Oh, now I understand why people went crazy over this thing
Have you ever been too intimidated to play a video game? I think I'm mature enough to say that I've been many times. Usually it's with a survival horror title. I'm a sucker for the stories in these games, but a huge coward when it comes to actual scares. To give you an idea of how easily I get scared, I barely made it through the house. I'm sure there are plenty of great games and stories I've missed over the years because the wait for jump scares and sheer fear intimidated me to really try.
Undertale was another title that intimidated me. Not because of its content, of course. I knew before it was released that it was an RPG inspired by Earthbound and Moon: Remix RPG Adventure, both of which are up my street. But whenever I approached the possibility of inserting the game into my Switch, people gave me a reason not to. Namely, the fanbase.
We're long past the point where Undertale was at the center of the gaming zeitgeist, but at the height of its popularity, some fans on the internet took their obsession way too far. A quick Google search of "Toxic Undertale Fans" will bring up a wide variety of articles and videos on the issue. I was warned that I shouldn't talk about the game on Twitter if I wasn't running a pacifist run, lest I invoke the ire of strangers with an internet connection and way too much free time.
Looking back, I should have realized that no one cares about my Twitter account and I do anyway. But at the time, that was enough for me to never open my Switch copy. It has sat on my shelf ever since, gathering dust and hopefully a respectable resale value on eBay. As the years passed and the frenzy of the game waned, the itch to play it stayed with me. See Without appearing in Smash Bros. only added to that desire, but it was after crossing Moon last year that I realized I had waited long enough. I made a pact with myself to play the game within a year, and when it was added to Xbox Game Pass in March, I knew the time was right.
If you don't know what Undertale is, honestly, stop reading this and just play it. It only lasts about seven hours, and as with Twin Peaks, it's best to go with as little knowledge as possible. If you're reading my lede and you're worried about playing the game badly, don't be. For starters, you can always delete your save file if you mess up. But more important than that, you can easily get the best possible ending if you just follow the instructions.
RPGs have a long history of having players jump through fiery hoops if they want to see the best endings to their stories, so the lack of substantial requirements here was something of a surprise. But the further I ventured into the Underground, the more I realized that it wouldn't make sense to keep such a conclusion behind nonsensical chores. Because Undertale is fundamentally about one thing: listening. You listen to monsters when they are your enemies and you listen to them when they are your friends.
Taking their words to heart will help you resolve their issues and ultimately lead you to the preferred conclusion of this story. Hiding the best ending behind ridiculous collect-a-thons wouldn't make much sense for a game that rewards players for having a sympathetic ear.
I will say that if I had played this before Moon, the idea of treating monsters as if they weren't your enemies might have had a bigger impact on me. It's still a groundbreaking idea in an industry that's always thinking of bigger, bloodier ways to get rid of your opponents, but it wasn't as fresh as it could have been. However, the experience has always resonated with me due to the themes stitched throughout the game. Kindness, determination and non-violence are all prevalent, but it's Undertale's message of courage that perhaps resonates. be the most, and nowhere is this better exemplified than with Dr. Alphys.
All of the main characters you meet must muster some form of courage for you to reach this true ending, such as the courage to let go or the courage to admit defeat. For Dr. Alphys, the neurotic Royal Scientist of the Underground, it's the courage to be herself, which for many people is a lot harder than it looks. As someone who has been a huge ball of self-doubt all his life, his story spoke to me as if Toby Fox had been secretly watching my life like I was the subject of The Truman Show. Sure, my past blunders don't have the far-reaching consequences of his, but they still eat at me like Joey Chestnut at Nathan's Famous.
I think that's one of the things that Undertale does better than the games that inspired it. The people of Moon were mostly just wacky characters that made you laugh, but the freaks of the Underground are like celebrities in Us Weekly – they're like us. They may look different and eat dodgy food, but when you step back, it's easy to see that these monsters are no different to humans, and boy, is that a lesson a lot of people in this world could use right now.
Admittedly, one of the most enjoyable parts of playing Undertale is the fact that it tries to make you a better person when you put the controller down. You don't really get a lot in this industry, so for a title to have that much morality is substantial. Play and you'll discover the power of love, the importance of giving people a chance, and the fact that doing the right thing isn't always the easiest thing. In fact, sometimes it can be downright difficult if my many deaths at the hands of Undyne are any indication.
While it's not easy to do what's right, it's certainly rewarding, and Undertale does a great job of showing players the positive consequences of their peaceful ways. As much as I value the game for providing players with visual cause and effect of their actions, I think there is a case where it can be too demanding of the player's virtue.
Very early in your adventure, while most players are still getting their bearings, you come across a bake sale by spiders for spiders. You have the option of buying one of two items, but chances are the first time you reach the bake sale you won't have enough money for either. That's what happened on my first attempt to beat the game. Without enough money, I just moved on. I didn't come back when I had enough funds, and I certainly didn't think about making money in a game where you're not really supposed to win. Also, it's just an item store. What's the worst that can happen?
A few hours later, I got an answer to this question. Deep in the Hotland section of the subway, you'll come across a second Spider Bake Sale where both items are likely far beyond what you have in your wallet. A hop, hop, and hop after that, you'll enter a spider lair, the home of the arachnid Muffet. Although she's technically a miniboss, she's easily the toughest opponent I've faced in Undertale.
I've lost count of how many times I've died trying to spare her on my first run in the game. You must survive 17 increasingly difficult rounds with her without giving in to the temptation to bump into her. head with a burnt frying pan. Eventually I had to give up, delete my save file, and start over, this time making sure I bought something from that first bake sale. Because if you do that, you completely avoid this battle.
It's frustrating to know that you can do everything right in this game - help monsters instead of kill them, go back and make friends with your potential enemies - and still be subjected to an exceedingly difficult battle all because that you missed the chance to buy spider pastry hours earlier in an area you can't return to once you've left. I can totally understand why people get a neutral ending for the first time because I wanted to kill that damn spider after a dozen kills. Ultimately, the goal of the Spider Bake Sale is to show players that every little thing you do matters and that you should always support the most vulnerable among us. But, surely, there is a better way to get this message across than to subject ourselves to this infuriating encounter.
Fortunately, once past Muffet, the pacifist race is smooth. After getting back to this point, it only took me a few more hours to reach the eyegasmic final battle and the True Pacifist Ending. And I have to say, even with this reboot, this game floored me. It started well, then it got better and better until it wowed me at every turn. Undertale is a flawless game and easily one of the best adventures I've ever been on. It's the type of experience that makes me want to make my own game even though I know it's never going to happen.
Now that I've seen it through to the end, I'm actually pretty glad I waited to play this. If I had launched it five years ago, it would certainly have had the same effect on me as it does today. It's just that good. But if I had played it then, I probably would have been sucked into the culture around it. I would have been in the forums and comment sections arguing with the most toxic members of the fan base, and that would have led me to resent the game. So, I'm just glad I got to jump all that drama and enjoying Undertale for the masterpiece that it is. And after beating it, I can't wait to play Deltarune…