Last week we revisited a classic, and this week we move into the realm of recent hits. Undertale is just barely two years old, and has made an impression on internet culture– for better or for worse. The game resurrected the Earthbound style of RPG and gave it a new twist. In its puzzles, it became self-aware. Characters referenced multiple playthroughs of the game. Where timelines diverged, they remembered. And in Undertale’s puzzles, we saw a lovable cast of characters. I mean Alphys and Undyne, of course.
Style, Sound, and Pressing
Undertale’s vinyl debut was pressed by iam8bit. Much like Laced Records, who pressed Hotline Miami’s soundtrack, iam8bit takes games with good soundtracks and gives them a permanent home on a tried and true format. The discs of the Undertale vinyl, two LP records, are translucent red and blue. It really hits a soft spot for me: if it glows or it’s translucent, I’m here for it.
The sound of Undertale reminds me of old chiptunes. Though, not really. It reminds me of newer, layered chiptunes that we now have the capacity to produce. Most of the songs included have a distinct MIDI sound, but fill an acoustic space like a MIDI never could. What we get instead is a rich, acoustically fitting accompaniment to a fantastic game. The cover features the sprites of nearly every character in the game, forming the heart that’s so central to the game’s themes. Again, we see a really great juxtaposition here: new-age music on a relatively old method of playing it.
On Revisiting Undertale
I don’t think I’ve had a moment to properly address how much Undertale shook me to my core when I first played it. The Undertale vinyl, when I opened it up, gave me an immense feeling of nostalgia for a game I hadn’t touched in a year. Not half an hour into the game, I was blindsided by the fight with Toriel. Accidentally, I’d killed her. I hadn’t saved, so I figured I’d close the game, play through it again, and just talk to her through the fight. Maybe it’d work, I didn’t know.
Well, little did I know that I was in for a shock. The game remembered, and when I went to talk to Toriel during the fight, the game really threw me for a loop. I clicked on the Mercy button like I had set my mind to, and the game spit this out in response:
You thought about telling Toriel that you saw her die.
Yeah I’d Say That’s Creepy Alright.
Needless to say, I felt like I’d stumbled on a game secret that would only be found in a published walkthrough. So, that was cool. Other than that moment, Undertale holds so many more that were pretty special to me at the time. They still are. The game has a lot of good lessons, quotable lines, and an overall warmth that I have yet to see in another game. It felt real, and the game did a great job of making it seem like I would’ve upset some delicate balance if I went on to play through its No Mercy run.
I never did, and to this day the save I have of Undertale remains at its pacifist ending. Sure, I couldn’t save everybody. But I made damn sure to try, because I was that important to the course of events. It didn’t feel right to be so heartless. And while Undertale has a strict sense of morality: kill or be killed, it did a better job of portraying it than other games that give more player agency. In a way I think it was maybe too aware of the fact, but then again… it was aware of everything.
Cover image via GameUp24.