A Tale of A Monster
First of all, yes, this is a game-review. But for all the non-gamers out there, hear me out.
I wasn’t going to do another review of a video-game after my Borderlands Series review because I think few games are interesting enough for a broad audience like this one to discuss. Undertale, however, kept creeping in the back of my mind. Like, a little voice that told me I had to write a review about this game. This because, even though not all of you are interested in video-games, all of you are interested in social science (well.. it’s very probable that you are at least). Undertale is interesting for people who are into the social sciences because of its unique concept.
This game is an RPG (role-playing game) where you play as a human child, whom you can give any name you wish. This is you. You’ve fallen down a hole into the world of monsters, who are banished from the surface. Here you’ll encounter a wild variety of monsters and you can fight them and interact with them. This all sounds pretty basic and normal for an RPG (or any kind of game really). But Undertale gives a twist to it. Undertale gives you the possibility to beat the game without killing a single monster.
People who play this game for the first time probably won’t do this though. They’ll probably kill some monsters and some they’ll spare. Because it’s simply what you do in an RPG or almost any video-game. You kill enemies. But in Undertale every murder you commit has consequences. And yes, I’m phrasing it as ‘murder’ because that is how the characters in the game will see you if you kill their friends: a murderer. Some characters will distance themselves from you, if you killed a monster who was their friend or family. You’ll even be called a “dirty brother killer” if you kill a certain character’s sibling. Some characters that should be sitting in the local Inn aren’t there anymore. Because you killed them.
Your actions have consequences, and the further you progress into the game, the more obvious this gets. Eventually you’ll feel quite bad for fighting and killing characters.. That’s why the game also gives you the option to ‘act’ instead of ‘fight’. ‘Acting’ means you persuade the monsters to stop fighting you, this can be achieved in many different ways. From petting a dog-monster to hugging a tiny volcano-monster. These different ways of acting give the opportunity for multiple endings to the game. There’s the neutral ending, where you kill some monsters and spare others. This is probably the most bland and least interesting ending because the characters in the game don’t have a clear opinion about you. Some like you, others don’t. The two endings that are really interesting are the pacifist ending and the genocide ending.
The names are pretty self-explanatory: in a pacifist play-through you spare all monsters, in the genocide play-through you kill all monsters. The pacifist play-through is my personal favorite because it let’s you create a bond with the main characters and at the end of the game you feel actually attached to them. The characters are very well written and eventually you’ll be rooting for the monsters instead of the humans. This makes it even harder to do a genocide play-through.
It’s not easy to kill every monster in each area. There’s a lot of them and the more you kill the less likely you are to get an encounter. To complete a genocide play-through, you must be really determined to do it. It won’t just happen accidentally. The characters are perfectly aware of this and they will judge you, harshly. They’ll criticize you on the fact that you kill everyone just to see what happens, and this is true! You are doing it just to see what will happen, just to complete the entire game. I mean, why would it matter, you can reset the game right? Right??
No. Your past play-throughs actually have influence on your next play-through. This is why, after you’ve completed a genocide play-through, you can never again complete a true pacifist play-through. Because you’ve actually got to sell your (in-game) soul at the ending of the genocide play-through to be able to start a new game (I’m not kidding). This is why I think Undertale is such a good game. Because it makes you painfully aware of the fact that you’re taking lives. Okay, not really lives, because it’s all virtual, but it does make you question your conscience and morality. There were some characters during the genocide play-through I really didn’t want to kill and I felt really bad about doing it. I’ve actually seen footage of a guy tearing up about having to kill a character.
In my opinion, media nowadays is very casual about the death of people. Especially in video-games and movies. That’s not bad per se, I enjoy a good action movie as much as any other person and most people are very capable of separating fictional death from actual death. But I do think it’s good that there is a game out there that makes you value life and humanity in such a way that it’s sincerely touching. I really hope you’ll give this game a try. It’s only €10,- and it’s often for sale on Steam too so it’s really inexpensive.
Play this game for yourself and find out.. are you a man or a monster?
Text and final picture by Mijntje Boon