So I’ve been thinking a lot about Undertale. And I know I broke it down in a previous post… Sorta. During the last post I was concerned with spoilers, so I didn’t really dig too deep into how the game functions around its own plot…Because, ya know, spoilers.
Anyway, I wanted to reflect more on the different options you as the player have with this game. As stated before here and everywhere, there is more than one way to play this game, but for simplicity’s sake we can break it down into three main categories: Genocide, Neutral, Pacifist. And from there, I can break it down into two modes of player behavior: Actively engaging with the game’s world or going on a murderous rampage.
And the funny thing is, both of these will lead to different outcomes and different details of the game’s plot.
So let’s start.
The routes that fall under these two categories are endless. It really all depends on the player’s motivation. The game doesn’t actively try to lead you in one direction or the other… It just casually provides that you (the player/character) may suffer more or less based on those decisions.
For example: During the tutorial you may come across a candy dish that says “Take One.”
However, if you take more than one piece of candy, you are rewarded with:
1: “You took more candy. How disgusting…”
2: “You took another piece. You feel like the scum of the earth…”
3: “You took too much too fast. The candy spills onto the floor.”
And if you continue to attempt to pick candy off the ground you only get the text “Look at what you’ve done.”
This scene serves to allow the player to establish what kind of character they will be within the world of Undertale. In the grand scheme of the plot and game, it doesn’t really change anything, but the implication is that you, the character, have ruined the bowl of candy for anyone else that may come along.
You also have different ways that you, as the character, get to react to the monsters that you encounter. How kind you are or are not to those you encounter only serves to further establish what kind of moral stuff you’re made of. So long as you leave the monsters alive most of the time, regardless of how you treat them, you’ll get a neutral ending. If you manage to spare all of the monsters, regardless of how kind or cruel you act toward them, you’ll get the pacifist ending. But the point is that the game actively gives you those options every single time you encounter another character.
The Genocide Route, or the route where you actively kill every monster you encounter, alters the game in significant ways. The route is designed to be unpleasant for you as the player. It becomes a mindless grind for levels and hit points.
Where in the Neutral/Pacifist run, you have the option of greeting and doing a favor for a snowman, in a genocide run your character actively destroys it without any prompt from you the player.
All of the puzzles and character shenanigans that you’re privy to in a neutral/pacifist run also disappear. Essentially the heart and soul of the game becomes inaccessible, since you, as the player, have made it your goal to kill everything, the world no longer wants you to play within it.
Something interesting happens to the language within the game, too. In a neutral/pacifist run, looking into a mirror prompts the response of “It’s you!” or “Despite everything, it’s still you.” But, in a genocide run the text prompt reads back with “It’s me, [insert character name].” This is actually significant, because while the game no longer allows you to play with what has made it fun and light-hearted, it does provide some deeper insights to you, your character, and the first/fallen child.
Oddly enough, with this route you are treated to two of the hardest boss battles within the game. But everything up until and in between them is mindless and pointless. So it becomes a bit of a trade-off for the player that wants to be a completionist.
The real consequence of a genocide run is that it taints all future play-throughs of the game. Once you go this route, you receive dialogue continually reminding you of your actions even during new sessions. So the game really poses a question to the player: Is it really worth it to become the monster of the game?