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Thursday, May 13, 2021

Games Galore: Undertale

“In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little, yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read […] But there are times when a critic truly risks something, and that is in the discovery and defense of the ‘new’. The world is often unkind to new talent, new creations. The new needs friends.” – (From the film “Ratatouille”, 2007)

Video games are an almost an inherently violent form of entertainment. Perhaps violent isn’t the right word. They are competitive by their nature, having always been oriented around defeating and subduing an opponent, whether that opponent is another person, a creation of the computer’s AI, or even if the player is competing against themselves. In general, this is not such a bad thing. After all, they’re not called ‘games’ for nothing, even if some now bristle at the label. One shortcoming of this, however, is the lack of consequences. Some games have attempted to have decisions to use violence mean something, but rarely do they affect the overall plot or goal.

Enter “Undertale.”

Designed by British developer Toby Fox, using Gamemaker: Studio, a commercially available suite of tools that anyone can use, “Undertale” harkens back to the old NES role-playing games, with random encounters and menu-driven combat. The graphics look like something from the NES era as well.

That’s where the similarities end.

It is impossible to talk too much about the plot of “Undertale” without giving something away. What is the noteworthy here is how the player gets past encounters. Simply put, it is quite possible to get complete the game without killing a single enemy. In combat, in addition to being able to attack, there is an option called “Act”. This leads into other options, like “Check”, which lets the player examine the enemy. It does not reveal weaknesses however, but the enemy’s emotional state. The player can then choose what action perform based on what the emotional state is. For instance, one enemies “check” might reveal that it doesn’t like when it is picked on. So the player can select either “pick on”, “defend”, or “don’t pick-on”. The selections are different for each enemy, and eventually, the player can choose the option “mercy” which lets the enemy go without killing it.

There is so much more to explain here, like the replay value. (Even though the game takes about six hours to complete, it’s worth it to play through again). But to gush as much as I would like to would take thousands of words (which would probably be much clumsier than the games excellent dialogue). I will simply say that “Undertale” is available now on Steam, GOG, and at the Humble Bundle.

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