Category Archives: RPG

Is Undertale Worth It?

So, even though I finished Undertale back in February, I had originally decided that I wouldn’t do an actual review.  I mean, what else could I say about this game that the internet hadn’t already?  But with Undertale preparing to release on Playstation 4, as well as physical copies for PC, it occurred to me that there may actually be people who haven’t played it yet.  I mean, it’s been out for two years, & I only just recently played it.  Maybe there are people who only have consoles, & are now left wondering if the game is worth all the hype.

I had a bit of a laugh at the Wikipedia page for Undertale claiming it was a cult video game.  This designation usually refers to games that receive universal praise by those who play it, but aren’t commercial successes.  Think titles like Psychonauts or Okami.  But I find it hard to believe Undertale was not a commercial success.  It has its own merchandise & is getting a physical release on a major console even two years later, for godsake!  The creator, Toby Fox, even commented if he never made another game again he’d be happy.  But, I don’t know.  The games press ate it up, but that doesn’t always translate into what gamers want.  And I could see some people overlooking it due to its presentation.  Not to mention there always tends to be backlash when something becomes unexpectedly popular.  Some people just can’t let others enjoy things (strangely, none of the “backlash” to Undertale says it’s not a good game).

Because of this, I decided to take it upon myself to pose the question that others might be asking after the hullabaloo surrounding the pre-order announcement: Is Undertale worth the hype?

To answer the question briefly: Yes.

Talking about Undertale in any capacity is difficult because discussing what truly makes it good might involve spoiling it, & Undertale makes the most impact when the player goes in blind.  It’s the same problem one encounters when discussing why The Cabin in the Woods is a good movie.  The things that make it so good are the very things you don’t want to ruin for others.

To that end, here is an abbreviated, spoiler-free review:

Undertale is as charming retro RPG that will both elate & devastate players who explore its many secrets.  It easily ranks among one of my favorite games, & serves as an example of why gaming is so good.  I place it among my games that everyone, gamer & non-gamer alike, should play.

Beyond this point, I will avoid story-related spoilers as much as possible.  But I will endeavor to explain my experiences with Undertale that made me love it so much.  Caveat lector.  Let the reader beware.

I first learn about Undertale before it even came out, having up-voted the trailer on Steam Greenlight.  I was intrigued by an RPG that blatantly tells you that you can get through the entire game without killing a single foe.  Saying that you can find a peaceful way through isn’t a spoiler, as it’s part of how the game was advertised.  Lots of games offer non-lethal alternatives, such as by letting you sneak around confrontations, smooth-talk your way out of fights, or put people to sleep.  Generally, these are the routes I prefer to take when offered a choice, because I find them more of a challenge.  Not that I have anything against the catharsis of violence in video games.  It probably doesn’t say good things about my person that I’d rather manipulate people to get what I want as opposed to just punching them.  Then again, I’ve long known I’m passive-aggressive.

Somehow, I managed to avoid spoiling the game for me for a whole two years.  Thankfully, most people are in agreement that revealing too much to the uninitiated would ruin the experience for new players.  All I knew going in was what the trailer showed & that everyone kept saying it was a great game.

I don’t think this counts as a spoiler, because it blatantly announces this fact, but for those who haven’t played yet, regardless of everything in between, I recommend playing a full Pacifist route before a full Genocide route for the best experience.  I imagine that most players’ pattern involved a Neutral run first, kinda doing what comes natural, sparing some enemies but killing others, before trying a full Pacifist then Genocide.

Undertale does a really good job of presenting this moral dichotomy within the structure of its gameplay.  It is very much a “mechanics as story” thing.  It starts all nice & sweet, & then suddenly, “Oh my God this thing is trying to kill me without provocation!”  But then you’re saved & guided through the first stage by this character you really come to like, & they straight out tell you how to do a Pacifist run.  In their motherly fashion, they encourage you to talk to the monsters that attack you, to befriend them & let them live.  They’re just confused.  They don’t know better.  The first area does a stellar job of teaching you everything you need to know about the mechanics of this world, including the moral choices.  During this hand-holding session, you don’t have to listen.  You can still beat monsters up.  But even when I later did a Genocide run, I didn’t let them see that.  I played along so they… wouldn’t be disappointed?  Considering I knew I’d kill them later, what was the point?  To catch them off guard?  To hide my wickedness?

