Undertale Is Putting A New Spin On Role Playing Games
Although I'm of the mind that anyone bellowing how video games turn people into mass-murderers is an uneducated fool, I will acknowledge that far too many games seem to accept violence as an unquestioned means of resolution. In hindsight, it's a little disturbing - consideration of it brings up the very good point that most protagonists are effectively serial killers. Thankfully, the medium's not young anymore, and many developers are starting to address this dissonance.
The Last of Us, for example does this in a rather fantastic way. The protagonist, Joel, is not a good person, not by any stretch. He is a hardened, broken man. He thinks nothing of torture if it suits his purpose, and even less of murder. He's the protagonist, but he is in no way the hero.
Another developer by the name of Toby Fox is doing it in a different way - through player choice.
In Fox's Earthbound-inspired indie RPG Undertale, each creature you come across will have its own personality, and its own motives beyond 'attack the player.' Consequently, each foe you do battle with can, at the end of the fight, either be killed or spared. It's the player's choice.
Not surprisingly, the title also sports a considerably unique combat system. Your own attacks can be timed to deal extra damage, while enemy attacks can be dodged in a style the developer descibes as "remniscent of top-down shooters.' Of course, from what we've heard so far...attacking them isn't even necessary. You can simply dodge and defend.
In a gaming landscape where it's generally held that killing is something the protagonist sort of just does, Undertale is unusual, indeed. It's tied, explained Fox, in an interview with The Escapist, to a desire to inject more meaning into his game. In this, he expressed some distaste for traditional RPGs, and the systems which necessitate essentially turning the party into mass murderers.
"I feel that it's important to make every monster feel like an individual. If you think about it, basically all monsters in RPGs are the same. They attack you, you heal, you attack them, they die. There's no meaning to that."
But there is meaning in Undertale, where monsters you choose to spare can befriend you after the battle is done. There's no word on what sort of advantages this confers, if any. I feel, however, that the mere fact we're seeing a game in which this choice consistently exists shows how far the medium has come - and perhaps, to some degree, how far it still has to go.
Undertale tells the story of a little girl who's managed to fall into an undergound world populated entirely by monsters. Inspired as much by games like Earthbound as by Shin Megami Tensei and Tohou; the game combines puzzles, appealing graphics, an excellent soundtrack and a quirky, well-written narrative with the aforementioned combat system for an experience both nostalgic and entirely new. The Kickstarter (along with a link to a playable demo) can be found here.