Undertale: An RPG Where You Don't Have To Kill Anyone
Are You Ready for the Underground?
There are plenty of awesome indie games available on just the PC Gaming Market alone, but perhaps one of the more amazing games of yesteryear was "Undertale", the brain child of Toby Fox. Together with a small team and a humongous amount of backers from Kickstarter this simple but deep game hit Steam back in October of last year and quickly gained popularity. Not only did a fierce and faithful fanbase grow around the game, but it also received universal acclaim in the world of critics as well, earning a 92/100 on Metacritic and generally positive reviews across the board. The game would also go on to win numerous awards, such as Rock, Paper, Shotgun's October 2015 "Game of the Month" award, as well as winning their "Funniest Game on PC" category for their 2015 Game of the Year Awards, Game FAQ's 2015 "Best Game Ever" award, IGN's 2015 Game of the Year Award, and even hit it home with niche fields, taking the Ursa Major award for Best Game of 2015. In addition to all this Undertale either placed on other "Best of" lists or was otherwise nominated for other awards.
But what is it that makes Undertale so endearing and worthy of so many awards? Well, let's take a look and see what Undertale is all about.
A Grand Adventure
So what exactly is Undertale? Well, aside from an Indie Game, it's quite the epic adventure. Undertale opens with the narrative that, "Long ago, two races ruled over Earth: HUMANS and MONSTERS". Of course, war breaks out between the Monsters and Humans, with the Humans ultimately being victorious and banishing the Monsters to some underground area beneath a mountain, Mt. Ebott, and sealing them inside with a magic spell that they cannot cross over.
Many years later we see a human travelling up the mountain, where there's rumor abound that whoever goes up never comes back down. We see them then tripping over some vines, falling into the mountain, and then: UNDERTALE. That is, the game's title card.
This human that falls down turns out to, of course, be the player's character, whom you get to name. In a bit of clever fun, attempting to name your "fallen human" after characters in the game will have those characters make a comment regarding your choosing their name. This is also just the first of many instances where Toby Fox proves he's quite the clever creator, as there's tons of moments in the game where Toby Fox seemed to take into account numerous possibilities and attempt to account for them all. Another neat thing about the player character is they're completely androgynous, as no personal details about this character are given (Well, there is one detail, but it's severe spoiler territory), enabling players to pretty much project themselves onto their little human.
After wandering into the next room, players are introduced to one of the more famous characters from the game, the mischievous little creature Flowey the Flower. He attempts to give a "tutorial" where he tries to trap and kill the player, only to have him stopped and knocked aside by the actual tutorial-giver, the loving and caring female goat Toriel - or as many in the Undertale Fanbase lovingly call her: "Goat Mom".
From here players are introduced to the numerous concepts and mechanics in the game, such as puzzle solving and most importantly, FIGHTs. See, while the game is an RPG it uses a unique system that mixes RPG elements - choosing actions, HP, Leveling Up, and so on - with bullet hell type games - that is, controlling your character while dodging all kinds of attacks and bullets that're thrown at you. When it's your turn you are presented with four options: FIGHT, ACT, ITEM, and MERCY.
Fight will open up a window where the player can attack the opposing monster; by timing their attack well they can do extra damage. Act will open up additional options, usually something like Check and Talk, though additional options will appear for different monsters. And boy do these vary from simple things like Complement, to the infamous Flirt option, to even things like bullying or fake laughing at a would-be comedian's jokes. It's actually through Act that players will be able to resolve most conflicts peacefully, as each Monster has a way of Acting towards them that will result in them not wanting to attack you anymore, allowing you to use the Mercy option to Spare them. Item, as expected, allows you to use various health items that you pick up. Finally there is the Mercy button, which will open up two options: Spare and Flee. Spare can only be used when the option is yellow, and to do that you must first find out how to "make friends" with the monster through the Act feature. You can also flee as well, and usually there isn't any requirement to get this to work.
