There were so many excellent experiences and fantastic memories to be had with video games in 2015. For some it was roaming the wasteland in Fallout 4, or finally reuniting Geralt and Ciri in The Witcher 3 Wild Hunt, or even flying through space with the perfectly rendered VHS pause screen in Galak-Z. For us this year, it was Undertale, and all that came with it. Narrowing down what Undertale even is as well as all the weight and possibility it holds is in itself a daunting task.
Undertale, surface level, appears as a simple homage to a lot of what Earthbound did, including the quirky lovable characters, the oddly shaped main hero, and the standard turn-based RPG fighting system. Looking past that, you see a lot of heart and, above all, determination that fills the lovely core of Toby Fox’s title. It’s a game about people, and what they do, and about their very nature. Beyond that it resonates with almost all who play it; it really worked for all of us on Irrational Passions Podcast, effecting all of us in different ways, and sticking with our hearts for totally different reasons.
One such reason is the immense spectrum of ways to approach the title. For the first time in an RPG like this, you can actually play through the entire game without killing enemies or grinding for experience. You can conquer all the challenges of Undertale by finding a peaceful, blood-free solution. And that is just an excuse, really, for you to be humbled to your knees by the lovable nature of Undertale’s people. The monsters banished to the underground long ago by humans aren’t terrifying creatures of the night, but more so loveable misfits that don’t have a place in the world. All the main cast are relatable in many ways, and their relationships with you and the other misfits you meet along the way tie together in a real and significant manner.
And therein lies the heart of Undertale. To be so unendingly human in an inhuman world seems like just the right kind of irony for this seemingly goofy game. But dig a little deeper, and take look at the dark side of Undertale. The side where you go through the world slaughtering anything and everything you see, truly taking on the moniker of a murderer. You can kill the random enemies until there are no random enemies left to kill. You’re so dangerous that enemies will beg you for mercy, or jokingly offer you the “MERCY” option that you so desperately need in the corresponding pacifist playthrough. And digging deeper into that reveals secrets laid hidden in the very code of Undertale, revealing hidden characters and sections of dialogue leading to a person who truly erased themselves from existence.
Undertale knows when you game it, recognizing reloading saves, multiple playthroughs, and even can ruin a save file forever if you choose to commit the act of genocide in its world. It’s a game that does things and tells a story in a way that truly only video games can do. It is wonderful and funny, while also telling an involved story wrapped up in a fascinating and multi-layered package. The depth of Undertale is obvious from maybe the beginning of its second hour, and only sinks in deeper and deeper as the story continues.
I love Undertale, but moreover I love what it does and how it does it. It has style, finesse, and beauty, all in the most unconventional of ways. It creates its own world that is simultaneously believable and unbelievable, and it makes you care more than you’d first believe. It is one hell of a game of the year, and one that will surely be like no other that follows.