Gaming

5 years later, Undertale is still groundbreaking and wonderfully weird

If you haven't played it, you're seriously missing out.

Undertale turns five years old this week. By this point, even if you've never played the quirky retro-styled roleplaying game created by indie developer Toby Fox you've seen the memes — the dog whose neck stretches to infinity and beyond in his zest for affection, the smiling skull who makes you feel like you're going to have "a bad time." But beneath the goofball humor is a remarkable feat of storytelling and game design, where seemingly trivial actions have a dramatic impact on how events play out.

If you haven't already experienced Undertale and have even the slightest interest in games, you absolutely need to give this one a chance. (Bonus! It's less than $10 on Switch until September 22.) Here are five reasons why you can't miss it.

5. Undertale proves you don't need an orchestra to have an absolutely banging soundtrack — With the exception of some of the artwork, Fox developed all of Undertale on his own. That includes the music, which is an homage to classic 1990s 16-bit RPGs like Earthbound, Final Fantasy 4-6, and Chrono Trigger. Like those games, Undertale is full of absolute earworms you'll be tapping your toes to for years to come. Covers of the final boss theme, "Megalovania," have become a YouTube subgenre in their own right, racking up tens of millions of views.

Now that Undertale can afford an orchestra, its fantastic music sounds even better. Check out the 5th anniversary concert hosted by the game's official YouTube channel below to get a sample of how much the music from this game slaps.

4. Undertale changed how we thought about choice-based games — Out of necessity, most games offer players the illusion of choice with branching dialogue trees, perhaps with slightly altered cutscenes or secret endings. This can be pretty satisfying, like romancing your best girl in Persona 5, or taking the express train to alien pleasure town in Mass Effect 2.

Undertale goes several steps further, incorporating player choice into the narrative in a way that's all but inconceivable for a big-budget AAA game. Without venturing too far into spoiler territory, there are three basic ways you can experience Undertale, which have become known colloquially as Pacifist, Genocide, and Neutral runs. (There are finer variations on each of these depending on whether it's your first playthrough or not.) Pacifist and Genocide runs tell a completely different story, and your relationships with the core cast of characters will change dramatically depending on whether you choose to be a hero or a villain.

Fox executes this wildly ambitious concept beautifully, with meticulous attention to detail. If you can't make the time to play all of the routes — it's new console season, right? — you owe it to yourself to at least find a Let's Play of the other ones. Even the descriptions of items in your inventory change depending on your playstyle. It's truly staggering to consider just how much work this involved.

This is what happens when a relationship sours.Toby Fox

3. Undertale is a thoughtful meditation on violence (but still funny!) — I enjoyed the heck out of The Last of Us Part II, but there's no denying that its perspectives on violence and revenge are a real emotional kick in the jumblies. The core conceit of Undertale is that you don't have to hurt anybody, unlike most role-playing games where you typically spend hours mowing down slimes and minotaurs to increase your stats.

In the world of Undertale, mindless grinding is a shitty thing to do. Even if it's for just a moment or two, this is a game that will make you rethink how you interact with people in the real world. One of the most endearing things about Undertale is it forces you to spend just a little time getting to know every creature you encounter. Sure, you can go around crushing everything under your mighty boot. Or you can try to be nice and see what happens. It's up to you.

2. Undertale helped bring indies into the mainstream — Were you playing a lot of independent games back in 2015? Was it common to see showcase events hosted by Sony, Nintendo, and Microsoft focused on games made by smaller developers? I'm guessing your answer is no.

Undertale certainly isn't the only indie to see mainstream success, but it's certainly one of the biggest, and it's tough to imagine the modern indie space without it. Fox proved that small, specific, and idiosyncratic games could hit big — and they didn't need to cost tens of millions of dollars to make. In an acknowledgment of that broad appeal, Nintendo added the game's pun-loving skeleton Sans to the Super Smash Bros. Ultimate roster as a costume for the Mii Gunner. Undertale has also done a lot to bolster the reputation of Earthbound in the last five years – and helped make the localization of its Japan-only sequel Mother 3 the bane of Reggie Fils-Aime's existence for a few more years.

Burgerpants, the painfully uncool, possibly high nihilist who works at the fast food stand.Toby Fox

1. Undertale is the absolute pinnacle of weird-ass character design — Weird RPG enemy designs have been around ever since the first Dragon Quest introduced the world to smiley slimes and goo puns. Earthbound, Fox's clearest point of inspiration, also let you beat up hippies, piles of puke, and scalding cups of coffee.

But Fox and collaborator Temmie Chang outdid those formidable predecessors, giving the gaming world some of the most glorious oddballs it will ever see with Undertale. You've got Tsunderplane, the airplane that's a sulky anime girl who secretly has a crush on you. There's Napstablook, the mopey ghost who feels bad for haunting you. There's Heats Flamesman, a ball of fire whose only line of dialogue is screaming at you to remember his name. (I did!) And I'm not even going to mention the very best ones in the story, who are worth experiencing first-hand. For a game that's often associated with low-fi visuals, the sprites and animations in Undertale are enormously expressive and hilarious.

Getting lunch with Sans at Grillby's. It's a dog-friendly establishment.Toby Fox

I mean, who wouldn't want to hang out in this bar? Seriously, just go buy Undertale and thank me later.

Undertale is out now for PC, PS4, Xbox, and Switch.

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