Undertale Review: A decent experience but lacking in RPG depth

Undertale Review: A decent experience but lacking in RPG depth

In the world of indie gaming, few titles have garnered as much attention and acclaim as "Undertale." Developed by a single individual, Toby Fox, and released in 2015, the game quickly became a sensation, earning Game of the Year awards and a dedicated fanbase. Praised for its innovative approach to RPG mechanics and its charming characters, Undertale has left an indelible mark on the gaming landscape. However, as with any piece of art, opinions on the game are never definitive, and this review will cover my take on the game. In this review, I, Brighton Nelson, will explore Undertale's strengths and weaknesses from a critical standpoint, providing an assessment of its various aspects and ultimately offering a well-rounded perspective on this celebrated indie gem. Now, without further ado, RPG Ranked presents... an Undertale Review: A decent experience but lacking in RPG depth.

Battle System - 9

This game has incredibly entertaining combat! Every attack is a Quick Time Event to allow you to dish out extra damage, and once the enemy begins to attack, you play a minigame in which you must dodge enemy attacks. When your SOUL is Red (most enemy encounters), you move around the Bullet Board, dodging attacks and constantly weaving through bullet hell. However, sometimes, the color of the SOUL will change, reinventing the battle system into something new. When in Blue Mode, it switches from bullet hell to Jump Mode and becomes a platformer. In Green Mode, you enter Shield Mode, which is all about timing and blocks. When in Yellow Mode, you start shooting projectiles in Shooter Mode, and when in Purple, you enter Trap Mode, where you dodge things more linearly. This is one of the most engaging unique combat systems found in an RPG, and it made killing enemies very fun... but it also made not killing them very fun, as you can be a pacifist and avoid every enemy fight in the game. This adds even more depth to the already engaging combat, adding a new way to approach the game entirely. In the end, Undertale has one of the most outstanding combat systems in an RPG, even if I'm not the biggest fan of the rest of the game...

Story - 3

This story certainly had intriguing moments and some highly compelling ideas, but, in the end, this story is concise, and only the beginning and the end really had all that much plot. To be honest, this game reminded me of the original Final Fantasy—the beginning and ending are compelling, and the rest of the game is a whimsical yet thinly plotted adventure. In the end, as cool as the LV and SOUL plot points were and the idea of escaping the underworld was interesting, this just can't compare to the vast majority of other RPGs I've played. I understand the appeal of this straightforward and charming narrative, but I didn't find it all that special. It's a little impressive for one person (like the rest of this game), but nothing all that special in my eyes.

Art & Graphics - 6

These graphics are supposed to emulate older games and have a certain charm, but this game doesn't look good. As someone who adores indie games and pixel art, this just can't live up to the gorgeous graphics of games like Stardew Valley or Chained Echoes, and it reminds me of NES RPGs for the wrong reasons. I loved the look of the various fonts, but everything else was mediocre. Graphics aren't everything, but they are still something.

Music - 9

Let's give this game more credit—Toby Fox is a musical mastermind, and this soundtrack is brilliant (if a little overplayed). We all know the highly iconic Megolovania, a fantastic tune that epitomizes a boss fight and a great spiritual successor to Live A Live's Megalomania. While I won't say I'm the biggest fan of the atmosphere in this game, the music sets the tone incredibly well and builds a memorable vibe for the game. This game's soundtrack more than deserves all the love it gets, and indeed, it is one of the best game soundtracks of the past decade.

Sidequests - 2

I'm sorry to say this, but the pacifist and genocide runs are not enough for me to say this game has good sidequests. Those are really the only sidequests in this game, with everything else revolving around these playthroughs. Judging that this isn't obvious on a first playthrough, there are no meaningful sidequests in this game on a first playthrough. And relying on multiple playthroughs for any of the side content? That's just not a great game design choice, in my opinion. While I appreciate the ideas present in the two alternative playthroughs, there's really nothing to do on a neutral run, and that's very disappointing for new Undertale players.

Locations - 3

I remember what I loved and didn't love about this game, but the locations? I remember nothing about any of the locations here. Were they bad? Probably not. But even after playing this game multiple times, I've got nothing to say about these locales. I remembered more locations in Final Fantasy A2: Grimoire of the Rift than in this game, which is genuinely disheartening. I remember that there was some fantastic dialogue and interactions in the locations of this game, but that's about all I have to say. Ultimately, almost every RPG I've played had more memorable locations than this game. I hate giving such low scores to this one-man band passion project, but this site is all about being authentic, so I just have to tell the truth here...

Customization System - 3

While this game's weapons, armor, and items are so fun and distinct, that's all we've got here. For an inspired RPG released post-2000, it's baffling that there were no exciting systems here. For a game so rooted in innovation, charm, and distinct flair, Undertale doesn't have a meaningful progression system. There's LV, which is a slightly interesting take on the traditional RPG leveling system, but that's about it. Overall, while this game has excellent equipment, the lack of skills here makes the engaging combat feel like it had missed potential! And that's just disheartening.

Quality of Life - 4

This game's quality of life just isn't it. Any game requiring multiple playthroughs is a little frustrating, but that isn't the inherent issue—I adored Tales of Xillia! But when a game doesn't bother to let you know? When accidentally killing a single enemy, it might make you restart a whole run? When you have to walk around for ages to ensure no other enemies are in the area? That's just questionable game design at best. I gave this game many chances, but playing this was incredibly frustrating. It gave me the same feeling Shiny Pokemon hunting gives me, and that's anything but a good sign.

Characters - 8

Alright, finally, some more positive talk about this game! Sans, Papyrus, Asriel, Asgore, Toriel, Chara, and Flower were fantastic characters! While I hated the silent protagonist trope here as much as always, and the lack of a player party hurt my overall view of this game, each character here felt alive and unique. I loved the characters here and laughed so many times reading the dialogue! I enjoyed how the font design for each character reflected their personalities so well and that each character elevated the sections they were part of to something much less mediocre. While I dislike many parts of this game, the characters were not one of those aspects, and I found the characters almost as good as the music and the battle system! I just wish everything else about this game could be that level of good for me.

The Verdict

Fun Factor: 5
Overall Score: 50%
Letter Rating: D

This game is one of the most interesting success stories I've ever seen! With RPGs being a lesser game genre in the eyes of many and this being an indie game developed by one person and this winning game of the year, Undertale is a game that has transcended all limitations put on it. However, even with all the acclaim, there are so many more expansive RPGs out there that deserve much more acclaim, and this game is mediocre by comparison. While I'm still so impressed by Toby Fox and look forward to giving Deltarune a spin, this game pales compared to most RPGs I've experienced. This game taught me that critical acclaim isn't everything and that I should research before purchasing a gaming phenomenon. To anyone wanting a fun, innovative, and simple RPG that puts a new spin on the genre, I'd recommend Live A Live, Paper Mario, Bug Fables, or Sea of Stars instead of this beloved title.

Want to check out this critically acclaimed title? Feel free to purchase it using one of the links below to support our website! My personal favorite version is the Nintendo Switch version, as their is an exclusive boss fight, but every version is solid and has its own unique reasons to play!

Undertale (Play Station 4)
Undertale (PS Vita)
Undertale (Nintendo Switch)
Undertale (Nintendo Switch, Digital)

Primary Version: Undertale (Nintendo Switch)