At first glance, Undertale is a retro RPG that feels similar to the seminal classic Earthbound – but it’s so much more than that. It is the culmination of many meticulously crafted moving parts that come together to create something magical. The music, dialogue, characters, and combat system make every encounter unique; after finishing the game, I wished I could experience it again for the first time. 

Undertale’s retro look doesn’t do it any favors in terms of eye candy, but the strong characters and interesting mechanics bring the action to life. The less you know about the specifics, the better. Just be aware that the opening hours are the driest and most traditional, setting up what appears to be a classic journey-to-home RPG story. You don’t need to be a RPG connoisseur to enjoy Undertale, but a love of classic SNES-era JRPGs may enhance your time with the title.

The combat is incredibly nuanced. Manipulating a heart’s movement in the little bullet-hell box to dodge incoming attacks appears rudimentary, but it’s the crux of Undertale’s unending wonder. By constantly breaking the rules of the box in every encounter, every fight has its own special signature – whether you’re struggling to climb a spiderweb or dodging and blocking spears. Boss battles are the centerpieces of this approach, with varied attacks and rule-breaking happening at every turn. A fight could alter your combat command functionality, expand the minigame box across multiple screens, transform into a platforming challenge, create color-based rules, or take things outside the box completely. I was frequently staring in awe during some of the shifting encounters, saying “that’s so cool” to myself.

Undertale isn’t afraid to break the fourth wall, and while other games may do this in a humorous fashion, it’s directly tied to gameplay elements here, and astonishing when it does so. This doesn’t have an airy, pretentious vibe. It’s clever in a way that matches up perfectly with each adversary.

Don't get spoiled
Don’t search online for any battle info or secrets. Don’t look up any guides. Don’t hang out on forums. After you’ve gone through Undertale once, it’s okay to do this to find out what you’ve missed, but your first playthrough is best experienced spoiler-free.

You don’t have to battle everything you encounter, but you’re always interacting with the 2D shooter minigame. Undertale gives the player the choice of how to deal with each fight. You can use an array of weapons and armor to battle directly as you would in a standard RPG, or you can dive into probing the monster’s likes and dislikes to find a solution. You can even devise your own ways to break the rules entirely. Every fight has a non-violent solution, and following this path means you never improve your base stats – but you make more friends. You see echoes of each of these choices hours later, culminating in a variety of endings and special areas that can only be accessed by making specific choices (including the most difficult, exciting bullet-hell encounter in the game).

Undertale took me about six hours to complete my first playthrough, but every one of those hours is special, and I immediately dove back in to explore some of the additional content. Undertale may not be the prettiest game at the ball, but it is a fantastic, unique take on a classic genre that defies all expectations.