During a monster's turn they will of course attack you, but here's where things get interesting. The white dialogue box will shrink into a box of a smaller size (how small varies from Monster to Monster) and you'll be attacked by white projectiles of some kind or another, or even little miniature versions of the monster you're fighting. During a Monster attack you're represented by a red heart, and as expected, each time you're hit you take damage. Run it down to 0 HP and your heart literally breaks and shatters, leading you to the Game Over screen.
Now what kind of attacks do they throw at you? Everything and anything! From blasts of fire, to little hopping frogs, sleeping dogs that throw "BARK!" at you if you move around, to more conventional things like spears being thrown at you. But see, the game doesn't stop here with it. Things only get more varied from here; some monsters will throw BLUE attacks at you, which to dodge you only need to stand still. Simple eh? Well wait until blue AND white attacks come at you. And then there's orange attacks, which require you to keep moving when they hit you.
Still not impressed? Some bosses will also change the color of your heart. One boss will make it blue,sending it to the bottom of the box and requiring you to platform your way past white and blue attacks; another will turn you green and assault you with attacks, requiring that you move a shield that appears over your heart to block the attacks; another turns you purple, limiting your movements to left and right and jumping from one rope to the next; and still another has you turn yellow with your heart upside down so you can blast away enemy attacks.
This is something I really like about Undertale, as the idea of bullet-hell dodging for attacks was one thing (and not only that but again, what exactly happens depends on the Monster), but then he goes and creates these little variations. Just goes to show that Toby is someone who likes to explore and play with the ideas he comes up with.
Now, since this is an RPG you can kill Monsters. Heck you can kill the entire Underground if you want. Though...there may be a price to pay. But more on that later.
Oh You Guys!
Another really awesome thing about Undertale is the zany cast of characters you'll meet along your quest in the Underground. From Goat Moms to Skeletons, Fish guardswomen and scientist lizards, the colorful and varied cast knows pretty much no bounds. I mean heck, one of the Monsters is even a miniature airplane that pretends that it doesn't like you.
But is it just that these characters are crazy and colorful? Well, no, there's of course more to it. Some, like the skeleton Papyrus, have their zany aspirations. Others are kind, helpful, and motherly - if a little initially overprotective, like Toriel. And then you have sociopaths like the mischievous Flowey, whom you actually learn more about towards the end of the game and...well not to spoil anything but I guarantee that you won't see it coming. I would love to go on and on about how Sans looks like he's up to something, or that Alphys has her own dark secrets but...well, let's not ruin any surprises, eh? Undertale is, afterall, an excellent game to play and experience first hand. Though I'm sure by this point you've probably seen some form of Undertale-related content or another. After all, that's what got me started; I kept seeing images of Mettaton Ex, Lesser Dog, and sans and Papyrus and checked out some gameplay videos and...I was hooked!
But what makes the supporting cast of Undertale so great is also how they can strike you with some rather interesting and thoughtful messages, and there's some pretty deep, emotional moments as well. That's something else Undertale does really well; it's quite lighthearted and comical, but there's moments that're very heartfelt, scary, and even sad. In fact, I even bet a friend of mine that when he saw YouTuber Jackscepticeye get to the end of the Pacifist Route that he'd cry. Spoiler Alert, but he cried. And I did not owe him a pizza.There's also a few moments where the game just gets downright scary, too.
The game also has one large central theme: DETERMINATION. It's actually also a running joke with the save points, as every time you encounter one something about the surrounding area or something that just happened "Fills you with determination". But...well join me over in the next segment to learn how Undertale presents two sides to this usually positive coin.
Who's Your Favorite Character?
Show Some Mercy!
Another really great aspect of Undertale is how you're free to treat the Underground as you wish. While Toriel does try to teach you to make friends with Monsters rather than attack them...well nothing is stopping you from killing everyone. Thus we have the emergence of the three main routes (as they're called) for Undertale: Pacifist, Neutral, and Genocide.
