Why not Undertale?

Posted in Game Criticism, Game Design, Game Design Essays, Games, Rants with tags , , on December 29, 2016 by Matthew VanDevander

Undertale screenshot
I’m not sure what to do about Undertale. I have gotten multiple requests to write some kind of piece or video about it. I obviously want to do things that my backers want and request sometimes, but I also am a bit torn about doing in-depth work about games that I don’t particularly like. (Way to not bury the lede.)

I suppose I should preface all of this by saying that I have not actually played Undertale and am perhaps still open to the possibility that there is some great aspect of the game that I am just not getting. I did play the demo version of the game that was released way back in 2013 ( a full two years before the final release), which consists of a somewhat less developed version of the start of the final game, and I have watched a decent chunk (the first 4-5 hours) of the release version being played by my brother.

So, I don’t offer my opinion as coming from some place of authority about the game. This is really just more of a rant. I would obviously make a further effort to play the game if I were doing a real in-depth analysis piece.


I feel like, generally speaking, it isn’t my thing. The core value proposition of the game is its humor. Not really the story per-se, as the plot itself is pretty threadbare, mostly proceeding from one non-sequitur anecdote to another. And although it’s a genuinely funny and charming game, there have been lots of other genuinely funny and charming games over the years, including the game that Undertale so clearly borrows its aesthetics from: Earthbound.

Earthbound is a game I heard people raving about for so long that I decided to check it out a few years back. My conclusion there is much the same as it is with Undertale: It’s a clever game, with some genuinely effective humor and quirky characters. Earthbound in particular had some quite innovative design decisions in the genre for its time, but my overall experience with Earthbound was that once I put it down, I didn’t feel very compelled to pick it back up. The game seemed overly long, as most JRPGs are, and the humor felt stretched a bit thin.

On the plus side, Undertale appears to be a much shorter and digestible game than Earthbound, but mine and my brother’s continued thought when watching him play through it (which he says persisted through the rest of the game that he has played), was “this is fine, but is it ever going to blow my mind?”

And yes, I know about the replayability factor of the game, and how the choices that you make in combat or even by reloading earlier saves affect how characters react to you, but there’s really nothing about what’s already there that’s making me starve for more of it.

Frankly, it’s hard for me to see why anybody is that crazy about the game.


So, let’s talk about the hype for a second, because I feel like Undertale may be one of the most unfortunately over-hyped games ever. That’s a bold statement, but we’re talking about a game which was literally voted “Best. Game. Ever.” by a community of enthusiasts at GameFAQs, in the year it came out. Perhaps I shouldn’t take that award’s merit too seriously, but it’s fair to say that a lot of people really were crazy about this game.

The other question about hype in general: is hype the fault of the game? I think this question is particularly salient if, as in the case of Undertale, it’s word-of-mouth that lead to such astronomical popularity. It’s not as though Toby Fox was out promoting the game left and right. He certainly wasn’t on stage at Sony press conferences at multiple E3 like some other unfortunately over-hyped game that was released this year. I have never even seen Toby Fox’s face, and the most promotion I saw for the game pre-release was the demo, which I don’t even remember where I found.

So I think in this particular case at least, the answer is no. It’s not Undertale’s fault that it was over-hyped. Perhaps it would be much easier for me to appreciate it for what it is if it weren’t being heralded from the heavens. It is certainly a cute and funny game with clever twists on classic Dragon Quest style combat. It also makes a solid effort to offer the player a sense of freedom about how they approach situations in the story, even if many of your choices are seemingly as binary as “murder” or “not murder.”


I’d like to go back and talk about the aesthetics of the game. Simply put, I find Undertale to be an ugly looking game. Apart from a few scenes which were not illustrated by the game’s sole author Toby Fox, most of the time the game looks like an early NES game. It’s a similar style to Earthbound, but it honestly looks much worse than that. Thankfully the music is catchy and usually appropriate alongside the story scenes of the game. But overall, the game is not selling itself to me on aesthetic.

Aesthetics perhaps are overvalued by myself and our culture at large, what with plastic surgery and celebrities and all, but it definitely makes an impact on how much I want to play a game.


