Some Thoughts on Undertale
I feel like it’s fairly safe to say that for a lot of us, certainly for myself, Undertale came out of nowhere and barrelled right into us with significant impact.
For those of you who have never heard about it, Undertale is sort of a JRPG-style game by Toby Fox and his little team. I am hesitant to tell you much more upfront, because it’s one of those games that it’s best to go into blind and play through on your own. Personally, I’d say it’s definitely one of the best games this year for various reasons, and it’s worth your time to check it out.
I will make one concession on that: I feel the game can occasionally be a little unclear on what it expects you to do, and in those cases it might be better to ask a friend or the internet for a hint rather than to keep banging your head against the wall.
And I will give you one non-spoiler tip. Pay close attention to what you’re told. While not all of it will be important, some of it can become really relevant later on.
For the rest of this article I will unavoidably be going into light spoilers to talk about some of the thoughts I’ve come to about the game. If you truly don’t care, or have already played it, then feel free to go ahead.
Undertale is sort of a JRPG, clearly having drawn inspiration from that type of game, most notably from Earthbound. You walk around on a 2D plane seen from above, there are random encounters, the art-style is simple, but clear, and combat is turn-based.
But it also plays with the expectations that come from that. It is entirely possible, and even encouraged, to go through the whole game without killing a single enemy. The game pays close attention to what you’re doing, and even if you reload a save, it might make reference to something you did and then undid by loading a save. Certain characters are more or less aware of the existence of save-states.
It also feels like the devs ( I think Toby did all the coding, but he might have some help on the writing? ) are keenly aware of how people consume games these days, both through playing and watching, and 4th-wall breaking comments crop up to that effect throughout the game. Sometimes amusing, sometimes a tad disturbing.
Now, I’d say the main thing that will catch people’s attention beforehand is that it touts the ability to not kill anything. This does not mean that you avoid fights. You still have to go into “battle” with enemies, but instead of fighting them, you have a second menu called Act, in which you can do different things depending on who you’re up against. Some enemies you can talk to, some you can perform certain actions on or towards, some you can pet, and other stuff I can’t quite remember.
Dealing with enemies in this way means you get no exp, though you do still get money. So you’ll have to go through the game on lvl 1, and sometimes the sequence of actions you have to have to perform to get them to agree to stop fighting can be fairly complex. And as I mentioned before the break, it can occasionally be a bit unclear what you have to do to avoid killing someone. And no matter what, you have to keep avoiding ( or neutralising in a few instances ) their attacks as best you can. Sometimes that’s quite hard. Meaning you also need to carry as many healing items as you can in your limited inventory.
The goal is to get their name to turn yellow on the selection screen ( when you pick Fight or Act, you then get to select which enemy to target), and then select Spare in the Mercy menu, and there can be more than one way to achieve that.
On the whole, doing a pacifist run of Undertale requires a lot of dedication and determination. Personally I’d say it’s worth it. The “true ending” is pretty amazing.
While Undertale’s combat mechanics can feel clunky and frustrating ( which might be deliberate, at least to an extent ), the writing and characters are excellent. Undertale’s world is not that big, but there’s still a lot to see, and plenty of amazing character to meet. So often it seems like a character turns out to not be what you expected of them based on the first impression you got. Especially with regards to the main characters. Undertale has a way of leaving you with a lot to think about.
I also feel like I should mention the protagonist, whom I think of as delightfully androgynous. There are no absolute indicators of what their gender might be, which is clearly deliberate, as everyone else in the game uses they/them pronouns for them.
Though ultimately I kinda feel like I might enjoy the impact Undertale has had on the internet more than the game itself. There’s an amazing amount of comics, artwork, videos, writings, and little fanfics that have cropped up already, and as someone who browses Tumblr daily I catch a lot of that stuff. One might almost say it’s worth playing the game just to be able to take part in all of that.
I will confess I didn’t have the heart to try the all-kill run. Maybe I’ll watch a playthrough of that some time, but I’m not sure I can handle watching some of these lovely characters die.
This turned rather rambly. If you haven’t played Undertale, I heartily recommend giving it a shot. If you have played Undertale, I hope you enjoyed it.