Undertale Pt. 1: A Cave Full of Monsters

SHUT UP! This post is from the old blog and dammit I make myself laugh too much to delete the beginning. So use your damn imagination.


Everybody hush! This post is a secret. A secret secret. A valentine’s secret. That I’m posting on President’s Day; cus if there’s one thing I know, it’s how to take too long to write something.

Remember me!? I’m the husband. I used to write things on here. I still plan on writing things on here but I never get around to it cus I’M THE WORST! I’ll catch up eventually. Maybe. Probably not. But I will write things on here again. Seeing my wife’s work fills me with DETERMINATION.

And so, for my first post in literally three years (ed note: may not be literal) I’m going to post about….a vidja game! Because that’s what you do on a literary blog right? Ehehehe FUCK YOU! Video games have stories too and sometimes those stories are even good. There’s one such game, a little gem you may have heard of if you spend absolutely any time on the internet; a game called . . .

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UNDERTALE is a retro-themed rpg. It has all the familiar tropes: Monsters, Shops, Random Battles, EXP, NPCs! Everything you’ve ever loved about RPGs (if you’re into that sort of thing). UNDERTALE takes all of these thing and – forgive the overused verb – subverts the hell out of them. UNDERTALE is definitely not what you expect on first glance.

The question of course is why would I include a game on a literary blog? Video game stories have come a long way. Where once the most story you would get was “our princess is in another castle,” now, video games are written by novelists and screenwriters and can have the budget of a Hollywood movie. Games can be well-written, complex, and layered and it happens more and more every year. But UNDERTALE revels in its retro style and its simplicity. It was made almost entirely by one person, with a humble budget and cheap software. But UNDERTALE has perhaps the greatest story ever told in a video game.

The word “meta” is used a lot now. It seems you can’t make a successful franchise without a winking nod to your audience or a callback to some obscure line from a 30 year old tv show. Everyone does it and it’s usually awesome. But here’s the thing; for the most part those “meta” elements are almost always a consequence of the plot or a throwaway gag. In UNDERTALE the meta nature of the narrative drives the plot. You, the player, are an active part of the plot and the game acknowledges that you are playing it in a way that’s more than just a joke. The reason I decided to write about this, dear reader, is because UNDERTALE is the first time a game’s story can only be told as a game. Most game stories are very cinematic, they’re designed and written to be like interactive movies. Not so with UNDERTALE.

Now here’s the part where I have to give a big ol’ spoiler warning. UNDERTALE is a game that is meant to be played cold. For the best experience you should have little to no knowledge of the plot. If I may use yet another cliche, UNDERTALE is an experience. It’s unique and to spoil yourself on the plot would really take away much of its impact. I do however realize that most people who would come here…might not be into games the way I am. So, if you don’t play games and don’t ever plan on playing games read on. If you’re a gamer and at all interested well…SPOILER WARNING.

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Okay. Still here? Let’s do this. UNDERTALE has a lot going on and to explain all of it would take thousands and thousands of words. So I’ll keep this as truncated as possible. The story begins simply enough: a human child goes wandering on a mysterious mountain called Mt. Ebott where humans are rumored to disappear. While exploring, the child falls down a pit and ends up in the Underground, a society of monsters.

What makes UNDERTALE unique is that it is an RPG where you can complete the game without ever killing anyone or anything. In most games you’re faced with an endless swath of grunts and baddies that you just kill kill kill. In UNDERTALE every enemy has a personality. They have hopes, they have dreams, they have fears. If you take the time to get to know them you can eventually spare them and go on your way. You do this by using the ACT command in battle and finding out what the monster needs to be happy.

As an example, you will meet a monster called the “Lesser Dog.” In the fight you can ACT and find options to “Beckon,”Play,” and “Pet.” You have to figure out how to get the dog to come to you so you can pet it until it lets you spare it. You do this in between turns dodging the dog’s attacks while you figure out what to do next. In this way each fight is a puzzle to be solved. By figuring out each puzzle and sparing every monster and every boss in the game you are awarded with the best ending.

There are three endings in the game awarded depending on what play style you choose. Those styles are “Genocide,” “Neutral,” and “True Pacifist.” You can guess how to play each. What’s interesting about these routes is that they can be triggered at different times. If you start a Genocide run and decide not to be a monster midway through you can lower it to a Neutral run. However, if you complete a Genocide route you can never get the True Pacifist ending. Not even if you delete your save file. UNDERTALE remembers. It saves your status deep in your computer’s files, in a place that can’t be reached (not easily anyway) and it makes you remember your sins.

NPC’s dialogue changes based on how many enemies you have killed, how many times you’ve saved, whether or not you’ve reset. There are endless variations to what characters will say to you and how they will react to your presence. It really makes you think of how you play the game and it makes you examine your learned habit of killing monsters simply for being monsters. As you find out, the monsters aren’t bad, mostly they’re scared of you and just want to be your friend.

There’s history hidden in the game that details a war between humans and monsters. We find out through this history that humans are much more powerful than monsters due to the nature of their souls. Humans have a massive amount of DETERMINATION which allows their souls to exist after death. Monsters however seemingly live forever unless killed by a human but their souls disappear completely after they die.

DETERMINATION is the in-universe explanation for saving. If you die, you can reload your save file because you’re determined enough for your soul to re-form itself. This ability is an important part of the narrative and serves as a direct link between the game and you, the player.

But I’ll get more into that in part 2. I told you, I could go on for thousands of words about this game…and I will! There’s so much to talk about that this post could really only serve as a brief introduction to the game. In part 2 I’ll talk about the characters, the story, and the sublime beauty to be found in the Underground. Trust me, it’s like nothing else. Click on Sans below to go straight to part 2. Consider this your last chance to play the game before I spoil everything. But hey, that’s your call, bucko. I can’t stop you if…you wanna have a bad time…

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