A Game About Mercy: Undertale

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

Featured image by Flickr User: mars2999

14 Comments

  1. That’s weird I downloaded this on PS4 yesterday and spent all day playing it! I am really enjoying it but I opted not to do either the genocide or pacifist run, mainly because I just wanted to play it normally then I could replay it if i want but I killed one frog at the beginning of the game and that is it. After that I started enjoying the quirky side of the Act bit more as you get more detail and laughs out of it and so few of the creatures are evil so I don’t want to hurt them. It really is so nice to play a game that gives you that option!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. duckofindeed says:

      It really is nice playing a game that gives the player choices that actually make a difference. Most games give you no options at all, and if they do, they don’t really change anything. I really enjoyed playing the Pacifist route, and now that I have befriended some of the characters, and gotten to better understand others, I could never bring myself to hurt anyone. I did watch a video on Youtube on how the Genocide path differs from the Pacifist one, though, and it was rather depressing. Some of the neutral endings are depressing, too. For such a funny game, there sure are a lot of sad things that happen in it….

      By the way, if you do decide to play again in the future, you get to access an extra area if you play the True Pacifist route, which reveals some very important plot points.

      How far are you into the game so far?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Ooh I didn’t realise there was more than one neutral ending… Thank you for the tip I’ll definitely play through it again in the pacifist route.
        I have just got past the bit where you make a cake with Mettaton so I think I have a final Mettaton round coming up, I love him he’s great.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. duckofindeed says:

          Yeah, there’s a whole bunch of neutral endings depending on which characters you spared. I watched them all on Youtube out of curiosity.

          Mettaton is pretty amusing, isn’t he? I love nearly everyone in Undertale, really. This is probably the only game I’ve ever played where I really like every character. Papyrus is my favorite. I just love that goofy skeleton.

          Liked by 1 person

  2. Geddy says:

    I got a physical copy of this for the PSVita a few months ago and it’s at the very top of my backlog! Will be diving into this without knowing much about the game (aside from the battle system being totally unique and different) after Xenoblade 2! 🙂

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    1. duckofindeed says:

      I recently got a physical copy of Undertale on the PS4, despite already having the digital version. It was a collector’s edition; I couldn’t resist. That’s definitely good that you’ll be starting out not knowing much about the game. I knew next to nothing about it when I first played it, and it definitely made for a better experience.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. ~effs~ says:

        Woah, there’s a physical copy?! I’m really tempted to get it! Love the game and the well put together soun

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        1. ~effs~ says:

          (Oops. Hit send too early!) Well put together soundtrack.

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        2. duckofindeed says:

          Yeah, you can buy the physical copy from a website called Fangamer. They’re the only company that sells official Undertale stuff. I loved Undertale’s soundtrack, too. This game has some of my favorite music of all time. I got the soundtrack when I bought the Collector’s Edition.

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          1. ~effs~ says:

            Just had a look. Very tempted to get the collector’s edition…has some nice stuff in there

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          2. duckofindeed says:

            It does indeed. The little music box locket is pretty cool. I strangely love the case the soundtrack came in, too. It has some of the characters singing and playing instruments. Which I find adorable.

            Liked by 1 person

  3. Kariyanine says:

    I just bought this for PS4/Vita a day ago as part of the holiday sale on PSN. It is certainly on my to play list.

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    1. duckofindeed says:

      Cool! I’d be interested to hear your thoughts once you’ve played the game. I’d recommend starting with the True Pacifist Route in order to get the full story.

      Liked by 1 person

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