Are you a skeleton dater, or a skeleton hater?
Anyway, let's have another crack at the writing. Earthbound is once again the obvious comparison, with the weird character designs and cutesy exterior juxtaposed against moments of surreal dread, but whenever Undertale decides to be genuinely funny - fortunately a very frequent occurrence indeed - it has an anarchic silly streak reminiscent of the earlier Paper Marios or a less slapstick-y Jazzpunk. Absurd scenarios often seem to just pop up out of the woodwork, and the game's lack of respect for the rules of continuity (or believability, for that matter) means that there really is no telling what might be one screen over. And it's not 'random', either; there's never a non-sequitur for the sake of a non-sequitur, not when a non-sequitur can divert you off on a fun little tangent where you're on a cooking show with the cousin of the robot from A Grand Day Out. Obviously this causes the tone to swing wildly around like a set of pants on a flagpole, but somehow never jarringly enough to take you out of the experience.
I promise you I'm not cherrypicking here: there's a bit where a character chugs an entire bottle of ketchup moments before delivering a question that throws an entire section into the game into fridge horror territory, and it works. It's the kind of game where you'll want to do a pacifist playthrough not just because it's more fun, but because everybody is just so goddamn likeable that bringing yourself to hurt an enemy - even the boss characters - is genuinely kind of hard. On my first run I only intentionally killed one creature, and that was only after they tore the universe asunder and proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that they were too dangerous to be left alive. If there's anything to complain about it's that your own character is a bit of a cardboard cutout when it comes to personality, but hey, Portal 2 did the same thing, right? Surround a dullard protagonist with engaging characters that can carry the show all by themselves and it hardly matters that the player is piloting around an emotionless android.
It's smarter than you'd expect, too. There's a TVTropes page handily entitled 'The Dev Team Thinks of Everything' that lists all the times games cleverly catch out players' attempts to break their logic, and by the end of next month I estimate that sixty percent of that page will be dedicated to Undertale. You can go back and save a character you accidentally killed, but the game will guilt trip you accordingly for not being able to live with your actions. You can deliberately fail the tutorial multiple times and your unamused tutor, fed up with being toyed with, will cut right to the chase. The way the game seems to know what you're going to do before you do it - combined with the very personal, character-driven nature of its responses - can be more than a little chilling at times, if I'm honest. This game remembers things. Not the kind of systemic memory most RPGs have, where it's obvious what matters, what's trivial, and what's beyond the scope of the game; this game remembers things you'd rather it didn't. The underlying logic is probably just a big text document full of numbers somewhere, but the way it covers all the bases can make it look frighteningly intelligent, especially when indulging in the kinds of fourth-wall-breaking shenanigans that make Psycho Mantis look like a kid with a Magic 8-Ball. “You like Castlevania, don't you?” Cute trick, Hideo Kojima. Now watch this character directly plead with us not to reset our save file because that’ll literally wipe them from the universe.
Chances are you will be resetting your save at some point, though; the thing about Undertale is that even though you can theoretically just finish it once and be quite satisfied - unless you're some kind of android with an array of coprocessors where your left hemisphere used to be - it's the kind of game that you really ought to be playing multiple times, if only to see the over-the-top maddening finale that is the true ending. Thanks to the game's worryingly persistent memory, even identical runs made in succession can be subtly and not-so-subtly different - characters recognising you when they shouldn't, permanent changes to the world, that sort of thing - and of course, there's always a chance of finding some new area or plot thread if you just dig a little deeper here and there. You can only ever have one save file at a time, though, and it's often completely ambiguous if your actions actually have an effect or not, which if I'm honest I'm kind of in two minds about.
On one hand, it gives Undertale a fabulous sense of mystery that I haven't felt since The Stanley Parable: prodding and poking at the corners of the world, never knowing if you've seen everything, hearing whispers of a secret boss, wondering whether you're treading the same ground or different ground that's been artfully designed to look like the same ground, that sort of thing. In this age, where everything that isn't explicitly spelled out can usually be divined by glancing at the achievement list, I have nothing but the utmost respect for a game with the rocks to keep actual, proper, world-shattering secrets under wraps. On the other hand, my inner completionist - don't try to tell me you don't have one too - is dying out here. I wouldn't even have known about persistence between playthroughs if I hadn't hopped right back in after finishing the first one, and while things are certainly different enough to justify going through again - aside from, you know, it just being an amazing experience that I want to play more than once - is it really out of the question that we try to speed some of the redundant bits up? You can skip past a couple of plot sequences the second time through - not particularly helpful, since I will never not want to experience *********'s **************** - and the disparate fast-travel systems are only really useful for backtracking to very specific locations. How about a run button? I hear that really helped somebody else's game out.
Undertale is not a game I should have liked. It's heavily scripted, dominated by text boxes, stuffed with generic sappy 'power of love' themes that let you believe you can solve everything with hugs, and only ever gives the player agency when it begrudgingly slides an 'X or Y' question under their nose. Its approach to pacifism is to give you a platter of menu options to fumble your way through, its RPG elements are paper-thin, and it’s about as systemically complex as a game of Fifty-Two Pickup. It hinges almost entirely on its ability to force-feed you something imaginative and novel on every other screen, and that’s why its success is so singularly remarkable. People tend to wear out words like ‘charming’ and ‘quirky’ and ‘funny’ in the indie sphere, mostly because almost anything tends to look that way after months of consuming designed-by-committee blockbusters, but Undertale, bless its enormous heart, encapsulates those words so perfectly.
It is, in other words, the real deal.