I had been curious about this for a while and finally took the plunge. The premise is fun, but I feel like the game, about 7-8 hours in, isn't really sticking the landing. The few characters are likeable enough, but story beats are padded out by long dungeons filled with backtracking, repetitive and easy fights and a lot of waiting around for the auto-walk to get to a destination.

I've always found something interesting about the grid-based dungeon crawler genre and its narrative tendencies to plunge characters into some weird spiritually complicated worlds, and it seems like that's the case in Undernauts.

While I'm still interested to see where Undernauts goes (I just got to the Cemetery area), I'm not very into the loot/upgrade loop. I can't really tell how useful my stat upgrades are - I'm still steamrolling every encounter, but occasionally enemies one-shot my characters with a magic spell and I have to warp back to revive them. The party size of 6 feels too big, I don't like having to go through menus fairly often to re-optimize.

Now, here's the thing - I'm willing to give the benefit of the doubt that later on in the game, encounters get more complicated and interesting. But there are literally JRPGs out there that give you interesting battles within 10 minutes - it feels silly to sit through what would probably be 10+ hours before getting to more interesting fights!

Also, the game has narrative plot beats that are paced so slowly! It took me 7 whole hours to get the first 3 Thingies and get to the first non-boring-cave dungeon. I like the weird idea of Sinners and appreciate some of the historical connections to Japan (although I feel like the writing is a little perfunctory/going through the motions?)

I think the design vocabulary of the grid dungeon crawler is really neat and has a lot of cool potential. And Undernauts has a lot of ideas, but they also feel like weird conflicting compromises at times... the texture of the dungeon crawling feels kind of flat. I think the constant treasure/loot loop emphasizes that - to me, it feels like enough flexibility to let you allocate skills, but adding a layer of all these items and upgrading the items...? Feels excessive and slows down the pacing. I think there's a lot of room for a designer of this genre to cut down on, what I assume, are decades-old conventions that are around because they've always been around.

That is to say, well, I do wish I could finish Undernauts but I don't have the time to slog through everything it's asking of me, sadly!

Reviewed on May 04, 2022


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