Undertale does a good job of bringing out the best & worst in the player, as we’ll soon see.

Then comes the first boss fight.  And like any good boss fight, it tests what you’ve learned up to that point.  Not just about the fighting mechanics, but of your understanding of this world.  It tests your resolve, whichever way it might lean.  They make it clear they don’t really want to fight you, & are doing this in a misguided effort to protect you.  They haven’t really done anything wrong.  What will you do?  You’ll either need a cold heart to Fight through the opposition regardless of who they might be, or you’ll need to hold strong to your desire to Spare even when the enemy hurts you without justification.  Whatever you choose, the first area culminates beautifully (or horrifically), & sets you on your path.

Knowing it was an option in the beginning, I wanted to do a Pacifist run the first time, but I struggled at this first boss.  I knew not to fight back, but I didn’t know how to convince them to stand down.  Before that point, there were things you could say, Acts to perform, to make enemies lose the will to Fight, but not with the boss.  So I foolishly struck back, thinking I could wear them down until they’d relent.  Then I felt guilty.  Then I Reset.

Then the game remembered.

When characters started saying I seemed familiar to them, that they already knew my responses, I knew I was dealing with a game that was going to mess with me.  I haven’t tested it as fully as others might have, but I doubt there’s much you can do in the game that it won’t remember & call you out on.

From that point on, I endeavored to Spare every enemy, even though it becomes a far harder task as the game progresses.  I’ve heard some people levy that as a criticism against Undertale; that they feel the message is a bit, if not wishy-washy, simplistic & naive.  That not everyone in the world will be nice to you if you’re nice to them.  But… isn’t that the point?  Yeah, it many cases the player would be justified in fighting back.  I’m just trying to get through this level unmolested, yet monsters keep trying to murder me.  But in our own world, don’t acts of selfless kindness and compassion make us take notice?  The world can be a cruel, uncaring place.  But when people see someone being kind to them when they know they don’t deserve it, it gives them pause.  Our human nature is inherently selfish, so rising above that takes a great act of will.  That’s why it stands out to us so much when we see it.  The exact same is true in Undertale.  The monsters view humans as the enemy, as creatures without compassion, and behave according to their prejudice.  It is through the player’s Acts of Mercy that they come to realize their mistakes.

That is what Mercy is — giving someone something they don’t deserve.  Showing kindness when the person has done nothing to deserve it.  Withholding a punishment someone justly deserves.  The more I thought about it, the more I was impressed with the message (even if Toby Fox wasn’t intending it to go that far).  It’s not a message we hear often nowadays, where it seems like any action, no matter how deplorable, can be justified.  It’s one of the things humans are best at, finding an excuse to salve our consciences.  No one’s to blame for anything.  We’re all just victims of something: our genetics, our environment, our situation… Too few people stop to say, “No, you can do better than this.”  In fact, the game outright says that several times to the player if they take the easy way out.  You can do better, even if you don’t think so.

Through Mercy, through failing to respond in the way the monsters expect, the player helps bring out the best in everyone.  Everyone gets the chance to have what they’d always dreamed of…

And then I True Reset.  Despite the game blatantly asking, “Are you sure you want to do that?”  Dude, this is the best ending you can get.  Whatever you do past this point will only be worse.  And if you just want to get the same best ending, are you really willing to take away their happy ending, making them go through all that over again, just for the selfish joy of playing savior again?

But, I mean, it’s just a game.

Right?

When all is said & done, it only made matters worse that I took away everyone’s happy ending just to turn around & kill them all.

I’ve played a lot of games that revel in carnage.  Sometimes you’re the good guy, & sometimes not.  I won’t deny there’s a sort of glee that comes from being an a-hole in games, especially when they don’t want you to be.  I enjoy my Dooms & Saints Rows.  I’ve even taken the evil route in RPGs like Jade Empire & KOTOR.  But I don’t think I’ve ever had a game made me feel as bad as Undertale.

