On September 15, 2015, one video game took the world by storm. Crafted by none other than indie developer Toby Fox, his creation Undertale was released to the public. Made to resemble the style of older 8-bit and 16-bit video game titles, the role-playing game tells the story of a human child named Frisk falling into the Underground and their journey to get back to the Surface. Along the way, they encounter many different kinds of monsters, ranging from pun-cracking and spaghetti-loving skeletons to celebrity robots and fish in knight’s armor.
What makes Undertale stand out from the rest? Many of its devoted fans say it’s the option to spare monsters instead of just killing them. In other RPGs like Final Fantasy and the Mario & Luigi series, the player only has the option to kill anything and everything in their path. Other fans say it’s the catchy music or the quirky, unforgettable characters. Still others claim that it’s the interesting storyline and its emotional connection that forms and stays with its players. In addition, Undertale has branching paths, leading to three different endings based on the player’s actions, and those actions will determine whether a true pacifist ending (where every monster gets to go back to the Surface), a neutral ending (where some monsters die and the rest still live in the Underground), or an outright genocide ending (where no monsters survive and only the player remains standing) will occur. This “branching-path” mechanic isn’t new, but the way the game implements it and the subtle nudge to persuade the player into not hurting anyone is unique in its own right.
Now that Undertale has been out for a year already, its legacy as “the friendly RPG where nobody has to die” remains, as it leaves a teaching message within those who play it. In the beginning of the game, one character tells you straightforwardly, “In this world, it’s kill or be killed!” That quote has been the mindset of countless games before Undertale, where the only way to win was by killing. And, in a way, that mantra is reflected in life: sometimes, people get in the way, some who are angry and take advantage of others, and some who are bitter and show no emotion or empathy. Undertale gives us a trifold message: kindness is deep within everyone, even those who hurt others; there is evil lurking around every corner, so stay alert; and, ultimately, it’s up to you to decide what to do and how to act in every situation you face—whether you intend to fight or use mercy.