Undertale: One of the Best Choice-Driven Games

Last night, I completed Toby Fox’s Undertale for the first time ever since its release back in 2015 (yes, I know – late to the party again). And…wow. This game undoubtedly has a million articles written about it already and mine is sure to get lost in the pile, but it deserves those numerous articles. It’s a fantastic game. You probably didn’t need me to say that outright given the amount of italics I’m using to prove my point, but I’m saying it anyway.

There are certainly many other choice-driven games in the world and they’re all brilliant in their own ways. I’ve played a number of them myself, like Life is Strange, Heavy Rain and the entirety of Telltale’s The Walking Dead series. Considering that Heavy Rain and The Walking Dead graced our screens in 2010 and 2012 respectively, Undertale certainly didn’t pioneer choice-driven games. But given the incredible amount of high praise its received, both in 2015 and in the years since, it can perhaps be called one of the best.

Yeah, I know – taking into account the other three games I’ve mentioned, Undertale falls short in terms of general production value. After all, it’s an indie game. But what it lacks in pretty graphics and better mechanics, it more than makes up for in its story. It’s genuine, complex, and deeply heartfelt. Many games tell great stories that capture us in some way, but it’s been a long time since one made me feel the way Undertale did.

Because it doesn’t really matter how many hours of gameplay there are, or how much money has been pumped into the production machine. Undertale is but an independently developed RPG that can be completed in a handful of hours, but I consider it to be better than Heavy Rain. I even consider it to be on an equal footing with Life is Strange, which is saying a lot coming from me – I happen to hold Life is Strange in very high regard.

One of Undertale’s best features may just be its characters. Sure, the protagonist may be a little one-dimensional, but the characters around them are anything but. As soon as Toriel comes along, saving us from Flowey, we fall for her sweet, motherly nature. We eat her butterscotch-cinnamon pie and watch her read in her rocking-chair by the fire. She’s one of the first monsters we meet, and she shows us nothing but kindness.

Then, of course, there’s Sans and Papyrus – both completely meme-worthy, both hilarious and just as compassionate. They crack jokes, make spaghetti and argue like siblings do. Papyrus even has a racing carbed. They may remind us of real people that we know in the real world, and that’s important because it strikes a chord within us. Because, yes, they’re supposed to be the bad guys and capture us, but they never really do. They come to see us as a friend, and they treat us that way. We show them mercy, and in return, they show us the same.

The same goes for Undyne and Alphys, Asgore, and even Asriel in the end. The same goes for every monster we encounter and choose to spare in the game. After the brief intro at the beginning, explaining the war between the humans and the monsters, the kindness that we’re shown by everyone comes as something of a surprise. We start Undertale ready to fight our way through it like any other game, ready to attack, win, collect our spoils and move on without a second thought. We’re ready for that because we see the word ‘monsters’. But the game forces us to rethink. As soon as we discover that we can choose mercy over fighting, we suddenly realise that not only do we not have to kill, we may not particularly want to.

I love that about Undertale – the choice, and the sheer amount of choices that you can make. Each monster you encounter is a choice, to spare or to kill, even Sans, Papyrus and the rest. And while you should feel bad about killing these innocent creatures, you don’t have to, because it’s a choice. And whatever choices you make, you carry with you all the way through to the tailored ending. Granted, I’ve only seen the Neutral and True Pacifist endings because I refuse to commit genocide, even in a game, but the Genocide ending is valid in and of itself. It’s another set of choices that you’re free to make. It tells another story, just as well-written, though a lot less beautiful and a lot more…well, genocidal.

It’s an ending I simply wouldn’t find fulfilling. I already know I wouldn’t go back and achieve the Genocide ending, because I decided, after the True Pacifist ending, that I would never kill a single monster in Undertale. “It’s not that deep!” I hear you cry? I beg to differ.

That’s what I meant when I talked about Undertale making me feel something. Not only did I love each character, I felt like I knew them on a weirdly personal level – not only the major side characters, but each and every monster I encountered. Alphys and Undyne even remind me of specific people that I know in my life. And not only are they comparable to real people, these characters have their own personalities, their own dreams, hopes and fears like anyone else. One of them is an aspiring stand-up comedian. Another loves his hat. They’re all just like you – thrust into a random encounter, feeling as if they have to fight but ultimately, not really wanting to, and feeling relieved when they don’t have to.

I mean, really…how can you fight creatures that mirror you so perfectly? That’s the genius of Undertale. Monsters aren’t monsters at all, not in this game. Discard your binary way of thinking and look at this town – a shop, a library, a pub, houses, where monsters work, have a quiet one and just live. Ignore what every other game tells you. Think about the kindness these characters show you and the kindness you can choose to give. If nothing else, Undertale teaches us that kindness can go so far and touch so many – that’s true for the game, and for real life.

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