It started off innocently enough… well, as innocently as a Genocide run can be.  There’s a joy in taking out enemies in a single hit.  In becoming this god of destruction.  And I’ll freely admit I felt some satisfaction in taking the motherly first boss by surprise.  But then, I killed the second boss.  And oh my God, I don’t think I’ve ever felt like such a piece of crap in my entire life.  Maybe it’s because I got to know the characters through my Pacifist run (hence why I recommended playing it first), but I felt so bad after the second boss fight.  Rip out my soul, Toby Fox.

And I know that’s the point.  That’s sort of the point of no return.  It’s like, if you can kill this character,  who you don’t even have to Fight, then you are evil incarnate.  And the game past that point reflects it.  It doesn’t even play out the same if you’re just doing a Neutral run.  I like that there’s a distinction.  In a Neutral run, you might Spare some enemies, but you might kill others.  Maybe they’re too hard to Spare, or you’re in a hurry, or just tired of dealing with them.  And the game acknowledges that.  It will flat-out ask you, “Did you do all you could?”  But with the Genocide route, several characters flat-out tell you you’re going down a dangerous path.  I didn’t even realize this until I saw someone point it out, but in a Genocide run, you’re literally chasing monsters down to kill them.  It’s true.  To do a true Genocide run, you have to wander around the area before the next boss fight, killing everyone, the random encounters becoming fewer as you go, until you get a message that there’s no one left to fight.  You are literally cornering these monsters as they’re trying to evacuate.

I felt like crap after that second boss, & kept moving on thinking, “Please, someone kill me!  Give me a fight too strong that I can’t beat in a single hit!  Give me an excuse to stop playing!”  Thankfully, the game provided, & after wiping out the next area, the third boss annihilated me.  And rather than being angry, I was elated.  “Yes!  I don’t have to keep going!”  And I haven’t been able to pick up the game since, not even to reset.  I’m afraid of characters remembering.  And don’t think your conscience is safe by watching someone else play a Genocide run, because the game will call you on that, too.  I swear I was watching a Let’s Play, & a character commented something to the extent of, “Or maybe you’re too much of a coward & are watching someone else kill everyone, you sicko.”

And when all is said & done, that is what I appreciate most about Undertale.  It is a story that, at its core, could only be told through a video game.  Every mechanic has some justification for existing in the story.  It gets in your head.  Nearly every action we take for granted under the justification of “it’s just a game” is acknowledged.  I don’t think I’ve experienced anything like that before.  It would be the equivalent of reading a book where a character in the story suddenly realizes that they aren’t actually in control of their actions, but that they’re being dictated by someone writing out the story for their own amusement.  Undertale knows it’s a game, & therefore knows its being played.  And it points its finger at the person behind the screen & says, “You, player, are the villain.”  There is no separation between player & proxy.  You are always in control, for good or ill.

– GamerDame

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Game Review: Dragon Age Inquisition

One of the biggest complaints leveled against Dragon Age II was how small & repetitive the locations you visited were.  While this wasn’t really an issue for me, as DA2 was more about the events within a single city as opposed to an entire country, I do consent that the areas felt a bit disjointed & unconnected.  Dragon Age: Inquisition attempts to make amends for this by allowing players to roam not one city, or one country, but an entire continent, not to mention involving all of Thedas in some context.  So does Inquisition make the most of this sprawling world space?

Is it accurate to say all hell has broken loose?

Is it accurate to say all hell has broken loose?

Dragon Age: Inquisition takes place shortly after the events at the end of DA2.  Due to Anders’ actions in Kirkwall, mages have been blamed for the attack on the Chantry, leading to the Templars exacting revenge and prompting the Circles to disband in retaliation.  It’s an all-out war between both factions.  At the start of the game, the leader of the Chantry, Divine Justinia, calls for a Conclave, a peaceful meeting between mages & Templars to end the war.  However, a massive explosion destroys the Conclave, killing everyone involved & tearing a Rift in the sky.  This Rift sunders the boundaries between the real world & the Fade, allowing demons to freely traverse the plane.  This is where you come in: as the Herald, the only survivor of the explosion, believed to have been pulled from the Fade by Andraste, & physically marked by the Maker with the only means to close the Rifts.  Thus it falls on you to save the world from itself.

