Matt has been following the video games industry since before he could afford his own Nintendo Power subscription.
I have been playing RPGs for most of my life, and one of my favorite things about the genre is the chance to play with different types of battle systems. Experimentation with timing-based attack mechanics in games like Mistwalker's Lost Odyssey and the “slice of life” plot elements in the Persona series brought fresh takes to my perspective on turn-based RPGs. I was similarly captivated by Undertale’s combat system when the game was released in 2015, especially for its simple and unique design.
I loved playing Undertale, and I’m sure my first playthrough will remain as one of the more profound experiences I’ve ever had playing a video game. More than anything else in the game, I loved its incredible original soundtrack that was entirely composed by the developer himself. Songs like “Snowdin’ Town” and the game’s main theme will likely stay stuck in my head for years to come.
What is Undertale?
Undertale began as a Kickstarter campaign in 2013 that featured a short demo created by Toby Fox, the game’s sole developer. Within just a few days, Fox’s Kickstarter campaign surpassed its $5,000 fundraising goal to over 10 times that amount. After just two and a half years of full-time development, and some help from various artists, Undertale was released in 2015 to widely positive reviews, and it won several Game of the Year awards.
Game systems in Undertale were inspired by RPGs like Moon: Remix RPG Adventure, Earthbound, and the Shin Megami Tensei series. Its modern setting and nonviolent story options set Undertale apart from the majority of games in its genre. Its battle system was partially inspired by “bullet hell” shooters like Touhou Project and Ikaruga. Taking control of a red heart on screen, players could avoid taking any damage if they were able to dodge enemies’ attacks.
A single playthrough of Undertale may only last a few hours, but the game’s world and files hold many secrets that can take upwards of 20 hours to discover. Utilizing choice-affected storytelling and a likeable cast of colorful characters, Undertale’s world felt fleshed-out in a way unlike most other RPGs. Its characters were written with subtle wit and with more lines of unique, choice-affected text than players will ever find in a single playthrough.
What Is a Choice-Affecting Story?
Players were presented with choices throughout Undertale’s narrative, both directly and indirectly. Every enemy and all the bosses in the game could be either killed or spared by the player. Undertale’s game files also remembered players' past actions, even if they decided to reset their game and start over from the beginning. Undertale rewarded players who explored its multiple playstyles with a deeper understanding of its world and lore.
Is Undertale Worth Playing?
A single playthrough of Undertale using any of the main playstyles is a worthwhile experience for almost anybody who likes games. Its story asked players to consider how they interact with video games as an entertainment medium. Many video games ask players to lie, cheat, and kill enemies without consideration for the hypothetical implications of seeking only to increase battle statistics and “completing” a game to its furthest extent.
Undertale implies that the worlds in our favorite video games do not end in the pixels on our screens, or at the bits in our PCs and game consoles. A well-crafted story with lovable characters can persist on its own and long after the final credits roll. To play in these worlds after we’ve worn our welcome is to actively meddle in the lives and fates of the characters within them.
Seemingly at odds with its own messaging, Undertale felt purposefully built to be increasingly replayable. When I beat the game for the first time, it was impossible to resist immediately starting over again to see what I could have done differently. Could I find a way to spare the monsters I fought the first time through? Would the game always blame me for the choices I made then, even if I tried my best?
I don’t think Undertale is a perfect game. The final boss for each major ending tested my patience in ways that felt malicious, and they left a sour taste on even the game’s happiest possible ending. The final battles for the “Neutral” and “Pacifist” runs of the game completely remove the ability to get a Game Over, forcing players to fight or wait dozens of rounds before anything changes. While I found the Pacifist ending to be my favorite, its final boss encounter left me emotionally and physically drained.
The game is insistent throughout that the correct way to play is to never use any standard attacks on your enemies. While this twist on gaming tropes is part of what made Undertale special, the repetitive nature of sparing each enemy using the same sequence of commands was at times just as boring as fighting monsters head-on in other role-playing games.
How Many Endings Are Possible?
