I didn’t know anything about Undertale until I saw one of my favorite Let’s Players, Cryaotic, toss up a video on his channel about it. At first, I was unsure of whether or not I’d keep watching — now, I listen to the soundtrack and bring it up whenever I can in casual conversation. Undertale, produced by indie game developer Toby Fox, started as a project on Kickstarter with a goal of $5000. It ended with over $50,000 — and the quality of the game greatly reflects its dedicated fans’ support.
At the center of it all is the game’s fantastic writing. There are two primary paths that you can take when playing Undertale (the third is a ‘neutral’ end, which occurs if you mix choices between the two): Pacifist and Genocide.
Now, we’ve all played the games that proclaim the ability to influence the story’s outcome. Most of the time, you get the same game with a few unique cut scenes and slightly different dialogue options — it doesn’t feel like a particularly unique experience.
Undertale, however, might as well be two games in one. Due to the game’s art style and graphical limitations, the events that unravel in cut scenes do not change very much — but the tone of the overall story changes drastically, boss fights are different, the music is different and the actual character you play transforms into a completely different person.
The game’s premise, which is shared with the main character by a major NPC a the beginning of the game, is to handle encounters peacefully. Players must dodge incoming attacks until they are able to sate whatever issues their opponent may have through a variety of silly, cute options such as comforting them and laughing at their bad jokes.
In order to follow the Pacifist route, the player cannot kill any of the monsters they encounter. This means a lot more time is spent in progressively harder battles, as refusing to fight means no experience points or level-gaining. The story is far more whimsical and, at times, emotional, as it follows the story of an innocent child simply trying to get home and making friends along the way.
The Genocide route, however, requires you to kill every monster you encounter in every area. The player is regarded as not human very early on by otherwise lovable characters, who regard the child as creepy and emotionless. The text is no longer its standard white, but a bright blood red — and you, the player, start to lose your ability to control the protagonist the closer you get to the end. Battles with common enemies end up lasting only seconds, as your character’s level strongly exceeds those of the peaceful creatures in the world. Even the final cutscene gets unnecessarily eerie, and is more like a creepypasta come to life than an actual game!
Of course, there are more things to write home about regarding the game aside from the writing: the astonishing soundtrack, the crazy-fun bullet hell battle system, the fun and colorful art style that brings everything to life… but for me (and a lot of other players), it’s the story of Undertale that really drew me in.
At first glance, you may just think it’s a silly kid’s game with skeletons telling bad jokes and cute socially awkward lizard girls and goat parents — but goodness, there is so much more to it than that. The only way to really understand is to experience it yourself.