Actually not the biggest enemy you'll face in the game

Actually not the biggest enemy you’ll face in the game

While much of the gameplay remains the same as in previous Dragon Age games, there have been significant additions.  You begin by choosing a race (human, dalish, dwarf or Qunari) & a class.  BioWare brought back the tactical camera from the first game, giving players the option of the more fast-paced view, or pulling back to observe the entire battlefield.  Another new feature is the war table, where you essentially delegate tasks to your advisors to complete.  Different advisors may suggest different courses of action, leading to different outcomes.  Other additions include the return of a crafting system, hunting, harvesting, mounts, new specializations, & a revamped relationship system for your followers.

There will be no review of the multiplayer component of this game as I don’t do multiplayer.

Narrative: Inquisition definitely had the largest scope of the Dragon Age games so far, & the most far-reaching story.  All of Thedas becomes involved in your quest in some capacity.  Unfortunately, the only city you get to visit is Val Royeaux, the capital of Orlais.  It would’ve been nice to revisit locations from the previous game, like Denerim.  The plot itself is interesting, dealing with issues such as faith & fate.  I like that in all the Dragon Age games they balance the Circle & Templar factions in that neither side feels good or bad.  They both have valid points as well as missteps.  Inquisition finally gives closure to the conflict DA2 danced around & ties in well with the previous games.  I liked that, thanks to The Keep, you can shape the world to your previous games that, while not always having a noticeable impact on the way the story resolves itself, colors the game to being your world.  Did you make Alistair king or did he stay with the Wardens?  Did you go along with Morrigan’s ritual?  The changes these decisions offer may be minor in the long run, but it makes for a cohesive experience to those who’ve played the previous games.  I also enjoyed the characters in Inquisition.  All your followers & advisors have unique personalities & agendas, responding to your decisions both big & small.  The way you choose to play impacts how they relate to your character.  If I had a complaint with the story, it was that at times it becomes lost in the scope of the world.  As you explore the large areas offered by the game, it’s easy to forget what your ultimate objective is in all the tiny details.  But, that may have been just from the way I chose to progress through the areas, being the completionist I am.  So overall, interesting characters, cohesive world, & a plot that involves trying to stop a madman from usurping God.  Score: 5

Tactical Camera View

Tactical Camera View

Mechanics: There are a lot of gameplay features in Inquisition, so I’m going to focus on what I think worked the best & where there were problems.  For starters, it was good that they brought back the different races.  It adds more variety to the game & also affects the way people interact with your Herald.  I also liked the new talents & specializations.  Each class (mage, warrior, rogue) can unlock one of three specializations midway through the game, which were all fun.  Playing as a Dalish archer specializing in the Artificer tree, my favorite strategy upon approaching a group of enemies was the go into stealth, put down a mine under the strongest enemy, & when it went off, starting combat, Leap Shotting back behind my warriors.  Your followers also gain access to a specialization that suits them, so you get to play around with all of them, adding more variety to combat.  Speak of combat, it’s definitely improved since DA2.  Whereas DA2 felt more like a hack-&-slash, especially if you used a fast-attacking class, you no longer have to wail on the attack button.  You can just hold it down.  You have two sets of quick-select slots of talents, allowing you to map eight talents.  However, I didn’t like that there was no way to use talents you’d unlocked but had no room to map.  The tactical camera lets players fight however they prefer, be it more action or strategy-oriented, or a mix of both.  I typically stuck with the action view, occasionally switching to tactical to keep track of the entire field or to command a character to use a specific talent.  Hunting & harvesting are new features, & go well with the new crafting system.  You can find or buy schematics for weapons, armors & upgrades, which use the different resources.  I liked the crafting system overall, because it allows for customization of not only character appearance (both the Herald & followers) but stats & abilities.  On a more superficial note, I also liked that the armors have different appearances based on who’s wearing them.  You can also upgrade your potions, grenades & tonics, which again add more strategy.  Plus, throwing firebombs is fun.  The war table is also a nice addition, because it lends to the feeling of being in charge of this big organization that has resources scattered through the world.  It unrealistic for a leader to handle every matter personally.  Although I do wish some of the timers on the operations weren’t so long.  You can always cheat though, & just change the time on your console.