There were three major endings to Undertale, with several different epilogues to the “Neutral” ending based on which characters are left alive. Each of the three main endings corresponds to its own playstyle, and most players will be committed to either the Neutral, Pacifist, or Genocide routes by the time they leave the game’s first dungeon.
A word of warning: spoiling any of the endings to Undertale without having finished the game could remove the sense of discovery for new players. However, certain ambiguities in each ending left me with several questions and a very vibrant online fan community to explore. Several years out from its initial release, no stones are left unturned in Undertale’s world, and there is quite a rabbit hole’s worth of analysis and theory-crafting online to keep any fan occupied long after completing the game.
The game’s Neutral ending occurs by default on the first playthrough, unless you went out of your way to kill every monster in the game. In this ending, we learned about the monster king’s plot to invade the surface by stealing the souls of seven humans, and the tragic history of the monsters underground that led them to such drastic measures. Near the end of the game, players were reminded of the actions they chose along their journey and judged accordingly.
Whether or not you spare the monster king, the monster Flowey appeared and seemingly deleted your save file, forcing a very difficult and seemingly endless battle. Eventually, the souls of the six children who preceded the player character appeared to aid them and defeated Flowey. Various epilogues followed the credits after achieving the Neutral ending, based on which monsters were left alive at the end of the story. If players decided to spare Flowey at the end of their first playthrough, it returned and invited them to reset the game and experience new unlocked content.
After killing Flowey at the end of their first playthrough, the monster was notably absent from the beginning of the game the second time through. Certain characters also had new dialogue options and a vague recollection of the events from the first time around. If you managed to avoid killing every monster before arriving in New Home, the game’s final area, a new side quest and dungeon was unlocked in the True Lab, which expanded on the backstory of the game’s world and had to be completed to achieve the game’s true Pacifist ending.
After completing the True Lab, Flowey revealed his true identity as Asriel Dreemur, the fallen son of the monster king whose death had set the events of Undertale into motion. After he was defeated and ultimately spared by the player, Asriel broke the barrier between the monster and human worlds to let all his friends live peacefully on the surface.
Players who chose the Genocide route had a very different experience from the other two endings. Bosses who otherwise fought bravely against the player instead cowered in fear of their power, and the villages dotted along the critical path grew eerily silent. Rather than offering inspirational messages, save points simply displayed the amount of killable enemies left in the game.
Players faced some of the most challenging fights in the game if they played the Genocide route. The act of mindlessly exterminating countless weak monsters in each area felt engineered to be a tedious and painful task. Players became villains in the eyes of characters that they might have called friends in an earlier playthrough. At the very end of a Genocide run, the game itself admonished the player for becoming the real monster in its story and forced itself to reset.
Entering the name “FRISK” at the beginning of the game unlocked Undertale: Hard Mode, a short additional game that replayed the story’s events through the end of the Ruins. Monsters in this mode were replaced by more difficult variants, but the battle with Toriel at the end was cut short by an appearance of the “Annoying Dog” character.
Which Route I Chose
I began playing Undertale with as little information about the game as possible and got the regular “Neutral” ending since I had accidentally killed the game’s first boss. After having gained a clearer perspective of Undertale’s world and reading about the game online, I reset my save file and played the “Pacifist” route.
Is Undertale Good for Kids?
Undertale’s story has themes of murder, loss, and implied suicide; however, I think those themes are handled with good intentions and with careful consideration to younger players. Common Sense Media rates Undertale to be suitable for players aged nine and older.
While this game may be acceptable for some kids to play, its story is certainly suited more to young adults. Toby Fox was 23 years old when he wrote Undertale, and a uniquely 20-something’s sense of bittersweet sentimentality and sarcastic humor permeates the game’s text.
Where Can I Buy Undertale?
Undertale is available on PC, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, and PS Vita. A free demo for Undertale can be downloaded from the game’s website.
What is Deltarune?
Toby Fox’s second game, Deltarune, is an episodic series of games that began with the release of its first chapter in 2018. Though featuring many of Undertale’s charactes and themes, Toby Fox explained in a Q&A that Deltarune is an original story that’s entirely separate from the events in Undertale. Deltarune: Chapter 1 can be downloaded for free on PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, and PC/Mac on the game’s website.