UNDERTALE | A challenge to the player's morality
Type of game
Undertale is one of those gaming experiences where each player will have a different memory of it. This title, now considered a real cult for fans, has become famous in a very short time thanks to its powerful mission statement: “In this RPG, you don’t have to kill anyone”.
A One Man Army project
The entire project of this indie video game was conceived and developed by one person: Toby Fox. It was 2013, when Toby, then only 22 years old, launched a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter. The goal: to reach $5000 to develop the video game. He raised more than this amount and this allowed him to dedicate himself to the entire development in complete autonomy.
In 2015 Undertale was ready: an indie title with a bi-dimensional graphic and an RPG setting. The player assumes the role of a character that can interact within the game’s imaginary world, similar to games like The Binding of Isaac. Each character, dialogue, and event is the result of his creative originality. The young author has managed to fully exploit the potential of the 2D layout and the 8-bit audio to emphasize even more the expressive power of each character or environment. Even the memorable soundtracks are the result of the work of Toby Fox, who personally composed over 100 tracks.
As for the plot, in Undertale the protagonist is a young human, Frisk. In the footsteps of Alice in Wonderland, he falls into a subterranean realm populated by monsters: the Underground. This is because Monsters and Humans once lived together until a war broke out and the monsters were confined forever to the underground world. The protagonist will have to make his way into a world populated by eccentric characters and monstrous creatures. He must try to return to the surface by defeating the fearsome Asgore, the King of the Underground.
The overworld is mostly made up of puzzles that the player must solve in order to advance. Even the monster battles can also be played as puzzles, requiring the right set of actions to resolve the fight peacefully. In fact, Undertale allows the player to advance by fighting and acquiring experience points in perfect RPG style or try to solve conflicts through diplomacy if the player is determined to do it.
Your choices, your consequences
Moreover, this game breaks the fourth wall several times. Characters sometimes turn directly to the player, mocking him. Not only this, but Undertale also tries to break the line between the gamer and the role he plays. This is because there is no role. It is the player himself who makes choices; choices that can be influenced exclusively by his own morality, and that, above all, will have consequences. The concept of determination, is, indeed, the leitmotiv that pushes the protagonist to continue the story. Being peaceful is not always easy, and the choice is of the player only.
The game invites the player to re-export areas already visited to see the changes caused by one’s own actions. This dynamic pushes the player to start over with a new game choosing to take other paths. Similarly, the choice may be to avoid any possible confrontation; giving the chance to wipe out every enemy encountered, just to see what happens.
The main antagonist perfectly embodies this concept. Flowey is a cute flower that due to an experiment gone wrong, ends up becoming exactly like the protagonist, or even more like the player, free to do what he wants. Aware of being inside a video game, he then chooses to destroy everything and everyone for the same reason that the player does it: one can be bored, or just because one can, and is given the opportunity.
Revolution of choices
In this game everything is intentional, and everyone bears this responsibility. Undertale challenges the player through characters outside the box and revolutionizes some classic RPG mechanics transforming them into dynamics useful to the story. This game reminds us of the simple but important message that there’s no need for big means to make a good product, just to have a good story to tell.
This explains why Undertale has become so popular in the video games community. The legacy left by this cult has not only revolutionized the way of conceiving indie games but still continues through Deltarune, a new series part of the universe of Undertale and produced again in semi-autonomy by Tobyfox.