'Undertale' Emphasizes Compassion and Complexity

Jan 14, 2016

One of my favorite video games when I was younger was the Super Nintendo game Earthbound. It was a role-playing game like Final Fantasy, but instead of being set in a fantasy world with swords and magic wands, it was set in modern times with baseball bats and yo-yos. The game had quirky writing and endearing characters that set it apart from any other games of its time.

There hasn’t really been much like it since, either, which is why I was so surprised when I found the new PC game Undertale. Written and developed by independent game developer Toby Fox, Undertale begins with your character, a human that has fallen into a prison for monsters, waking up and being saved by a motherly monster named Toriel. She shows you how to play the game, walking you through puzzles and demonstrating combat, before leaving to bake you a pie.

The game has a strong, small cast of supporting characters who have full, engaging stories that are discovered not only by talking to them, but also by finding clues in the world itself. Whole sections of the game change depending on the relationships you’ve built with these characters.

A strong theme in Undertale is mercy. In fact, unlike most other games, you can go through the entire thing without killing a single monster. Instead, if you prefer, you can talk to enemies and convince them to stop attacking you. The game gives you different options depending on who you’re fighting: you might choose to pet a dog, or to give words of encouragement to a sad ghost. Every enemy in the game has its own personality, and they all serve to give the world a depth that I’ve rarely seen, especially in a small indie PC release.