‘Undertale’ turns 5: a retrospective on this generation’s greatest indie game

Revisit Toby Fox’s indie masterpiece, from its revolutionary battle system to unforgettable characters

It has been half a decade since the release of Toby Fox’s critically-acclaimed RPG Undertale, and to mark the occasion I think it’s time to look back on what made it such a gripping and revolutionary experience.

Let’s begin with the game’s characters, who have a massive range of personalities, designs and dialogue. Undertale was also very different from your traditional RPG. It didn’t involve any kind of quest system, instead relying on bullet-based combat and a turned-based battle system that actually allowed you to talk to your opponents.

The ability for you to simply talk to enemies during battles was the bread and butter of Undertale’s charm, and it’s what fuelled the game’s unique personality. The mechanic was essential in helping bring the characters even more to life. You had Papyrus, an outgoing and loud but kind skeleton who would make his way through the game with charming dialogue, bantering with his brother Sans while being blissfully ignorant about the violent world.

There was Undyne, a fish who is the head of the royal guard. She appears tough on the outside, but secretly has a soft spot for other kind creatures. Two characters who love her are some of the only ones in the game you never get a chance to fight:Alphys, a socially-inept anime-loving scientist who’s also Undyne’s love interest, and Monster Kid, Undyne’s biggest fan.

Undertale
Credit: Toby Fox

I could sit here all day and list every quirk and detail in each character’s personality, and that’s part of the charm of Undertale. You get so invested in each part of the story and it’s truly gripping. Every character also changes their attitude based on which route you take in the game.

That brings me to my biggest talking point: Undertale’s morality system. While sure, it wasn’t the first game to feature something like this, Undertale revolutionised the way you can play a game. Games before it, such as 2012’s Dishonored, have also advertised themselves as games where you play exactly how you want, and while you could, there weren’t many consequences for your actions.

But Undertale’s gameplay and storyline changes based on the route taken. If you go down a neutral path, as most players would, then it plays like a regular RPG. If you decide to take a True Pacifist path – which involves you not killing a single person in the game – then you will get different relationships with each character, unlock entirely new storyline branches and the game’s mechanics change. The same goes for the Genocidal route, which introduces you to one of Undertale’s most infamous moments, and probably one of the most iconic boss battles of this generation.

If you do decide to go down the genocidal path, then you will be presented with what feels like an entirely different game. Undertale’s dialogue completely changes for every single character, with you being able to skip past massive chunks of the game because everyone that was there is dead.

Undertale
Credit: Toby Fox

For this route though, the boss battles are noticeably harder as each character is more determined to defeat you. You even unlock a special boss battle that cannot happen in any other version of the game: Fighting Sans to the beat of MEGALOVANIA, the most popular song on the soundtrack.

Arguably Undertale’s most iconic event, it’s also the most difficult fight in the entire game by a long shot – and Sans isn’t even the final boss. His dialogue throughout the battle has become synonymous with the fantastic storytelling that Toby Fox and friends packed into this wonderful game.

With Sans being the most relaxed, sarcastic and mysterious character in the other routes, the moral implications of your genocidal actions are summed up well in his iconic “burning in hell” line. Killing everyone in the game is an extreme effort, and it ends up being exhausting – as it should be.

From its stunning soundtrack to its beautiful message of peace, Undertale hits the nail on the head of every aspect of a video game. In just three months after its release on September 15, 2015, it became one of the best selling games on Steam for its release year, and no one should be surprised. If you haven’t played it yet, I am ordering you to go pick up a copy right now.

Undertale is a perfect tale of friendship, morality, kindness and consequence. Five years later and it still never fails to blow my mind. It’s a masterpiece in all aspects of the word, and still leaves me coming back to replay it for old times sake.

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