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.

 

The Fall of Nintendo’s Core Gaming

I’ve been a fan of Nintendo for about 15 years now. I’ve seen the way they they’ve changed their games from era to era, console to console. It’s also interesting to see the things that have not changed. The company is still the king of unique first party titles. They deliver bright, colorful, fantastical stories and worlds.  When one thinks of Nintendo they think of mushrooms, princesses, stars and things related. In the distant past they’ve bordered on only having games for core gamers (the ones who go down to Gamestop and invest hours into each game) and also for the whole family such as Mario Party. The company kept a balance, but they didn’t forget that they were a video game company first and foremost in making quality single player (and multiplayer) experiences. What’s the purpose of  a video game? Generally speaking, I believe the purpose is to challenge the player to complete some sort of quest. On another note, there’s also party games, racing games, fighting games and sport games, all of which the major companies have.

But the core thing is to generally challenge the player, young or old, and to throw them in an unknown world. The goal is to complete the adventure, whether it be saving the world, rescuing the princess, or becoming the world champion. Nintendo has delivered these things in different formats very well over the years. Of course as you probably noticed I used the term “distant past” to describe Nintendo’s practices. That’s because I believe the company has truly fallen short these past years.

Recently it was announced that the upcoming STAR FOX ZERO would be including a mode called “Invincibility.” Basically, it will make the Arwing invulnerable, granting players the ability to fast-blast the level. I couldn’t help but laugh and shake my head at this. Let’s think about it for a second: the game is literally giving you a cheat code. It’s telling the player that if this is too hard for you, here, take a pass. You might tell me that just because it’s there doesn’t mean I, or anyone else, have to use it. True. The thing is that it shouldn’t be there at all. A kid playing is given an option to defeat the level without overcoming anything. This defeats the purpose of a challenge to be overcome. The fact that it’s there encourages the easy way out when something seems too hard.

Star Fox Zero Release Date Announced

Let’s say you’re faced with an exam. It’s truly tough and you’re having a hard time completing it. Instead of the student learning to study harder, the teacher decides to give you the answers, guaranteeing a pass. Does this ever happen? Should it happen? Of course not. Things like “Invincible Mode” encourages no hard work. Back in the day you had games like Yoshi’s Island and Mario Sunshine. These games didn’t have invincibility modes. The players, whether they be kid or adult, had to learn to overcome each stage every time they got stuck. There was no “holding the player’s hand.”

If Zero was the only game with this type of mode I wouldn’t have too much of a problem. The thing is that this has been a practice of Nintendo for years now and has become a staple for the company. In New Super Mario Bros. Wii (7 years ago) after losing eight lives the game offers the player a “Super Guide.” Basically if they use it the game shows the player how to beat the obstacle. Instead of the player using their head, the game offers a cheat. Super Mario Galaxy 2, one of the finest platformers ever made, sadly utilizes this concept and takes it a step further. If the player chooses to gain the help of a “Cosmic Spirit,” it will literally possess Mario and propel him to the end on auto-pilot. In Yoshi’s Woolly World the game constantly reminds you that you have “badges” to help make the already easy game, easier. You wouldn’t find this stuff on the Gamecube.

This isn’t only limited to Mario games. In SONIC LOST WORLD for Wii U and 3DS it allows the player to skip segments after losing a number of times. You’ll pretty much never find this on any Playstaion or Xbox game. Of course, the actual Nintendo games are usually of quality despite having that Super Guide option. Even then, those quality games are becoming rarer since the company has put their attention elsewhere. Where did this begin? With the Wii.

vg.consoles.01.lg

The Wii was revolutionary for introducing motion control to the world of gaming. While on the onset it was a brilliant idea, it would be the start of Nintendo’s downfall. Why? Because with motion control Nintendo started to shift away from core gameplay experiences to things like Wii Fit. Now there’s nothing wrong with having a game like the Fit, (it does have great benefits) but the problem is that starting there is when the company began to be known not by its games, but by its gimmicks. This isn’t the main negative aspect however. The really awful aspect starting with the Wii is that Nintendo had become known for being squarely aimed at non-gamer children. Remember the game Transformers: War for Cybetron? It was ported to the Wii under the title “Cybertron Adventures,” a severely watered-down version. The Wii also featured the largest amount of shovelware and Z rank games to date. You wouldn’t find low budget entries like those on the PS3 or Xbox 360. Things like these alienated gamers from Nintendo. (Why should a Wii owner get a lesser version of the same game?) The company still hasn’t quite recovered from the Wii era.

Nintendo also seems to really dislike the internet and competitive scene. Leaderboards and player rankings have been virtually nonexistent. One would imagine with its latest console, the Wii U and its biggest fighting game to date, Super Smash Bros., they would implement a leaderboard system like how Capcom is doing it with Street Fighter V. But we didn’t get that. (At least Pokken features a ranking system, though not in-depth.) The servers are almost seamless on all PS4 and Xbox One games. The peer-to-peer system of Smash can often be full of lag, making some battles online almost unplayable. What could be worst however is how the company interacts with its fanbase, which is basically nonexistent. Their secretive policies in Mario Maker for example shows that they have no idea how to communicate with their own fans.

Nintendo is so out of the loop with how to market products that many people still don’t know that the Wii U is completely separate from the Wii. I was talking to someone not too long ago and when I inquired about the U he thought it was just another version of the Wii. The U is one of Nintendo’s worst selling consoles to date for this very reason. While it has stepped away from some of the failures of the Wii, it hasn’t reached the greatness of the Gamecube and its predecessors in delivering consistent, quality content. A running joke which is still going is a lack of third party support. Ubisoft have said in the past they wouldn’t release more exclusives until the system sold more units. Sadly, Nintendo has thrown itself into a hole which could take quite awhile to get out of. The sad thing is that they don’t seem to care!

The Wii U has been out for just four years and Nintendo is already prepping release for their next home console. This is their not so subtle way of saying the U was a failure. The company is so set on Miis and Ambiibo gimmicks that they’ve forgotten what gamers want to play. A prime example of this is the upcoming 3DS Metroid game, Federation Force. Instead of giving us the next Samus Aran installment after 6 years, we’re getting  a 4 player co-op where she isn’t even a focus! (The first trailer received over 25,000 dislikes on YouTube day one.) The company doesn’t seem to understand that this is not something a fan wants to invest hours into.

From the NES to the Gamecube, the company was in its prime. Since the Wii the company has moved away from its earlier practices. The Wii alienated many people a couple of years in as it started to focus on other areas than delivering quality gameplay. That’s not to say every game was bad, because the console houses some truly fine additions. There’s more mediocre than positive however. The continuing usage of a “Super Guide” and “Invincibility Mode” shows that Nintendo isn’t in the same mindset as the Yoshi’s Island days. The Wii U doesn’t look to pick up as already the NX is being released in the near future. Nintendo was once a company which delivered consistent, fantastic games which made the player smile and challenge them to overcome obstacles. Now I’m inclined to say their competitors are better at being video game companies. The sales showcase this too, for Nintendo has been in decline since the Wii U has failed to sell as much as the PS4 and Xbox One. (To put this in perspective, it took the U 3 years to sell 10 million units, while the PS4 and Xbox One only 1 year!)

Wii-U-LogoI don’t think Nintendo is going to regain the respect of gamers anytime soon. Maybe the NX will change things. (That’s the hope anyway.) If the company can start delivering quality content consistently from the start and slowly move away from its Mii, family party-centered practices it can happen. Again, there’s definitely nothing wrong with having gimmick or party-like games. Families should be playing together. The company however should put their focus in making challenging installments for the main buyers of a video game console, the gamers.