Developer: Toby Fox
Publisher: The Annoying Dog
Released on Sept 15, 2015
Undertale is the one fangame RPG I’ve been longing to talk about at length. The only thing stopping me was the extreme hype thrown around by the fanbase. Though I have to admit, “Undertale has a unique battle system resembling top-down bullet-hells, except nobody has to die in this one.” The monsters will certainly keep you entertained with their dry sense of humor.
Warning: Spoilers Beyond This Point!
A child climbed Mount Ebott in 201X, falling on top of a field of golden flowers. Toriel, a goat monster, guides them past the Ruins, made up of several connected hallways. This ancient place has puzzles to keep the player occupied; there are buttons to press, talking rocks to push, and cracked floors to walk over.
The only way to get killed is to lose all your health when battling monsters. If you trigger a monster encounter, you have four ways to interact with them: Fight, Act, Item, or Mercy. But if you die, your heart breaks in half. Trust me, fighting is the worst thing you can do in Undertale — monster deaths have serious consequences as seen later on.
Toriel is rather overprotective of the player, especially if they decide to wander ahead into the next room. She teaches you to talk to monsters instead of resorting to violence because they have families too. Toriel also hands you a cellphone that lets you call monsters you’ve befriended. But the part where you have to fight her to prove you are capable of surviving in the outside world is kind of heart-wrenching.
You control a small heart in battle, moving inside the bullet box to dodge the incoming attacks. Choosing “act” lets you hang out with monsters. Under “items”, you will have consumables to eat. And selecting “mercy” gives you a turn to spare them. Of course, you could murder monsters to get exp and level up, but then everyone becomes afraid of you.
In Undertale, you are exposed to easy puzzles with lots of cheesy puns thrown into them. Papyrus is a spooky skeleton, whose attempts to capture a human, are used for comedic effect. You have to turn these Xs into Os, navigate an electric maze, and vice versa. Most monsters don’t intend to harm you but their magic projectiles do hurt human souls.
Snowdin town is the last stop before you have to fight Papyrus. If you killed anyone before arriving here, other monsters will notice and comment on their disappearance. Otherwise, it is a fairly nice community of friendly monsters. A bunny lady runs the shop to sell hot foods like biscicles. You can rest at the inn to raise your HP or chat with the locals at Grillby’s.
At the end of each area: The Ruins, Snowdin, Waterfall, and Hotland, you are forced to battle main characters who serve as “boss monsters”. I never could bring myself to kill Papyrus because he stays optimistic no matter how insulting or cruel the player acts. Also, he is great at cooking spaghetti and will offer to be friends if you spare him.
Undertale’s interface is simple and straightforward as shown. You can check your current stats and equipped clothing. Every item comes with a clever description of what it does. I usually fill my inventory with food from the shops. But wearing gear makes you hit harder and survive longer, changing your AT and DF. Clearly, nothing is more badass than a pink tutu.
At the Waterfall, you are pursued by Undyne, who is more aggressive about taking your soul to free all the monsters. Monster Kid tags along, eager to see his role model in action. The Waterfall presents a serene atmosphere, with sparkles in the sky and echo flowers that express the wishes of monsters who seek a better life.
Undyne is arguably the strongest monster in the game, hurling a continuous supply of spears at you. She is impossible to spare, even on a Pacifist run. There are times when escaping is the only peaceful option. Undyne doesn’t tolerate murder of any kind and will call you out if you killed any monsters prior to meeting her.
This is Dr. Alphys, the most socially awkward monster in the underground. As an anime/manga nerd, she is relatable on many fronts: She tried to spoil an entire character arc on the player and will eat only instant noodles. Alphys guides you through Hotland, narrowly avoiding the deathtraps set by Mettaton, a robot she built with “anti-human combat features”.
Hotland is a lava-filled region made up of many floors, where the player runs into some steam vents, conveyor belts, and activated door puzzles. You are the guest invited onto Mettaton’s talkshow, being given a pop quiz, starring in a musical, and performing dangerous stunts like defusing flying bombs, in place of a timer.
In the meantime, you can go grinding for gold by walking around until you find more monsters. Or talk to NPCs along the way—they might have a few interesting stories to share. Then, have Sans stack hotdogs on your head. Eavesdrop on Alphys’ status updates, and remember to grab the new apron and cooking pan for free heals.
