You may have heard of an indie PC game inspired by EarthBound called Undertale. The game’s praise, along with its relation to a SNES game I absolutely love, made it a must-play. Though, I must admit that I am typically quite reluctant to download PC games because, well, my computer is weird sometimes. When I found the game had recently been released on the PS4, the time for excuses was over. I set out to play Undertale…a thought that, even now, fills me with determination.
Mother Duck often asks why video games are filled with so much fighting. That is not to say she believes video games are violent things that are destroying our world’s youth like the media would have us believe. In fact, she beat up plenty of 16-bit baddies during the SNES era, so she is no stranger to video game, ahem, “violence”. Even so, it is a valid question.
Why is there so much fighting? Why do we spend so much of our time in platformers like Super Mario Bros or RPGs like Final Fantasy or good, old adventure games like The Legend of Zelda fighting bad guys? Whether we stomp them, cast Firaga on them, or slash them with our mighty sword, it’s all the same thing. And, you know what, I never really had a good answer to give her. Usually just something like…because that’s just the way video games are. Because…you need to have conflict…and you need to have gameplay…so you have to fight enemies and overcome obstacles to reach your goals. Otherwise…what, we’d just walk from point A to point B?
Fighting and defeating video game foes seemed so ordinary. It would be like asking, why do cars drive on the road? It wasn’t until I played Undertale that I saw that video games could be different from what I had grown accustomed to. Undertale breaks so many gaming “rules” that it almost feels as if my mind has been freed from some mental prison. Defeating enemies equates to killing. There are ways to resolve conflict without destroying your opponents. Not all of your foes are murderous monsters with no redeeming qualities. And, oh my gosh, a turn-based RPG where you can move freely? What delightful madness is this?
I could gush for hours, not unlike Dr. Alphys discussing Mew Mew Kissy Cutie (I know, it hurts me, too), about how much I loved Undertale. I could cite countless examples of moments where I just burst out laughing at the game’s quirky humor (get a room at the MTT Resort; trust me, you won’t regret it). I could talk about the game’s amazing soundtrack, wonderful characters, and deceptively deep story, and yes, these are all reasons why you should stop what you’re doing and play this game right now. But what really got me was the fact that this game gives the player the ability to choose, truly choose, between right and wrong.
To get straight to the point, Undertale’s most unique quality is your ability to kill or show mercy to enemies. All enemies. This includes enemies encountered in random battles. And this includes bosses, right down to the most vile, most terrifying evil I have faced in a video game in quite some time. It is possible to play through the game in many different ways, with the most extreme being the Pacifist or Genocide Routes. I was told by a friend to start with the Pacifist Route because it is more satisfying to play, and now that I have done it, I honestly don’t think I could play any other way.
While some enemies must be defeated simply by surviving their attacks and refusing to fight until the battle has run its course, others need to be handled with more finesse. Certain enemies have different personalities. You can laugh at an enemy’s pun, “unhug” an enemy who wants you to respect its personal space, and…flirt with a moldy blob. Dogs like being pet or played with. And sometimes you just have to encourage others to not be afraid to express their true feelings. Yeah. Stuff like that.
While a lot of this may sound rather silly, don’t think that all of the enemies and characters in Undertale are poor, harmless, misunderstood creatures. Some of them will relentlessly try to kill you, and honestly, it affected me rather personally to outright refuse to fight enemies who, well, really deserved a good beating. Believe me, there were a few characters I really wanted to pummel. Really badly. But I didn’t. Sticking to the True Pacifist Route I had set out for, I never struck another character (aside from one battle where you are required to do so, which made me feel no shortage of guilt).
To further along the idea of sticking to the Pacifist Route, if you refuse to harm certain characters, they will actually grow to like you and become your friends for the rest of the game. The biggest example is Papyrus, who has been my favorite character since…pretty much ten minutes after I met him. Seriously, I could never do the Genocide Route for the simple reason that there is no way in heck I could hurt that guy. I guess I’m pals with a fictional skeleton now….
Additionally, it is revealed later on in the game the true meaning of “EXP”. In most RPGs, this stands for “experience points”, as we all know. Defeat more enemies, gain more EXP, and grow stronger. In Undertale, EXP means “execution points”, while LV does not stand for “level”, but rather “level of violence”. Both of these numbers, as you can easily guess, stand for the amount of harm you have inflicted upon others. A true pacifist must reach the end of the game without acquiring even 1 execution point, which also means they will never level up or increase their stats (except when you equip items to increase your defense).
When this was all explained to me, it brought tears to my eyes, to be honest.
Playing through an entire game, not once striking a single blow against my foes, was an eye-opening experience. Before I go on, I thought it was an immensely clever idea to give the player the ability to dodge enemy attacks. Yes, this is a turn-based RPG, similar in style to EarthBound, of course, but in this case, enemy attacks aim for your heart (well, it’s actually supposed to be your soul, but you get the idea), and you have the ability to move your heart…soul around in a small area in an attempt to limit how much damage you take.
Again, it was such a strange feeling to spend the entire game trying not to kill any enemies, but to talk to them, reason with them, avoid their blows, and, when all else fails, wait patiently for the battle to resolve itself peacefully. This is a concept all too rare in video games, revolutionary, even, and I would love to see more of this employed in the future. Undertale is fundamentally different from any other games out there, and if you haven’t played it, you are seriously missing out. If you do decide to play this game, I definitely recommend the True Pacifist Route. Not only is it the most interesting way to play the game, but it is the only way, to my knowledge, to unlock a really chilling location that will reveal some key parts of the game’s story.
The nightmares that place will induce were totally worth it. Yeah… Shiver…
The Thought That, One Day, the Duck Will Replay Undertale…It Fills You with Determination
This post was originally published on Virtual Bastion on 1/2/18.