In a recent GameFaqs: Best Game of All Time poll, Toby Fox’s Undertale won, beating Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. The shrieking of Zelda fanboys was to be expected when learning this, but they do not stand alone in their disagreement, it seems. This outrage is shared equally between the Zelda love pillow demographic and old-school gamer demographic and it’s a shame.
Here’s why passionately disagreeing with this poll makes you an uptight video game geezer and frankly, just wrong.
My main argument can be broken down into simple parts: context, culture, and budget. That is, the context of the game in this drought of focused single player experiences, the presence of such a successful game coming from an American creator, and the budget and “team” of this indie project being so incredibly small.
The context of what this game is really defines its greatness. This game in our current climate of development is something that is actually pretty odd. Toby Fox used Kickstarter to fund the creation of this project, executed it mostly on his own and, almost in protest, made a kind of game that hasn’t been made in decades. The game implements everything people enjoy about classic RPGs successfully while simultaneously parodying them. It uses simple systems and builds them into complex things. It does this, in the present, meaning it’s advancement on all of the things that came before it.
Mostly, one guy did all of this while being influenced by how much things are being drawn away from this kind of game. With all of the DLC and online capabilities and focus being drawn away from games that are finished when they are released, Mr. Fox made a full and successful game that is unlike those things… by himself. He didn’t just throw something together, either. He wrote, beautifully. He tied together an art style, beautifully. He assembled gameplay moments, and they were beautiful.
His one man army story, in its simplicity, is one of the most beautiful and inspirational stories in all of the history of game making. You can’t argue against Undertale without giving this man the respect he deserves as an incredible artist. You can’t argue against Undertale without admitting that this game is indeed a masterpiece. You can’t argue against Undertale and not recognize its placement in time as a game that goes against trends and respects the entire history of game design.
The game needs to be culturally understood as well. I will go ahead and expose my personal weeb identity in saying that I believe Western game design has been struggling since the very beginning. How often do we as English speakers even find ourselves responsible for unique and well-made game? It’s happened before, but most people can acknowledge that the East perhaps put more effort video games more than we do here in the West. Now, we have our own classic and we aren’t even celebrating it properly? If you can’t find it in your heart to give this game the honor of best game of all time, consider accepting it as the best game ever made by a western creator.
Inspect the game’s classification as an indie title. The term “indie” can take on a lot of meanings but when it comes to games, indie can simply be understood as developed with a small team and able to follow through artistically with a concept without being corrupted by big business. Undertale was made by one guy, with minor contributions from others, with a budget of $51,124. That’s tiny. With that small amount he was able to craft a complete, very enjoyable game. He didn’t make a game that prompts you to buy DLC or prepares you for a sequel. He made complete game with multiple way to complete it. With one person and a small amount of money he did a better job making a game than huge groups of people have with more money and more time.
Now, surely, there is a population of the voters who voted in the GameFaqs poll who didn’t take into account all of these strong positives and just liked the game a lot or simply liked its novelty; that’s what made them vote. However, that appreciation is a more legitimate reason for voting for it than for voting against it because of the emotional attachment and the nostalgia one feels. When you take into account more than how the game directly compares to your pleasant memory of a game, it’s easy to understand why people have voted as they did in this poll.
Undertale isn’t a cult classic. It’s just a classic.