Undertale — What does it mean to be “Good”?
Recently, I’ve been chugging through a huge backlog of video games. One of those games that caught my attention was Undertale from 2015.
Undertale is a new and intriguing take on the RPG genre. In Undertale, you play a human who’s fallen down into this underground world of monsters, and it’s your story — hence the name Undertale.
I’m obviously late to the party; everyone already knows the game is great. But I was, as I usually am, a little skeptical. So what is it about this game that makes it so special?
On its surface, Undertale is a lot like any other RPG. You can walk around the world, talk to people, get in fights, collect items, and all that stuff. What makes the game different, is its system for battle — doesn’t necessarily require battle.
If you choose to attack, there’s a little timing mini game you’ll play, and that’s kind of cool. When the enemies attack you, you’re this little heart dodging these 8-bit Galaga style representations of their attacks, which really brings a lot to the imagination — it’s very cool.
Where it gets even more interesting is you generally don’t even have to fight the enemies if you don’t want to — and I don’t just mean running away. You can actually choose to talk with them and try and solve your differences through words and diplomacy.
The diplomatic route, however, can be challenging for some of the harder enemies in the game, because they will attack you the entire time you’re trying to figure out a way towards a peaceful resolution.
For most enemies you just need to be able to survive long enough to try the right combination of text commands and pay attention to what it is they want — figuring out what their deal is. It’s kind of nice because you’re sparing their lives, and it’s giving you an insight as to what kind of character they are, and that’s pretty fun.
Sometimes it’s annoying to die over and over again, or get hit a bunch while you’re trying to figure out how to resolve a situation peacefully, or defeat a boss “the right way”. It’s also rewarding. You think back on all those times you spent trying to do the wrong thing, and then you finally figured it out. That “ah hah!” moment is rewarding. The game makes you think a peaceful resolution is possible, and it generally is.
This game is relevant to our world in a lot of different ways. So many of us grew up with this concept of “Good vs Evil”, where good is this way that you’re born, and evil is this temptation that’s going to draw you away and somehow make your life easier. But I think more and more these days, people are starting to question — is that really how it works?
Think about it, when is the last time you personally could have chosen to become some sort of villain and gained a meaningful advantage in life from it?
Our culture seems to have evolved to a point where, for most people, deciding to be good isn’t really that hard. Yet despite most of us trying to be decent people, there’s so much conflict out there. So what if we are all mostly trying to be good — but the conflict arises from us just having a very different idea of what being good means?
Everyone just wants to hold the beliefs they have, but when those beliefs come into conflict, we have to adjust. Undertale does a good job of showing that generally one person is going to have to bend more than the other.
And that’s what impresses me so much about this game. It’s thought provoking in a way that I haven’t seen in a video game in a long time.
Undertale mirrors the conflicts of good and evil in our own world, and the complexities therein. It makes you feel in a way that’s real and compelling and relatable. It inspires thought and compassion in a world that desperately needs both.
Overall, this game left a big impression, and I hope to see more games moving in this direction in the future. If you’ve played it, or decide to pick it up, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Until then, take care~