Once in a while in the recent generation of games comes a title that hearkens back to the old days of gaming, with Capcom’s Mega Man series, for instance, having a faux-retro look with the original series’ ninth and tenth installments, and this would creep into the roleplaying game genre as well. One such title is developer and composer Toby Fox’s Undertale, hailed as one of the best titles of 2015, and ultimately ported to Sony’s PlayStation 4 and Vita. Does it live up to the hype?

Undertale features random encounters, with the protagonist all alone facing one or more enemies. The player can choose to execute normal attacks against a foe, which brings up a timing bar that they must stop at the right point to ensure maximum damage, similar to the Judgement Ring in the Shadow Hearts series and the Western tactical RPG Gladius. In a nod to the Megami Tensei series, furthermore, the game allows players to parley with enemies to end the battle peacefully, with the protagonist still getting money but no experience from winning battles this way. When enemies attack the player, they must navigate a heart icon through a bullet hell-type minigame to avoid projectiles and damage.

While one can possibly complete the game without attacking enemies at all, necessary for one of the various endings, doing so can be tedious, since one can easily find themselves stuck in seeming infinite conversation loops, and odds are most players will eventually say “Screw it!” and just win battles through offensive means, which nets experience for occasional level-ups that increase maximum health, martial and defensive stats increased through new weapons and armor. The battle system is definitely a good one, but one can find difficult the search for random-encounter-strewn areas if they want to level to beat the final boss offensively, given no indication of such regions.

The aforementioned issue with random encounters one could consider a mark off control, alongside the irritating placement of save points at times, sometimes close together, but oftentimes far apart, with many points containing long stretches without saving opportunities prior to bosses. Inventory is limited, as well, although this really isn’t a terrible problem, and overall, Undertale generally interfaces well with the player.

Aside from a general blank-slate protagonist, the narrative is largely enjoyable, with some backstory involving a schism between monsters and humans, and the variable endings depending upon the player’s style of gameplay adding incentive to experience the game and plot multiple times, with plentiful puns and dialects for specific characters.

Toby Fox’s soundtrack is nice, as well, although there are many silent areas.

The visuals are a throwback to classic RPGs such as EarthBound, although battles are in a first-person perspective and unindicative of scenery, with monsters, however, still having some animation.

Finally, the experience is short, three to six hours, with alternate endings as mentioned adding replayability.

Overall, Undertale is definitely an admirable effort, given its simple but fun battle system that accommodates different playstyles and determines the eventual ending, not to mention the nice musical and visual direction. There are areas that leave room for improvement, however, such as the tedium of going for the pacifist ending, slight pain of grinding in case negotiation fails, the blank-slate hero, and many spots without music, but the game mostly lives up to the hype.

The Good:
+Battle system accommodates different playstyles.
+Good story with varying endings.
+Nice musical and visual direction.

The Bad:
-Indicator of enemy-infested areas would have been nice.
-Blank-slate protagonist.
-Many silent areas.

The Bottom Line:
An enjoyable short RPG.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: PlayStation Vita
Game Mechanics: 9/10
Controls: 8/10
Story: 8/10
Music/Sound: 8/10
Graphics: 8/10
Lasting Appeal: 10/10
Difficulty: Depends on ending the player wants to see.
Playing Time: 3-6 Hours

Overall: 8.5/10

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