going between battles.

The soundtrack is wonderfully orchestrated. From the tension-filled ‘Into the Pit’ to the epic ‘Bowser Returns,’ the music in this game is well done. It’s a shame there weren’t many Mario remixes, but since this is a crossover game, it makes sense the soundtrack wouldn’t be 100% focused on delivering Mario-specific themes. There are four worlds to trek through. That sounds like a small number, but each world has nine main sections, and they usually are not short. There are many collectibles to find for completionists. As for multiplayer, there are co-op challenges. That’s fine, but it’s shocking that there isn’t a versus mode. How fun would it be to challenge a sibling or friend whom has come over for some strategic play? Ubisoft made a mistake not implementing a competitive mode.

Overall, Mario + Rabbids is an unexpectedly great crossover. The amount of depth to the gameplay is amazing. Many battles you’ll think up different strategies as you see how far an enemy can move. You’ll use the environment to your advantage (while the computers do the same). The characters have diverse weapons and abilities. I personally liked Rabbid Peach’s heal ability and had her on my team. Maybe you will like Rabbid Yoshi’s Gatling gun-type weapon. There are other things to consider, such as skill points, further adding to the depth. More battles with higher difficultly would have been welcome however, and a lack of competitive multiplayer is almost a crime. Despite those things, Kingdom Battle is definitely worth a look, whether or not you’re familiar with XCOM. If you’re not familiar, this game will give you an appreciation for it.

8.5/10