I have played a lot of games in my life. From simple platformers like Mario to complex stories told in AAA games such as Dishonored, Far Cry, Fallout, etc, I have played a lot of them. It was great to play these games, always great to escape into a reality of infinite possibilities. The games were frustrating at times, cathartic in others, but enjoyable overall. This is how I had been feeling about games since I was a child. However, there was another feeling in there among the rest. A feeling which I ignored even though how strong it was at the particular time and place. Dissatisfaction.
Why did I feel dissatisfied? The story was complete. The heroes won. But, it didn’t feel, didn’t resonate with me. I would just get up and stretch my limbs and feel… relieved.
I would be relieved that the game ended. I played it as a sort of accomplishment. I cleared level after level, cleared objective after objective, facing increasing difficulties, just to get to the end (which I didn’t care that much), and that was it. There was nothing more. If collecting random objects as 100% completion is something up your alley, be my guest.
I didn’t care for the game. I could just reopen and play them all over and it would go again. Level after level, objective after objective, clearing the same thing over and over until I get bored and finally uninstall it.
There was no sense of finality in games and it is not a bad thing. Games were meant to be something to be revisited and get engaged in time and time again. This was the purpose of a game. However, this sense of non-finality made the whole experience, even if entertaining most of the times, undoubtedly shallow.
Each game I played had have left a void in me which I could not understand. When a game finished, I would just look for another game to play. Another game to entertain me.
Then, in my blind search, I found and played Undertale, and everything I had known about games up to that very moment changed drastically.
Undertale is a small role playing indie PC game developed by Toby Fox. When I say small, it really is quite small. It is only 147 MBs in size and can be completed in several hours. The graphics are old and pixelated, and the mechanics are quite simple; bullet hell combat and exploration.
But Undertale did something strange. Something thousands of big budget, high-end graphic, complex game mechanic corporate games could never do. Undertale satisfied me to my core.
Here was a game which could be called ugly and lackluster in this day and age, challenged every other 60$ game and won flawlessly in my eyes.
When I reached the end of Undertale, I was so satisfied. I didn’t want to open the game again. There were more things to find, more story to be seen, and interactions to be had, but I didn’t and till this day, it sits on my computer–completed and left alone.
Now, it may sound depressing, but it is in actually, a warming thought to leave it there, given you know the context of the game. I would try to tell you about the game without spoiling it too much for you.
Undertale is about a young boy who climbs Mt. Ebott and accidentally, falls into the Underground where monsters live. The monsters have been banished to this abode a long time ago after they lost a war against the humans.
You control the boy and help him navigate the monster world and try to find a way to get back into the human world. In your journey, you encounter many monsters and obstacles, some hostile and some friendly.
Now, here’s where things get interesting and unique. In traditional RPG games, you fight your way through monsters after monsters, leveling up and fighting even stronger monsters called bosses. But, Undertale is different. It is clear from the start with its tagline:
The Friendly RPG where no one has to die.
And it delivers on it. In Undertale, you don’t have to kill anybody at all. Instead, you can act with different options, understanding what the monster wants and convincing the monster to not fight you anymore.
It gives you a choice. A choice to choose the friendly way to play it. A choice more difficult than the traditional method, but rewarding nonetheless.
But this is not the innovative part of it. The impressive thing about Undertale is how it manages to blend both a beautiful narrative and a fun and entertaining gameplay and Undertale does it by making the gameplay a part of the narrative.
There are random monster encounters sure, but they all have a level of depth that they are not seen as cardboard cutouts, but creatures having their own personalities, dreams, and reasons.
The circumstances of the monsters are quite tragic. They are trapped inside the Underground and have no way of escaping it. They haven’t seen the sun, and some don’t even know what sun looks in reality. They haven’t seen the stars, and have to look at shiny crystals on the rock ceiling as a substitute for them. Everyone is unhappy in the place. There is a powerful sadness in the game, yet the monsters cheer each other in these dark times as you find out while playing the game.
There is a feeling of genuine emotion in the characters. You feel an affinity for them. The characters in the game don’t feel like they are simple algorithms but real people and this may be the biggest reason how it makes the player get invested in the story. The characters are distinct from each other, each having their own quirks, and every character of Undertale has their own views and opinions around the world around them and about you.
Maybe that is the most commendable thing about Undertale. In RPGs, you talk to a town full of characters to just know what their dialogue will tell you. Sort of a completionist mentality. However, here I talked to the characters cause I genuinely wanted to talk to them. Every one is so unique, funny, charming, that it is impossible to not want to talk to them. The game wants you to talk to them. They are not just there to fill the void and make the town look inhabited, but real people.
The best thing about Undertale is when you would finish the game, you can go back and talk to them. The great thing is you remember each and everyone. They may be quite a lot of characters, but they have left some impression on you and when you talk to them again, you can’t help but feel… satisfied, even… loved.
We always say we love games, but never the opposite. The game remains a cold and detached program to us. Undertale will hit you so hard in the feels, love you so much, that you would be astounded and even a little bit scared of it, albeit in a good way.
How can a game love you?
By giving you an ending so good that when you close the game, you can say that, yes, you were satisfied.