In a Pacifist Route, players spare all Monsters. Well, there may be a couple exceptions to this rule - or maybe not. Depends on your determination. The Pacifist Route is also one of two routes with a definitive ending - though there's a bit of a trick to unlock the final piece of the puzzle to take you to your final destination. If you wanna have a good time, albeit one that might involve some intense moments of heartfelt variety, go this way. Or if you just want to be a good guy. Not sure if those became the in thing again.
In a Neutral Route, also sometimes called No Mercy (if I have it right), you go through the game with a mixture of killing and sparing. While there's still an ending to the game...well as you'll find out once everything's still said and done there's more you could do. However, this also shows off Toby Fox's tendency to account for EVERYTHING, as which bosses you kill in a Neutral Run does actually affect what happens to the Underground. And EVERY possible combination imaginable is taken into account. Don't believe me? To sit through all of the Neutral Endings would take roughly twenty five minutes. That's a lot of possibilities. If you want some good and bad, go with this route. Though...there's some pretty sad Neutral Endings if you kill certain monsters.
Finally, there's the infamously devious Genocide Route, which as the name implies, has you kill everything. Spare no one. Burn it all to the ground. Take your knife, and drive it into the backs of those evil monsters. Show them why humans are the best. This is the route where the games anti-violence message also strongly comes into play, as the deeper and deeper you go down this rabbit hole, the more and more you see the terrors you inflict on people. Papyrus tries to believe in you and stand up to you, Toriel foolishly believes she was protecting you, towns are abandoned, and families are hurt and destroyed. There's even moments during the game where your character will be listening to others talking and your character will saunter forward, seemingly controlled by some otherworldly force. The music get slower and more demented. Save points stop having cute silly little sayings and just say DETERMINATION, with a number of monsters left to kill. And when everything's said and done? Well...not to spoil anything but...
The two extremes also showcase something I brought up earlier: Determination. In the Pacifist Route your Determination is good, as it's through your unbreakable resolve that you're able to not only reach the end, but also get past every monster without killing them, and if you want to go the extra mile, make friends with them along the way. The Genocide route shows how Determination can be used for Evil, as the player saunters through the Underground killing indiscriminately, leaving the place a barren and dust-filled place formerly tinging with life and happiness. A good lesson in how there's two sides to every supposedly positive thing like Determination, Encouragement, Love, etc.
It's also through these routes that we see Undertale play with conventional RPG tropes; usually you have to kill monsters to progress and "save the day", but that leads you to the Genocide route, and the effects it has on the Underground are devastating. But perhaps you are saving the world, in your own twisted way? And then there's elements like EXP and LV which...well you'll just have to see.
Time to Fall Down!
Finally, I have to mention the music. The music in this game is simply amazing, blending chiptune, orchestral, and rock-n-roll elements together to create a rather unique sounding soundtrack. You can even pay a little extra on Steam to get the OST, which is comprised of over 50 tracks. Granted, most of them are short, minute-and-a-half bursts, but it's still good listening fun. I mean, who doesn't feel like a total fabulous star when the sax sasses it up during "Death By Glamour", or recalls the feeling of facing down Goatmom when "Heartbreak"'s chiptune intro plays and the orchestra swells in, or the feelings of a bad time when "MEGALOVANIA" blares through their speakers? Through this soundtrack Toby Fox not only shows that he's good at game design, but an awesome composer as well. Which is no surprise, as he did do the music for Homestuck, and also contributed to I Miss You, a fan-made Earthbound themed concept album where he and other artists came together. It's also where you'll hear a rather familiar song having to do with falling down....
So, that's it! Now I know some of you who've played the game and are reading this are rushing to the comments to mention something I left out, but honestly to cover everything would take forever. And I do want to leave some things unexplained for our friends. How can they experience things first hand if I tell them about the Undying Hero, what "having a bad time" really is, or the consequences of their actions?
Well, if you are interested in seeing this game in action, check out a video down below where my zany gaming fennec, Razzle Joestar, begins his own trip through the Underground. He has quite the adventure if I do say so myself! And, until next time,