If you run out of healing items, hop on the ferry to go shopping in previous areas. You can also redeem a nice cream punchcard and pick up a poor abandoned quiche. You might be surprised to see that all the enemies you’ve spared are now overworld NPCs with their own unique personalities.
It’s a lot of fun to check random encounter monsters before choosing an “act” option. This is Vulkin, an adorable volcano creature who thinks its lava heals people. Multiple monsters combine their attacks, making them much harder to deal with. Here, you could give Vulkin a hug or approach Tsunderplane. But you should not let your guard down.
Mini-bosses will try to capture you. This is Muffet, a spider monster who thinks you are too stingy to support the spidey cause. She pours some tea, switching the soul to purple mode. Now you control the soul by jumping between lines, avoiding the moving spiders. You can eat a spider donut or cider to be spared by Muffet.
Near the end of your journey, you’ll pass by the MTT Resort. The guy taking orders at the MTT-Brand Burger Emporium is none other than Burgerpants, who makes the most dramatic expressions. He wanted to be an actor like Mettaton. But now, he regrets working for the guy after not receiving any respect.
It’s always a good idea to save before venturing into new areas. I like to fill up my inventory with Starfaits, glamburgers, and a Legendary Hero sandwich or two. Mettaton will send monsters to finish you off at the Core. There are sets of trip lasers in blue and orange to block your path. It’s all about knowing when to stop or keep moving.
When you finally confront Mettaton, he reveals that Alphys acted from behind the scenes. So now, the final dance-off begins. And believe me, you’ll need the yellow soul to activate shooter mode. (Hint: Eat the Steak in the Shape of Mettaton’s Face!) If you survive long enough, bumping up the show’s ratings, Mettaton should lose his arms and legs.
During the battles, monsters will explain their motives, stating that a human soul is the last thing standing between them and freedom on the surface. They don’t really have a choice if they want to break the barrier to make their dreams come true.
The game projects a bleak outlook, suggesting that many monsters are becoming depressed from being trapped underground. On a pacifist route, you restore their faith in humanity by being friendly, thus ending the war. But on a genocide one, you kill everyone you meet, forcing the monsters to evacuate somewhere safer.
If the player visits New Home, they find out what happened to Asgore’s family. It implies that monsters have the same problems as people, dealing with anxiety and depression. The story gradually unravels itself as you check your surroundings and uncover more secrets.
While the player cannot explore the Capital, they are told the tragic story of Asriel and the fallen human, who lived with the king and queen. In the Judgment Hall, Sans will comment on the morality of your actions. If you didn’t gain EXP or LV, he is impressed by your determination to do good. Otherwise, Sans would advise you against it, even out of self-defense.
In the throne room, you confront the ruler of the underground, Asgore, who is reluctant to fight you, still grieving the death of his son. His original plan was to kill seven humans and take their souls to break the barrier. But he is now full of regret for declaring war on humanity. The protagonist’s soul is literally the last one.
In most neutral endings, Flowey strikes the final blow on Asgore and absorbs the six human souls, preventing the player from leaving for the surface. He then transforms into this photoshopped abomination of hell. But you do kind of pity Flowey for living without a soul when you are finally given the option to kill or spare him.
At some point, the player has to make a hard decision: Do they continue playing until they reach the True Pacifist Ending? Resetting their game to spare Toriel, befriend Papyrus, Undyne, and Alphys? Exploring the True Lab to see what happens to fallen monsters?
Or do they attempt a no-mercy run, killing everyone just because they want to experience a much darker version of the game? Keep in mind that Undertale isn’t like most RPGs where you kill enemies to level up and become stronger.
In the neutral epilogue, you receive a phone call by Sans after escaping the underground. Depending on your kill count, he will tell you how everyone’s been doing, handing the phone to Papyrus if he was spared. Undyne and Alphys are roped into the call if you did befriend them on a pacifist run.
Since you failed to free all the monsters, it’s not the true ending. And using the “Reset” button lets you start over on a different path. Players should be careful: Resets don’t erase all your data from previous runs. The game remembers everything you did.
Tune in next time, for the heavy spoilers, secrets, and subverted RPG tropes of Undertale!