I’m not sure that I’ve really done much of use here other than rag on a game that I haven’t even played, but it’s been rolling around in my mind for a bit and there’s certainly a couple thoughts that I think are interesting to think about, in terms of what it is that one person likes about a game versus what another person dislikes. People have wildly differing tastes in the media that they consume, and that’s great. I would never want to tell someone that they are wrong if they really do think that Undertale is the best game ever. It’s just hard for me to see why they feel that way, and I hope that they can appreciate that.


dunceCast Episode 65 – Staying Up All Night Playing Final Fantasy XV

Posted in Podcasts with tags , , , , on December 13, 2016 by Matthew VanDevander

Final Fantasy XV (not to be confused with Final Fantasy 18+ or Final Fantasy XXX) is “Finally” (get it?) out, and David has the front line report, or should we say, front seat report?

Direct Download (mp3 22.8MB 50:01)

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The music for this week, in order of appearance:

“Noctis” from the Final Fantasy XV soundtrack composed by Yoko Shimomura, performed live by the London Philharmonic Orchestra

dunceCast Episode 64 – Show the Guests to our Second Swimming Pool

Posted in Podcasts with tags , , , , , on December 6, 2016 by Matthew VanDevander

David went to the Biltmore. Matthew is going (has gone now) to HandmadeCon 2016, and Jamie went on a mission trip. Let’s try to talk about it!

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The music for this week, in order of appearance:

“I Took a Pill in Ibiza” by Mike Posner
“Nightcall” by Kavinski

dunceCast Episode 63 – David’s Dungeoneering

Posted in Podcasts with tags , , , , , on November 29, 2016 by Matthew VanDevander

This week on the cast, it’s a full house again. David regales us with stories of his custom pen-and-paper role-playing system as well as the fantasy worlds he has shepherded since he was a teenager.

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The music for this week, in order of appearance:

“Subterranean Homesick Blues” by Bob Dylan
“Under Your Spell” by Desire
“Alone in Kyoto” by Air

dunceCast Episode 62 – Formative Video Game Memories

Posted in Podcasts with tags , , , , , on November 22, 2016 by Matthew VanDevander

Matthew decides to ask Jamie about some of her formative experiences with interactive entertainment and becomes very confused by red and blue pipes.

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The music for this week, in order of appearance:

“Spy Hunter/Peter Gunn Theme” as covered by Saliva
“Game Over Theme from Legend of Zelda” as covered by Tetsugaku

dunceCast Episode 61 – Make America White Again

Posted in Podcasts with tags , , , , , on November 15, 2016 by Matthew VanDevander

It was election week last week in the ol United States of Uh-merica, so Jamie and Matthew talk about the election of President Trump and what this means for us all.

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The music for this week, in order of appearance:

“Hail to the Chief”, as performed by American Patriotic Music Ensemble

dunceCast Episode 60 – Like Listening to Someone Recount The Entire Plot of The Force Awakens

Posted in Podcasts with tags , , , , , on October 18, 2016 by Matthew VanDevander

On this week’s cast, Jamie has finally seen The Force Awakens and we talk about it. It’s a bit of a double-length podcast, managing to be longer than the film it is about. This however is good because we will be taking the next week off. Savor it, my friends.

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The music for this week, in order of appearance:

“Torn Apart”,
“Jedi Steps and Finale”,
Both written by John Williams from the Star Wars: The Force Awakens Soundtrack

dunceCast Episode 59 – Only The Eldest of Scrolls Shall Suffice

Posted in Podcasts with tags , , , , , on October 11, 2016 by Matthew VanDevander

This week on the podcast, we talk about one of our favorite games series that somehow still hasn’t gotten its own episode, The Elder Scrolls. Obviously Morrowind is the best one, but what do we have to say about some of the lesser entries in the series? Apologies for not discussing Daggerfall or Arena in depth much, we are young-uns!

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The music for this week, in order of appearance:

“Low” by Flo Rida
“Anyone Else But You” by The Moldy Peaches

dunceCast Episode 58 – Gettin’ Meta

Posted in Podcasts with tags , , , , , on October 4, 2016 by Matthew VanDevander

After a brief break, the dunces return to talk about…the dunceCast! Sadly this topic did not have a ton of depth to it, so this is a bit of a short one this week. Enjoy!

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The music for this week, in order of appearance:

“Houdini” by Foster the People
“Fireflies” by Owl City

dunceCast Episode 57 – Superhero or Superzero?

Posted in Podcasts with tags , , , , , on September 13, 2016 by Matthew VanDevander

We’re back this week to talk about superheroes and comic books. What’s up with all these cinematic universes? DC or Marvel? Which is better, the books or the movies? Either way, I’m not sure if I can take anymore.

Direct Download (mp3 22.6MB 49:26)

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The music for this week, in order of appearance:

Intro to the 1950s Batman series
“Garbage Truck” by Sex Bob-Omb