Undertale review for PS Vita, PS4

Platform: PS Vita
Also On: PS4, PC
Publisher: Toby Fox
Developer: Toby Fox
Medium: Digital
Players: 1
Online: No
ESRB: E10+

As much as I liked Undertale — and I certainly enjoyed it — I feel like I didn’t fully get it. After all, people don’t just like the game, they really, really love it. Comparing my own mildly positive feelings towards the hardcore devotion the game’s fans feel towards the game makes me feel like I’m missing something.

I can see that it does things a little differently, mind you. Much has been made about the way Undertale encourages players to take a “no killing” approach, but the focus on this one facet of the game makes it easy to overlook all the other ways it plays with RPG conventions. The characters you meet are more than just one-sided NPCs; a real effort has been made to make them seem like fleshed-out inhabitants of the world you’re exploring. You’re forced to interact with them on a much less superficial level than you’d get in pretty much any other RPG that comes to mind, which makes for a more emotionally-involved experience than you’d get elsewhere.

Undertale reinforces this in its turn-based battles, which go beyond the choices you might expect and force you to get to know and understand the opponents with whom you’re doing battle. Guard dogs, for example — cute little pups in medieval armour, for the record — prefer being petted and will go easier on you if they think you’re also a dog, so those encounters become a matter of figuring out how to meet those two conditions. Similarly, you meet a woodland creature covered in decorations, so you have to figure out what approach will work best against this foe. While there are some repeating encounters, it’s important to note that each one is unique, which means you constantly need to think about every new character you encounter.

Compounding this, of course, is the “no killing” thing. You can, for the record, kill as many of Undertale’s inhabitants as you desire, but the game has a way of making that seem less appealling than you’d expect. Most games don’t force you to feel empathy for characters who aren’t central to the plot, let alone stop and consider whether it’s right to mindlessly slaughter everyone you come across, which is an area where Undertale stands pretty much alone.

The game also has a sense of humour, which is always a plus. I wouldn’t say it’s in the league of, say, Portal, but this is still a game that isn’t afraid to have a little fun. Admittedly, the humour is either absurdist or exceedingly gentle, so if you want an edge you won’t find it here, but it’s all a part of the pleasant vibe that Undertale seeks to cultivate.

That word, “pleasant”, may just be the best way to describe all of Undertale. I know that’s nowhere near as strong a term as many of its devotees have used, but it feels entirely appropriate to me. The characters, the charmingly retro graphics, the interactions: they’re generally quite pleasant. I wouldn’t say they make this a must-play game, but I would say that it means that if you play Undertale, you’ll likely have a grin on your face the whole time.

Toby Fox provided us with an Undertale PS Vita code for review purposes.

Grade: B+