I’m fairly lukewarm about the mounts & approval system, though.  The mounts are nice, & cool to look at, but I never found a use for them in combat, despite the game’s insistence.  I would always just stop & get off to fight.  But it’s a nice, faster way of getting across the map if you have quests to turn in.  I’m also no crazy about the approval system.  While this has been a feature in all Dragon Age games, it’s not as well done as in the previous games.  You can only gain or lose approval based on your decisions during quests.  There’s no friendship/rivalry like in DA2.  Nor can you give gifts to your companions.  While this does make for a more dynamic story (keep doing things someone doesn’t like & they’ll leave) you may find yourself making decision based on balancing companion approval instead of what you want to do.  But it’s all in how you approach it.

Materials offer different benefits

Materials offer different benefits

For all the good, the game isn’t without faults.  For one, I experience a lot of bugs, especially later in the game.  Most of them were minor, like graphical bugs (such as characters sitting on the back of chairs or zipping around when they walked) or sound stutters, but some were more annoying, forcing me to restart the game or reload an area.  One example was that during Cassandra’s quest, a pile of loot that held the key I needed to progress spawned in the air over a door, preventing me from getting the key.  Some of the collections quests were bugged, with pieces spawning in inaccessible places.  I also didn’t like that the same button is used for jumping, looting, talking, or any action in general.  Because all the other buttons are assigned to combat, there were many times I looted when I wanted to jump to higher ground, or talked when I wanted to open a door.  The game can be a bit finicky in general about selecting a target, taking a few seconds to register that you’re in range of interacting with something.  Speak of jumping, I hated the amount of jumping puzzles in the game.  By “jumping puzzle” I mean the developers would put things in places where you’d have to navigate up a cliff by jumping.  It doesn’t help that when your character changes direction, they run forward a step before turning, instead of just spinning around.  While it may be more realistic than spinning on a dime, that’s little consolation when I fall off a cliff & hurt myself because I just wanted to turn around to jump to the next rock to reach a stupid shard.

So overall, while there were control & bug issues, most of the mechanics were well implemented into the game, were fun to mess around with, & added to the feel of being in control of a world power.  Score: 4

The stuff of nightmares

The stuff of nightmares

Aesthetics: I liked the look of the game overall.  It goes more for the fantastical feel that pure realism.  The areas are distinct & interesting, making exploring a joy.  The enemy designs are all varied.  I especially liked some of the designs of the demons.  The character customization options are insane, allowing you to create basically any face you want.  Seriously, how many games let you color your eyelashes?  The sounds design is good as well.  The music is nice.  The pieces during major quests feel especially epic.  The voice acting is good all around.  I’ve always liked that the different regions in Thedas have different accents.  You can usually tell where a character is from by their accent alone.  Overall, great presentation.  Score: 5

Replay Value: Very high.  Despite the length of the game if you want to complete everything, there’s plenty of replay potential.  Not only are there different races, classes, specializations & romances to experience, but you actually can’t see everything in the game in a single playthrough.  Some operations are only available to certain races.  And choosing between the mages or Templars affects blocks off certain quests & operations.  Not to mention The Keep allows you to mess around with the world’s history without having to replay the previous games.  Score: 5

Breakdown

UntitledOverall Score: 5

Final Word: In my opinion, Dragon Age: Inquisition is the best of the Dragon Age games so far.  Although it does have some flaws, it hits all the right notes to be a must-have for any RPG fan.

– GamerDame

Title: Dragon Age: Inquisition
Console: PC, PS3, PS4, 360, XB1
Rating: M
Developer: BioWare
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Release Date: November 18, 2014

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