When Undertale came out in 2015, it quickly became a sleeper candidate for game of the year. The postmodern RPG, made almost singlehandedly by Toby Fox, featured quirky characters, a bizarre battle system, and a fantastic soundtrack.
What truly got people talking about Undertale, however, was the game’s emphasis on sparing enemies over killing them. In Undertale, every enemy and boss can be spared by talking to them or performing actions with them.
Killing or sparing certain enemies can drastically change the course of your playthrough, and Undertale features several different endings to highlight this.
Undertale somehow nailed its morality system on the first try, as it avoids becoming shallow, cheesy, preachy, or even pretentious over time.
Do you want more weird RPG goodness after Undertale? Can’t wait for Deltarune to be completed? Here are some similar games that’ll slake your appetite.
5. The MOTHER series
Let’s get the most obvious answer out of the way first. Without the MOTHER series, there would be no Undertale, and Toby Fox has made that explicitly clear.
The series was notable when it first released for deconstructing the JRPG genre. Instead of taking place in a fantasy world with swords, wizards, and dragons, Earthbound takes place in the country of Eagleland on a dystopian Earth. Baseball bats replace swords, suburban children replace legendary heroes, and cheeseburgers replace health potions.
Don’t let this fool you into thinking Earthbound is anything normal, however.
The game embraces the surreal, having battles against Salvadore Dali paintings, taxis, blue cultists, and other foes take place in psychedelic arenas. The game is multilayered. It masks the deep existential dread of growing up with childlike innocence. It’s so surreal and ultimately culminating into one of the most powerful and life-affirming coming-of-age stories ever created for a video game.
Earthbound’s sequel – Mother 3 – strays from the familiar settings of previous entries to create a nonsensical and unfriendly world. Primarily focused on the price of modernity and the ties that bind family members together, Mother 3 tells a heartbreaking story. It makes the player want to put down the controller and hug their loved ones.
The offbeat humor, fantastical settings, and fresh spin on JRPG conventions make picking up the series a no-brainer for any Undertale fan.
If you’re in the mood for something with darker comedy than Earthbound or Undertale, LISA is the game for you. Set in a post-apocalyptic world where an event called the White Flash killed all women, you play as Brad, a disillusioned man hellbent on rescuing the last known baby girl.
The game is chock full of blood and gore, but the game successfully avoids becoming over-the-top. Brad’s stoic disgruntlement provides a humorous contrast to the violent and bleak world you travel. The visual gags and witty dialogue skew the line between “dark humor” and “soul-crushing emptiness.”
LISA’s overworld takes place on a sidescrolling 2D plane. This was a unique choice considering nearly every RPG takes place from a top-down perspective. Combat in LISA resembles the Mario RPG games, as it is turn-based. It requires timed button presses to deal more damage.
What makes LISA’s battle system unique is that there are more than 30 recruitable party members, each with their own special abilities. You must be careful, however, as every character not named Brad is permanently killed if they fall in battle. To add to this stress, Brad and many other characters are addicted to a drug called “Joy.” Joy greatly improves battle prowess, but the withdrawal symptoms are severe. Battles in LISA are tense, sometimes tragic, and always brutal.
While Undertale and the MOTHER games have plenty of depressing moments, LISA is all dark. If you’re looking for a unique RPG with an edge, LISA’s got you covered.
3. Jimmy and the Pulsating Mass
The disgustingly named Jimmy and the Pulsating Mass is one of the newest Mother-like RPG’s to hit Steam. You play as Jimmy, an eight-year-old boy with an active and whimsical imagination. As you travel through his dream, you encounter all kinds of wacky creatures and colorful environments. Talking animals, bouncing numbers, and other friends tell Jimmy how much they love him.
One day, all of Jimmy’s dream friends start acting meaner toward him, telling him how much they hate him. As a scared and confused Jimmy further explores his world, he realizes that a force called the Pulsating Mass is corrupting everything that he loves and holds dear.
The Mass is a giant, shifting blob of flesh and veins that grows larger and spreads hate and discomfort. Once blue rivers fill with blood, formerly friendly NPC’s set out to brutally kill Jimmy. It begs the question, “What is happening in Jimmy’s life that created the Pulsating Mass?”
While Jimmy and the Pulsating Mass features plenty of horror elements, it isn’t a horror game itself. There are plenty of awful pretentious indie games that solely rely on shock value and gore to get a reaction from the player, but Jimmy isn’t one of them.
At its core, the game is about the confusing, stressful, and often terrifying emotions that come with growing up. The game isn’t all negative emotions either. You see plenty of uplifting interactions between Jimmy and his family as the young boy uses every support system he can find to help him fight off the evil in his mind. The game does a fantastic job of keeping you emotionally invested in Jimmy, and expect to laugh, cry, and scream with him.
2. YIIK: A Postmodern RPG
According to people ancient enough to remember Y2K, it was a time of both excitement and anxiety. While people were afraid of mass societal collapse, they were also pumped at the idea of a brand new millennium. The year 2000 always sounded so far away and futuristic, but now it was finally here. What would it bring?
Y2K is central to the plot of YIIK: a Postmodern RPG. You play as Alex, a whiny, pretentious, and entitled hipster who seeks to rescue an internet star with the help of his message board friends. He has to do so before the world supposedly ends. On the way, he explores a series of extremely surreal environments. The game’s low-poly art style and expressive color palette make for a visually mesmerizing game. Combined with delightfully weird enemy designs, the game is among the most visually stimulating RPG’s to come out in years.
The game’s battle system relies on timed button press minigames, similar to Paper Mario. These minigames change based on what weapons you have equipped or what character you’re using. The battle system also lets you manipulate the flow of time, making certain minigames easier to complete or speeding past lengthy animations.
If you can stomach hipster pretentiousness, YIIK is a highly stylized game that’s worth a playthrough for fans of offbeat RPGs.
1. Yume Nikki
Yume Nikki is the OG weird indie RPG. First released in 2004, the game has been free to download ever since and has won numerous accolades.
Players take control of a young hikikomori (a Japanese term for antisocial, agoraphobic people who refuse to leave their rooms). They explore their own subconscious. While awake, the protagonist Madotsuki can only explore her room, which features few interactive objects or notable features.
At any time, the player can choose to go to sleep, allowing Madotsuki to explore her dreams. Her dreams are a labyrinth of geometric shapes, clashing colors, and increasingly abstract objects and beings. The sole object of the game is to collect 24 objects called “effects.” At any point, Madotsuki can pinch her cheek to leave the dream world and return to her room, preventing players from getting inescapably lost. There is no way to get a game over, and the only enemies are these weird bird creatures that occasionally pop up to awaken you.
Yume Nikki is less of a game and more of an interactive artistic experience. While that may sound like pretentious nonsense, Yume Nikki succeeds in filling you with feelings of wonder, dread, and hope as good as any movie or book could.
Despite featuring no dialogue, the atmosphere of the game is fantastic at instilling a creeping sense of anxiety. The game’s simple graphics and minimalist but emotive soundtrack don’t hurt either. The game is amazing and it’s free, so there is no excuse not to try it out.
Are there any offbeat RPGs that we missed? Let us know!