Undertale in the test - coupling instead of knocking

Author: Manuel Fritsch
Date: 2016-12-24 08:00:00
Our long overdue test of the indie role-playing game reveals why there is so much more to Undertale than is initially visible.

World peace or genocide

Undertale is a tribute to the classic Japanese role-playing games of the NES period and tells the story of a human child who carelessly falls through a crevice on a hike and ends up in a mysterious underworld. There it meets a group of survivors of the monsters banished from our earth. Legend has it that humans and monsters once lived peacefully side by side on the upper world, but mankind became greedy and banished the unpleasant creatures underground. Since then, a magical barrier has ensured that the monsters are trapped there forever.

There is a way to free the monsters, but it is expensive. As an involuntary visitor to the underworld, we can now freely decide whether to go the arduous way and free the monsters or kill everything and everyone to get back to the surface.

The game is played using a keyboard or gamepad, we control the 2D game figure from the JRPG-typical side view of the map, conduct dialogues and interact with objects at the push of a button. If we get into a random fight typical of the genre, the screen changes to a turn-based fight mode . There we choose whether to attack, flee or use an object.

If we attack an opponent, in a short mini-game we have to place a bar that swings from left to right in the hit zone. In the counterattack of the opponents, on the other hand, we dodge projectiles with a small heart like in a bullet hell shooter. Skillful players also have a chance against stronger enemies.

Killing me softly

The game advertises that no enemy has to be killed in the game . And this is where Undertale begins to get really exciting. Every enemy that we encounter in the game not only has individual attack patterns, but also character traits devised by the developer. You can use them to avoid fighting in quasi-pacifist mode. One of the many reachable ends in the game is only visible if all enemies in the game are spared. In order to achieve this goal, we engage the monsters in conversations or simply hug a sad-looking creature.

The context menu »Act« offers us different possibilities depending on the type of opponent. Flirting, fondling, cheering, complimenting, insulting, teasing, teasing, laughing - the range of options and reactions of the opponents are diverse and not always easy to understand, but always interesting.

However, an animal opponent does not always want to be petted and sometimes it is even counterproductive to meet the angry opponent with gentle words. The surprising reactions and numerous creative ways in which the game resolves conflicts without using force have simply delighted us and often made us laugh .

For example, we are dealing with two grim guards who block our way. In the fight we find out by listening carefully that one of the two is unhappily in love with the other , but is afraid to tell him. Our job is to couple them together while we continue to be attacked. Fantastic! Small warning: Since the game does not have a German translation, good English language skills are necessary to fully understand and enjoy the game.

Once we have found out what is going on with our opponents and we have been able to avoid a fight through our actions, their name turns yellow and we can also click on the "Mercy / Mercy" option in future attacks of this opponent type and do not have to go through the whole finding process again , Very often, a decision also has a direct impact on the game mechanics or the further course of the story. Characters react to events and later tell us that they are happy that, for example, the two guards have finally found their way together.

A boss to fall in love with

Particularly bizarre: Defeated bosses can be invited to a romantic rendezvous after a peaceful dispute. Yes, you read it right: the game changes its genre in these optional side tasks and becomes a real dating simulation.

In these entertaining scenes, too, Toby Fox succeeds in not only using this funny idea for a short gag, but actually serving to breathe life and depth into the characters. After all, where could you find out more about a character's emotional world than at a candlelight dinner together?

What makes the game remarkably good in general: It has no sag , no unnecessary stretching. On the contrary, it increases steadily from the very careful introduction to the spectacular finale. Despite the JRPG origins with random battles, Undertale doesn't require a grind. Every fight is interesting due to the creative ideas and types of opponents, already known opponents are quickly skipped. In the long run, pure combat runs become somewhat too monotonous.

The rudimentary arsenal of items and weapons and the always the same attack mini-game are much less varied than the peaceful version. You can tell that the game was primarily designed with the pacifism variant in mind.

Undertale optically leans on the 8-bit era with its low-color and less detailed graphic style, but with its unclean, gruff and extremely inconsistent style it moves in a Dadaistic, rather punk-rocky interpretation of the role models. Most people would probably call Undertale's graphic style "ugly ." Toby Fox is not a graphic artist, but actually a musician. He developed the game and the music on his own and simply set other priorities.

The graphics are a collaborative work of several designers and, to put it diplomatically, are kept very functional. But the game shines with its bizarre and loving characters, the fantastic soundtrack and a touching story, which sometimes makes you laugh and sometimes makes you think.