UNDERTALE! The big indie hit and one of the last two games we reviewed as part of indie month 2016. If you read my review of the game, then it should already be obvious to you that I adore this title, and so did my colleague Stian! There is however one topic that Stian and I don’t agree upon so we decided to try our hand at a new form of article where we debate video game topics, both about specific games and about the industry in general.
Today’s topic is Undertale’s multiple endings, so from this point onward SPOILERS WILL RUN RAMPANT. If you have yet to play this game then this article is not for you, it is for veterans of the game who preferably finished it multiple times.
To kick off the debate, my opening statement:
Casper: Undertale has a fantastic story-line, I feel we can both agree on that. However, I have serious issues with the game’s bad ending. While it’s obvious that the acts you must commit to get that far are so hideous that the actual plot-twist you get is deserved, I feel it’s an immoral design choice to permanently break the player’s game. In fact, it’s just one step short of Toby Fox breaking into your house and stealing his game back from you without leaving a refund.
Stian: Indeed, I definitely agree about the story and I think the game is overall fantastic. While I can understand that having the bad ending being achieved through such a mundane and quite punishing task feeling outright evil, I think it goes deeper than just being a way to punish a player for wanting to be a bad-guy. First of: think of how many RPGs, especially western, that have more focus on moral choice, like Bioware’s titles where being good or bad is basically the same and provide the same rewards. Shouldn’t the bad way really make you suffer? I also feel this is a way of seeing how far you are really willing to go to satisfy your curiosity.
Casper: You do raise an interesting point. Undertale definitely does an infinitely better job at making you feel the consequences of your actions. If you kill key characters like Sans or Toriel then other characters will obviously be miffed with you, but if you purposefully kill EVERYTHING then the game is just taking fun away from you; puzzles solve themselves, locations will be deserted, and you miss out on a ton of comedic dialogue. All of that is perfectly fine.
What I am specifically talking about is what comes after. You know, the game booting to a black screen and acting like it’s broken? If you wait for a long time it will eventually pop up some dialogue and offer you a chance to reset everything, but at the cost of never being able to achieve a good ending again. That is seriously not okay, a designer can’t just pretend his game is broken so you won’t play it a second time
Stian: I am certainly a bit mixed there myself since it is quite a harsh punishment. However, when I think about it; I might have wished to do the same thing.
We both are DMs at times, right? For those of you who don’t know what a DM is, it is a term in roleplay (not the game-genre, but pen and paper, like Dungeons & Dragons). DM refers to the Dungeon Master, which is the person that is planning the plot, enemies, other characters, the world, and the ruleset to use. Think of it somewhat similar to a story-teller in a book or a game designer. Here is my point: when a player does something that goes against the game’s main-focus to deliberately be an ass, it is also somewhat an indirect attack on the DM/game designer. Even the tagline for Undertale is “The friendly RPG where nobody dies”. Sure if you killed some, you might have done it cause you had no idea what to do or just to see, but doing the genocide run means you are literally just being a prick (to put it lightly).
Plus, I hardly doubt that people who have taken this run, haven’t already tried to get the true pacifist route (to get the best ending). If you haven’t and simply try to kill everything, I do question if you had any fun with it. Heck, all the other endings are easier than the genocide run anyway.
Casper: To be more specific, the tagline for the game is “The RPG game where you don’t have to destroy anyone.”, but it definitely does not exclude the option to do so. On the Steam page the first two bullet points describing the game are:
- Killing is unnecessary: negotiate out of danger using the unique battle system.
- Time your attacks for extra damage, then dodge enemy attacks in a style reminiscent of top-down shooters.
Peace is definitely emphasized here, but not to the point where I’d say it’s an assault on the designer’s intent. After all, Toby did build a very elaborate combat system and several highly complex encounters for the player to partake in. In fact, I’d argue the actual combat is deeper than the diplomatic path, which frequently is just a case picking a very obvious right choice from a small list of options.
I will admit that pacifism has the main focus and those who are after the genocide run are likely to have played the game before. It’s not something you can actually, accidentally stumble upon, you need to be thorough to a degree that isn’t even that fun outside of the improved boss battles. Even then I worry what breaking the game for those players does to Undertale’s long-term relevance. When 10 years down the line so many copies of the game are broken and fixes become less convenient to find as forums keeping that information are archived or shut down, how many people will be able to relive Undertale? How many designers can learn from it and improve gaming when the copies they bought may not let them restart it in the original condition?
Stian: Well, it certainly gives the option I won’t deny that, but to go on a killing-streak is more or less like any terrible Elder Scrolls gamer (no offence to any Dark Brotherhood sympathizers) would come up with on their first try.
The combat is definitely interesting based on how you play the game. I think we can both agree that going for killing is an interesting way to play, but to deliberately kill everything and everyone, that is just taking on an “I am gonna do everything!” attitude, and by that point, with such a daunting task ahead of you… Yeah, like you said, they have already done the other parts.
However: that is interesting point! What will I do when I simply want to relive the game and I unfortunately did everything including that run? I think that by that time, you have a new computer and possibly can play Undertale again without that being an issue (please tell me if I am wrong, but I think this is the only way to really get the best ending again, like with rpg-maker game Oneshot). So by that time, it shouldn’t be a problem.
Casper: The game saves its flags to the Steam Cloud, regardless of whether or not you have that activated, so each time you reinstall, regardless of the computer, it will restore the flags when you download the game. I have heard a lot of solutions, some of them sound decent, others are pretty questionable… Kind of proves my point, it hasn’t even been a year and already it’s a mess to figure out how to do this.
Still, I will agree that this isn’t that terrible. It would be extremely rare for a first-time player to trigger this ending, and the game gives plenty of hints that you probably shouldn’t be doing it. Is it what I would have done? No, I stand by my point that it’s sketchy to make people believe that the game stopped working (five seconds, okay, but 10 minutes is way longer than people would think to wait for) and subsequently making it hard to ever play the game normally again. People are entitled to the product they bought in the state they bought it in.
Do you have any closing words Stian?
Stian: The thing with Steam: I will definitely say is…. harsh, to put it nicely. With GOG, I have seen this become easier due to the lack of a cloud-save (although that is possible if one chooses so).
I would have done something similar to really give a punishment to players, since it has become much rarer these days, at least something as special as this. However while I don’t think this is terrible either, I can agree that this can be overdoing it, at least to the steam-players since never being able to rediscover the best ending ever again should be possible at least one day. Maybe through in-game redemption?
If nothing else: I think Undertale is a great example of breaking the fourth wall without it feeling forced and I am more than just happy it exists. Hopefully, others will learn from it (and others, such as Pony Island and Oneshot) and think of something that can be as effective.