Skip to main content

Games like Undertale that subvert and surprise

Undertale
(Image credit: Toby Fox)

Games like Undertale aren't easy to come by. That's because Undertale (often called an anti-RPG) is a tough game to put your finger on as it subverts genre expectations and has surprises at seemingly every turn. It's an homage to beloved retro games like Earthbound that you'll likely run through pretty quickly, so of course you'll go searching for more games like Undertale. 

We'll, we've scoured the internet and our game libraries for more games like Toby Fox's delightful 2015 title, with the hopes that at least one on this list will fil the void left after you finished Undertale. The games like Undertale listed her have similar vibes or gameplay systems, and offer a unique take on their chosen genre and characters. 

Pony Island

(Image credit: Daniel Mullins)

Developer: Daniel Mullins Games
Platforms: PC, Mac

This game calls itself “as indie as can be”, which is definitely an apt description of Undertale already. Pony Island is also quite into breaking the fourth wall, just like Undertale. This starts with how it’s essentially a game within a game, which has been developed by none other than the devil. Whereas Undertale riffs off of JRPGs, Pony Island has an open score with puzzles, one it settles in a loving, comedic tone. Those expecting the unexpected (plus ponies) will definitely not be disappointed.

Lisa The Painful

(Image credit: Dingaling Productions)

Developer: Dingaling
Platforms: PC, Mac

If you’re looking for a game that’s as darkly funny as it is thought-provoking, this is your game. Lisa: The Painful RPG, generally shortened to Lisa the Painful, is a turn-based RPG made to look like a side-scroller. Like Undertale, it asks you some tough moral questions, but it doesn’t give you the options to hug your way out of conflict. Instead, you need to sacrifice your party members to get ahead and regularly satisfy the worst urges you could think a character capable of. Incidentally, this is also a great game for fans of Junji Ito.

Deltarune

(Image credit: Toby Fox)

Developer: Toby Fox
Platforms: PS4, PS5, PC, Nintendo Switch

This one’s a bit of no-brainer, as it’s the new game by Undertale creator Toby Fox. Chapter 1 released last year and is available for free on the Deltarune website or on consoles. Since it looks and feels like Undertale, including anthropomorphic characters and a general vibe of wholesomeness, and was actually advertised as a title for “people who have completed Undertale”, you might mistake it for a sequel, but it’s not. Instead, Deltarune is a game in the spirit of its predecessor, this time featuring actual turn-based RPG combat.

Cave Story

(Image credit: Studio Pixel)

Developer: Nicalis
Platforms: PC, Mac, Nintendo Switch

Another game mostly made by a lone developer, Cave Story features challenging 2D platforming and combat in the style of Mega Man or Castlevania. This includes shooter battles, just like the retro bullet-hell action in Undertale. The story is more intricate than you might expect for this type of game: you wake up with no memory of who you are, and without your past as a reference point it becomes more and more difficult to tell who to trust and how to make the right choices. You actually have a say over the latter, and thus actively influence the game’s outcome.

Persona 5

(Image credit: Atlus)

Developer: Atlus
Platforms: PS3, PS4

Stylistically you may not think Undertale has a lot in common with Persona 5 (opens in new tab) – but the two share similar themes and use them in their gameplay as well as the narrative. The whole story of Persona 5 revolves around whether or not something like true justice actually exists, and how we judge others. During combat, you need to beat and catch different Persona, but you can also negotiate with them, ultimately sparing their life. Keeping this balance between punishing those you perceive as monstrous and showing them mercy is another point this game frequently discusses.

To The Moon

(Image credit: Freebird Games)

Developer: Freebird Games
Platforms: PC, Mac, iOS, Android, Nintendo Switch

As a pair of time-travelling scientists, To the Moon has you create fake memories to give a terminal patient peace of mind. It’s a narrative-focused game with the same look as Undertale, having been developed in RPG Maker. The emotional impact of this story is phenomenal - you learn about the life of your client Johnny and the many people around him, and the incredibly realistic writing has you witness people falling in love, argue, discuss the purpose of life and so much more. That’s the reason Johnny and the scientists you control will grow on you almost like real people.

Rakuen

(Image credit: Laura Shigihara)

Developer: Laura Shigihara
Platforms: Mac, PC

Undertale manages a great balance between comedy and emotional depth. This gorgeous game by solo developer Laura Shigihara lets you take control of a little boy who enters a fantasy world and helps its inhabitants in order to let go of the resentment he feels over his own tragic situation. His new friends are creatures like a very dapper onion and a bear, and while the boy wants to become a great warrior, in reality he helps where he can. As with Undertale and To the Moon, if you don’t cry at Rakuen at little bit, you’re likely as cold as a cod.

Nier: Automata

(Image credit: Square Enix)

Developer: Platinum Games
Platforms: Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, PS4, PS5, PC

Bullet hell combat? Check. A strong awareness of its own genre? Check. Unexpected and fascinating twists and turns in a story about morality and self-agency? Indeed! Nier: Automata isn’t the best RPG of recent years, if not one of the best JRPGs ever, for nothing. For the androids 2B, 9S and A2 the mission seems to be clear – fight for dominance on earth. That is their only task. However, soon you begin to question if it’s really that simple, and if it is a battle that can even be won…

With ever-changing combat and a story that may not be made for laughs, it's perfect if you’re looking for something epic and gripping to the very end. This one has to be seen, and even then it’s difficult to describe the impact Nier: Automata has.

OFF

(Image credit: MortisGhost)

Developer: Mortis Ghost, Martin Georis
Platforms: PC, Mac

This game by a French developer duo with the great name Unproductive Fun Time also riffs off of RPGs, including turn-based combat and a large number of fun, well thought-out puzzles. The simple 2D style is immediately reminiscent of Undertale, but OFF released much earlier, as far back as 2008. Here again the question eventually becomes whether you’re actually doing good, and whether there’s even any need for a hero in OFF’s bizarre world.

Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward

(Image credit: Chunsoft)

Developer: Spike Chunsoft
Platforms: PS4, PC

This list comes to a close with another slightly unconventional recommendation, as Zero Escape is a series of visual novels. Virtue’s Last Reward is actually the second instalment in the Zero Escape Franchise, which begins with Zero Escape 999 (for Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors). Here you need to find a way out of several escape rooms. The Room puzzles are interspersed with non-interactive visual novels seconds in which you follow the story.

If you’ve played other games by Kotaro Uchikoshi, you know to expect a twisted, Battle Royale (think the Japanese book/film, not Epic’s smash hit) narrative with several different endings that will force you to make tough choices. The crowning achievement in that regard however, are the AB (Ambidex) games. All you and your partner have to decide on is whether to betray or ally with a member of the opposite team. Depending on what your opponent picks, you win points or lose points, and trust us, you don’t want to lose those precious points! This of course leads to interesting dilemmas. Can you trust the person in the other room, or even the one in the room right with you? It’s a real nail-biter. 


Malindy is a freelance video games writer for outlets like Eurogamer, PLAY, PCGamer and Edge Magazine, who also occasionally works in game design consultation and localization. As a Japanese speaker, she enjoys Japanese pop culture and is always on the hunt for the next game from the Land of the Rising Sun. She also particularly enjoys narrative-focused games and cute indies, and always seeks to learn more about the business-side of the gaming industry.

With contributions from