Tag Archives: Undertale

Peace and Love

Hey, that’s not how exploring NPC houses in RPG villages is supposed to work!

While frolicking in mud, I have also managed to pay a visit to a popular underground world. Now that Toby Fox’s breakaway indie hit from a couple of years back finally got a physical console release, it was due time to check out why Undertale enjoys such a widespread fame. Obvious straight from its pixel art intro, it’s a game that pays homage to the wonderful JRPGs of the SNES era. Its premise is as delightfully shoddy as one could expect; humans have once again fought a long battle against monsters that were eventually sealed deep underground. Life is once again peaceful and harmonious. One day the player, a young rascal, ventures into the caves of a nearby mountain, trips and falls into a deep chasm, and ends up in the secluded region of scary monsters. It would be really nice to get back home, but the journey is a long and perilous one, and the first monster encountered makes it absolutely clear that this is a bleak world where one’s fate is either to kill or be killed.

Or is it? The game’s slogan is “the friendly RPG where nobody has to die” and sure enough, what first seems like an uninspired and crude ugly duckling of an RPG ends up transforming into quite an original and emotive little charmer. While traipsing along the corridors of this new dark world, the hero bumps into increasingly peculiar monsters that can be fought in a normal fashion. Battles are turn-based and require a swaying hit meter to be stopped in the center of the screen for most damage. Victories are rewarded with money, experience points, and leveling up just like one would expect.

A more thoughtful player can, however, resolve conflicts by resolving to diplomacy rather than violence. By trying out all sorts of unconventional acts like complimenting, encouraging, or even hugging the foes, the hero can try to make them lose their will to fight and then spare them. While figuring out what works, the only way to defend oneself is to move the player’s soul, represented by a little red heart, away from adversaries’ bullet hell -esque attacks. Easier said than done, especially as pacifism leads to zero experience points gained, meaning that those choosing nonviolence are expected to complete the game eternally stuck as a level one character. No matter the approach, game overs tend to happen but thankfully save points are rather frequent.

Giving prominence to deliberately coarse pixel art but also exceptionally good and varied retro music, the game draws particularly heavily from HAL Laboratory’s SNES classic Earthbound. Undertale is an adventure that aims to charm with pure weirdness. While getting into the bottom of the origins of the feud between humans and monsters, the player bumps into increasingly more peculiar characters, locations, and situations. The path is beset by intentionally crappy puzzles, even crappier puns, and plenty of laughing at all sorts of RPG clichés and, exclusive to the PlayStation version, trophies.

Even if the journey progresses as a tight tunnel, it also features plenty of depth. Many scenarios adapt not only to the general approach of the player but also to the items they carry or the way they have acted in the past. The humorous story that eventually also plucks some emotional strings lasts about six hours and remains highly entertaining throughout. While it’s easy to miss out on some things, the epilogue is kind enough to tell what might still be worth trying, so reloading the final save and doing a bit of backtracking can still provide an hour or two of equally enjoyable post-gaming of sorts.

While Undertale is innately quite niche and mimics Earthbound a bit too blatantly for its own good especially towards the end, it’s still a game that worked well in this gaming household, too. It challenges established RPG conventions in a creative and amusing way, doesn’t outstay its welcome, and is full of just that sort of eccentricity that appeals to players who are broad-minded or simply prefer their experiences a bit different. Jolly good show, Toby, jolly good show!

Not My Sky

Ummm… Yes?

Since I’m always so fashionably up-to-date with my gaming, I recently dwelled into something as fresh as No Man’s Sky. Smitten by hype, I bought the game on its release day almost a year ago, but back then it only managed to entertain for a couple of hours before getting shoved to the back of the shelf. This past year Hello Games has updated its space epic several times, so I decided to see if version 1.38 at least would make this space charting adventure even remotely meaningful. After about 40 hours played, I sadly have to state that this still isn’t the case.

A new game dropped me off on a planet that was almost 750,000 light years away from the artificial goal that is the very center of the universe. After fixing up my dilapidated spaceship using resources gathered with my trusty handheld mining laser, it was time to bid the dusty planet goodbye, launch to its orbit, and start heading out to new and wondrous galaxies. Surely a grand adventure, if only the game remained fresh and surprising. However, once you’ve seen one planet and one star system, you’ve pretty much seen them all.

Each star system consists of a space station and a random number of planets and their moons. On space stations, the player can chat with aliens belonging to three different species, do galactic trade with items and resources, and take on missions rewarded with credits. They include both skirmishes with space pirates as well as various tasks to be done on planets, ranging from repairing broken equipment and locating missing persons to scanning flora or exterminating fauna. When it feels like you’ve seen and experienced everything the system has to offer, various resources can be combined to construct a warp crystal that enables travel to the next star system where… Well, it all begins anew.

The updates have made it possible to create a home base on certain planets, one that can be expanded with a myriad of corridors, rooms, and research stations for which personnel can be recruited from space stations. Also, if slowly walking around planets becomes a chore, the game now features a drivable Exocraft that can be built by developing the home base accordingly. Several light years will, of course, soon separate an avid star traveler and their home base but every space station has a portal that can be used for a quick return. Those into masochism can also challenge the game in a noticeably harder survival mode or even with permadeath enabled.

Despite these little new features, No Man’s Sky remains just plain boring. Its 18 quintillion randomly generated worlds with their randomly generated plants, animals, and habitats are visually distinct but identical in content. The gameplay is insipid repetition of jumping to a new star system only to gather enough resources for yet another warp crystal. The initial ship is only capable of making pathetic jumps of a hundred light years, and even if sporadic wormholes can be used to cover distances 15 times longer than that, it would still take remarkable devotion to reach the center of the universe. Some fun could be salvaged from improving one’s spaceship, spacesuit, and weapon, or trying to learn the languages of the three alien species one word at a time, but No Man’s Sky is still very little else than a humongous bowl of oatmeal that turns all too familiar after a single spoonful. Its platinum trophy only requires hitting an unimaginative and equally repetitious collection of milestones but as for reaching the center of the universe, it never feels like worth the considerable effort.

Thankfully, there’s never a shortage of alternatives. This has been another week of all sorts of interesting releases finding their way to a new home. The visual novel Chaos;Child promises psychological horror, Spintires: Mudrunner is all about big, clunky vehicles challenging impossible terrains, Undertale is supposedly a rather eccentric but also very well-received indie RPG, and Yomawari: Midnight Shadows goes for scares in chibi style. All in all, another jolly and varied late autumn as far as games go!