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Undertale, Overrated

Yeah, I said it.

Undertale is a cult favorite and Kickstarter darling from 2015 featuring meme-ready characters, NES graphics, and unique game mechanics. Your character has fallen down a hole into the underworld and now must contend with anxious monsters who need your soul to escape their otherwise eternal confinement. Will you leave a traditional trail of bodies and tears on your way to the exit, or will you embrace the spirit of determination and the power of friendship to spare all that you meet?

The very ending(s) depend on it!

It’s possible that I played Undertale too late. The retro graphics did nothing for me, nor did the retro graphics + modern game twists, as I played LISA back in 2015 already. While I did not know exact plot details, I also knew Undertale had a True Pacifist route that led to the best ending – knowledge which prejudges one’s own behavior in the game. Finally, I had already played games that also shifted in narrative tone and 4th-wall breaking, like Nier: Automata. If Undertale was my first experience with any of these things, maybe I would have been more impressed.

My major issue with Undertale though is that it is… not fun. When fighting enemies, they attack you via 5-6 seconds of Bullet Hell in which you move a red heart around a predefined box. It’s an extremely novel concept, and the things Undertale is able to convey through this mechanism is commendable. But at no point is it fun to do. Doing a True Pacifist run means you must talk to enemies instead of attacking them, which consumes several “turns” which results in you doing multiple Bullet Hell levels for each randomly-encountered enemy. True Pacifist also means you never level up or get more HP, so the game just gets progressively harder. Finally, if you get dangerously low on HP, you have to spend your turn using a healing item instead of talking, which delays the end of the fight and can mean you catch more damage than you healed and otherwise wasted your time.

Did I mention that you need to purchase healing items, using money that you receive from successfully navigating monster neuroses, thus potentially trapping yourself into a losing battle of attrition? Indeed, the only way I was able to complete the game at all was from looking up the solution to a puzzle that gave me an item that sometimes gave me free healing items. Supposedly there is also some armor you can buy to trivialize fights if you die enough times too.

In any case, the Venn Diagram of people who enjoy the plot of Undertale and those who like Bullet Hell games are likely two circles on opposite ends of the Earth.

There were some genuinely funny moments in the game, don’t get me wrong. But all I could really think about while playing was that Undertale did not respect my time. Which seems strange considering the game is like 9 hours long. Or perhaps that is expected when you know that every random encounter represents a possible permanent loss of player power (e.g. healing items or money to purchase more) instead of, you know, your character growing stronger over time. Technically you do find better equipment along the way, but that is really a bare minimum to keep parity with ever-stronger foes when you are stuck with 20 HP and losing a quarter of it each time you touch something.

Ultimately, I am glad I finished Undertale’s True Pacifist route. I understand that there are a myriad of alternative endings, including one which requires you murdering everyone you meet, but I don’t see the point. I sure as shit ain’t spending another 5+ hours on the endeavor when I already disliked combat.

Will do, Flowey. Will do. In fact, it’s already done.

On FF7 Remakes

As you may or may not have heard, Sony trolled their fanbase pretty hard during the Playstation Experience event a little over a week ago. Basically, the big announcement was Final Fantasy 7… being ported to the PS4. No HD remake, no enhanced graphics, just the Steam port. Good job, guys, way to be. If Sony spent half as much time on IT security as it does teasing FF7 fans, perhaps their executives would still have access to email.

One of the articles that popped up on Kotaku amidst the memes though, was basically making the argument that a FF7 remake shouldn’t happen. The argument goes that there are essentially two scenarios, A and B. In Scenario A, Square Enix updates the graphics and leaves everything else alone. This is bad because… the game is so good that we all already played it. No, really:

In other words…we’ve done this all already. Many of us, several times. A remake that overhauled the graphics but kept everything else the same-that’s what most people want. But as we’ve all journeyed through this world many, many times already-and in fact, revisited it through things like Crisis Core, Dirge of Cerberus, and Advent Children, a graphical-but-otherwise-identical remake would initially wow us…but we’d end up feeling empty afterward. Where would the excitement be? Every one of us can recite the story by heart. Every one of us knows how to breed a Gold Chocobo, how to beat Emerald Weapon, and we all have the high score on G-Bike.

So, I ask you: what does a remake really offer? There’s nothing new there.

I find this to be a highly bizarre argument, especially since it seems to apply to all remakes everywhere. You know, like the FFX/FFX-2 HD one. Or any of the earlier FF games.

In Scenario B, Square Enix remakes FF7’s graphics and then essentially changes the entire game with a new battle system or whatever. I agree that such an outcome would be bad, but that is because the scenario itself is dumb. That is no longer a remake, it is an entirely new game with the same characters. Which at this point I would probably play, but nevermind.

In the comments for these sort of articles, there is inevitably one or more individuals who feel to the need to express the sentiment that FF7 is overrated. Perhaps you even share that sentiment. In which case I feel the need to punch you in the face suggest you are objectively wrong. The game came out 17 years ago and it still consistently appears at the top of Most Wanted Remakes surveys in Japan. It has remained the best-selling Final Fantasy game ever released to this day. It was only ever outsold by Gran Turismo on the original Playstation. Just think about that for a minute: the second-most popular game for the entire life of a console system was a JRPG. One that outsold Halo, Resident Evil, GoldenEye, and similar (gaming) cultural touchstones of the era. If that is still considered overrated, I have to ask what you would consider “rated,” e.g. a game that matches its critical reception and/or reputation.

All that being said, I admit there would be issues. I haven’t played the game in decades (!) but I am not sure how an HD version of the Honey Bee Inn sequence and similar goofiness would translate. The general structure of the game means the artists would have to generate entirely new 3D environments pretty much the whole way through. And perhaps archaic mechanics such as random battles and limited save points would start to grate a bit on the newer (or even older) generation of gamers.

Nevertheless, I still feel like it is one of those things that just needs to happen. I don’t sit around believing that it will, but it should.