If you’ve never played Undertale, stop reading this right now.
Go on to Steam or the PS Store, find it, and buy it. Whatever price it is at the moment (and we’re guessing it won’t break the bank), it’s worth buying. If you’ve enjoyed RPG games before, then it’s a sure-fire purchase that you need to be making. And if you played EarthBound as a kid, then frankly we’d be shocked if you didn’t own Undertale already.
For everyone else – yes, even those who hate RPGs with a passion – Undertale is still a game that you need to play. More importantly, you need to play it without any idea of the game’s story or mechanics. It may have been released over two years ago, but Undertale is still an unknown prospect to some gamers out there. And trust us, it’s much better that way.
Jumping into Undertale with the fore-knowledge of the “right” and “wrong” way (we’ll get to these silly definitions later) to play it, does not in any way enhance the experience. You need to go in blind. Then, you’ll understand the love that people have for this game.
Undertale represents the work of one man: Toby Fox. A man filled with enough resolve and strength of character to design and make a video game all on his lonesome. Off the back of a wildly successful Kickstarter campaign, Foxy (as far as we’re aware, nobody has ever called him that) raised over $50,000 to make Undertale. And with all that coin, he spent a couple of years to go do just that.
The result of his endeavours was something that’s heavily inspired by old-school RPG titles like EarthBound, but also something that has no qualms in ripping up the conventions that such games built around the genre. Humour, story and characterisation fundamentally lie at the heart of Undertale. Except this was a heart that was being relentlessly attacked at all sides in battle.
Here we find the first element of why you need to play Undertale without knowing what to expect: the battle system. Most people who pick up and play the game will have a slight idea how the battles will go; it’s a turn-based RPG, right? So, you’ll probably have to wait, use a sword to attack, wait, use magic, wait, use a potion, wait etc etc.
This typical waiting system is indeed employed in Undertale much like any other RPG. There’s a FIGHT option and a USE option too, nothing unusual there. But there’s an ACT option too. What’s that all about then?
It’s Good To Talk
RPGs have conditioned us to fight any monsters we come across – it’s the norm for the genre. But rarely are we able to engage them in non-violent actions. In Undertale, the ACT option allows you to talk, stare, even pet the creatures that you’re facing.
There’s no obvious, immediate benefit to doing this though. You could easily dismiss it as some kind of quirky, indie game feature; an in-joke for the developer and a knowing wink to the fans of the genre.
But that’s not the reason for this option. Well, it partly is but it’s also something more. It not only represents a subversion of the genre, it also affects the outcome of the story in the game. And this is where we come to the “right” and “wrong” way to play Undertale.
You see, by talking to the monsters you encounter, you can avoid killing them. By finding a certain action path, you can lead each creature to become more timid and placid, and this allows you to SPARE them. You can do this in every single fight. It’s not always easy though, especially when you’re facing barrage after barrage of bullet hell style attacks.
When all this becomes too much, you’d be forgiven for inching towards your sword and launching into the old-familiar routine of hacking and slashing your way through the game.
Except you probably wouldn’t be forgiven. Because just look at some of the so-called monsters you have to face in the game. Look at their cuteness and then look at yourself. Consider this: what kind of monster are you trying to kill a puppy that’s wearing a suit of armour? Ah, what kind of monster are you. Do you see? They’re not the monsters, you are. Oh, Foxy. You’ve played us all, haven’t you?
You’re not really a monster though. You’re just a person playing a game in a certain way, and that’s actually not a bad thing. Even though some people will hate you for it.
Because the joy of Undertale is to play it for the first time and kill at least one supposed monster – then learning how not to kill them. It’s a harsh lesson, especially when you realise you didn’t have to kill Toriel at all (we’re still traumatised by this fact). But it’ll result in you achieving the Neutral ending on your first play-through. Which is nice.
You can then opt to avoid killing anything at all in the game, and earn the True Pacifist ending of the game. Which again, is nice.
Some chose to kill everything in their path though. These maniacs earned the Genocide ending and should be ashamed of themselves. Or at least that’s how some hardcore Undertale fans believe they should feel; shame, shame, SHAME!
And therein lies a problem with Undertale’s legacy. The cult devotion for it has created a section of fans who think they can tell others how to play the game. They refuse to accept that a player killing things in the game is an acceptable way to play and if they find anyone doing it online, they’ll chastise them for playing it that way. Which is ridiculous.
The truth is, there’s no “correct” way to play Undertale; you should allow yourself to be free of any pre-conceived intentions before playing it. This way, the story plays out how you intend it, not how others intend it for you. That’s the sheer fun of the game and if it then fills you with tenacity or perseverance to play the game again to achieve a different ending, then so be it. But enjoy Undertale how you want, and don’t let the noise around it define your experience.
And look, we managed to write a whole Undertale piece without once saying the ‘d’ word. Now that’s determination.