Undertale (2015)

“Long ago, two races ruled over earth: HUMANS and MONSTERS. One day…

…Parhelion Designs decided to write about this game.”

That’s right! Undertale is September’s Story of the Month! It’s a very story-driven game that primarily uses old-school graphics to tell about the Underground and the human that has the power to change it. There is one instance when it switches graphics, and that moment is one of the reasons why this is one of my favorite games – no, stories – ever.

(Oh, and there aren’t any pictures this time. I don’t have any of me playing the game, and I don’t want to steal someone else’s work.)

The game starts off with you choosing a name for the Fallen Child. I like how the game doesn’t say, “Choose a name for you” or “your character.” It gives you enough distance between you and the game that you can still play as yourself, but can be someone else. The importance of this doesn’t come into view until towards the end of the game, when you realize that this isn’t just a playful role in the game, but is a reflection of your own integrity. Everything you do in the game…

…not only affects the players, but also your own fate. And you can’t reverse your decisions. This is a great example of art imitating life: you can’t undo the mistakes you make in the real world, and you have to live with those consequences. In a sense, you truly are the Fallen Child: whatever happens to you/the Child is the consequence of what you do, or fail to do, in the game. If you forget to play a mini-game, then you have to keep going. If you kill someone you just met, you will meet others who won’t let you forget.

And the game always remembers what you do. Even if you feel guilty about fighting and killing a random character and you want to reset the game to start over, it remembers and keeps track of how many times you reset, restart, or die while playing. And the characters tweak what they say and do depending on whether any of the previous things happened, and how many times. How many games can you think of that hold you accountable to people’s deaths like this?

Because it never forgets the moral path you take – and you don’t get to choose your path at the beginning and have the game do the work for you; you have to stick to it yourself. There are three different routes, or “runs,” you can take in the game: genocide (killing everyone you see), neutral (killing some people), and pacifist (not letting anyone die). The characters you meet range from super sweet and altruistic, to murderous agitators. You might argue that some deserve to die…but do they? This game makes you question the “fairness” of death. (Yes, I put that in quotation marks. Play the game, and you’ll understand why.) It’s not just because of the Easter eggs, secret rooms, or specific endings that it makes you rethink killing or sparing someone;

Your choices draw you deeper and deeper into the story, until you realize that you’re not just playing a game, you’re living it. You care for these players, you want them to reach their goals, and you want to befriend them. Or, if you are a hardcore Genocide Runner, slaughter them. But the game makes you meet these characters before you decide what to do. It makes you learn their names and a little about their own goals. This gives you a chance to determine what you want to do with/to them, as well as reconsider the run that you are on and if that is what you want.

Okay, so I’ve talked about the story a lot, without giving away any spoilers – you’ll never make me spoil it for you! – now, let’s talk about the art style. The old-school graphics do give this game an older/traditional feel, but it doesn’t feel dated or cheap. Besides, there is still enough detail to give you a sense of the environment. Just look at that snowy station:

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This style continues throughout the whole game. I feel the simple style lends to the game overall, because it takes some attention away from how “polished” the game might look and more on what the game is about. Plus, doesn’t this photo give you a sense of nostalgia, of playing all those old games?

And even if the style itself is simple, the character designs are spot-on. Just take a look at those two skeleton brothers. One is in a blue hoodie, and the other is dressed like a superhero. From their appearance, we can figure their personalities out, like the hoodie-wearing brother is more relaxed, and the superhero skeleton is more daring and adventurous.

Even the colors give us insight: blue represents relaxation, tranquility, and depression, whereas red is a more passionate, energetic, fiery color. You can determine each character’s personality by what s/he wears and looks like.

At one point in the game (no pictures, sorry), the graphics change from 16-bit-esque to Photoshop-quality. No, really, this moment in the game uses images made/compiled in Photoshop, so they look smoother and more modern. This is a twist in the game, but when you reach this moment, it makes sense, as this is a culmination of different elements to produce this battle. (I will admit it’s a battle, but I’m not saying when it comes up. You’ll have to play to find out.)

Intrigued yet? You can find the game on Steam, or go to its website to check out the demo and awesome merch! 🙂

No bonus material for this month, but Stay Determined!

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