The Biggest Problem with Undertale
WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD! READ AT YOUR OWN RISK!
You’ve heard of it, you’ve probably seen it, and you might have even played it. A game that caused a spark (more like a ka-boom) in the nostalgic indie community, praised heavily, back-to-back by it’s indescribably enormous community.
Debatably an RPG game where you don’t have to kill anybody, it may already be clear why it’s so popular. The game has quite a lot of charm put into it and it’s characters, generating a lovable aura around the game as a whole. It’s been widely very well received (given a 10 from Destructoid and IGN) and has gained an unbelievable amount of popularity in the past months.
However, being a game received as well as this, not many have pointed out it’s flaws or given criticism on it, so that’s what I’m going to do today, and I’m going to knock out the biggest offender.
Seen above: The battle screen, along with the earliest enemies you can see in the game
Undertale’s battle system comes with four options.
Fight is self-explanatory, you fight to defeat the enemy.
Act provides you with various actions that may influence the enemy’s behavior, at the cost of a turn.
Item is where you can use your items that you’re carrying with you (your pockets have a maximum of ten slots)
Mercy provides the options of “Spare” and “Run.” Running speaks for itself, and I’ll get into Sparing later on in this section.
As said earlier, Undertale is (again, debatably) an RPG game where you don’t have to kill anything. You can go through the game without hurting a fly. Literally. This is done through the Sparing system, where battles would usually go like this;
- 1. Go through a sort of “empathizing puzzle” with the Act function
- 2. The monster calms down
- 3. Spare them using the Mercy function
Doing this, as long as you haven’t killed a single monster, you are trailing along the (albeit straightforward and easy) “good” path, which fans have affectionately named the “Pacifist Route.”
Seen above: A situation where the player is outnumbered, which can be solved with total peace
There are two other paths; the aptly-named and self-explanatory “Neutral Route,” and the big star of our topic today, the “Hardmode” of Undertale, fittingly named…the “Genocide Path.”
Being a game where it’s main slogan is “Undertale, the RPG where you don’t have to kill anyone,” this is obviously going to attract some attention. Some derives from the people wanting to test the waters and see if it’s true or not (spoiler alert: it’s true), but some brave souls are willing to see if they can kill every single enemy in the entire game. This, too, is possible, thanks to Genocide.
The random encounters, while mostly random, are finite. Yes, there are not an infinite amount of enemies in the game, and if you make it a goal to kill every single one of them, then suffice to say, you’re gonna have a bad time.
Seen above: In a scene exclusive to the Genocide Path, a character threatens the protagonist for their choice(s)
Now that we’re getting to the point, I’ll now explain why the Genocide Path as a whole is the biggest problem in Undertale.
In this path, your goal is to kill every enemy you can in the game so that there’s nobody left. It seems simple enough at face value, but remember how I mentioned earlier that this game has random encounters?
That’s right. That means you have to grind. Euck, ew, and *barf,* I know, but this is intentional game design.
Grinding in video games has widely been received to be repetitive and boring, but when it comes to Undertale, this is completely and 100% intended, as the path is intended to be “difficult.” …Difficult? Well, grinding isn’t really difficult, is it? It’s just tedious. But I digress.
Seen above: The magical screen of “alright I can finally move on to the next area,” notice the level
Straying off the topic a bit to make a rhetorical point, tons of (but not all) video games come with more than one difficulty. For example, the 1993 classic Doom has five.
Difficulties in video games serve many purposes, and when it comes to more challenging ones, it would pay off in a rewarding or satisfactory way. One game might offer a better ending for beating a harder difficulty (such as the Megaman NES games), while others may hand out unlockables or bonuses (like Sonic Adventure 2 and it’s multiplayer costumes), or it may not give anything at all. Well, at least not practically. You’d still get severe bragging rights for completing and A+ ranking all of the Dark World levels in Super Meat Boy.
Seen above: The Kid, as he appears in Super Meat Boy (2010)
But on a rewarding note, unlocking The Kid is possibly the greatest feeling anyone could achieve playing Super Meat Boy. And rightly so, seeing as his warp zone is the hardest to complete in the game.
The point is, difficulty done right is rewarding the player for overcoming bigger challenges. So you may be wondering: “Ooh, Undertale’s really positively received! I wonder what the reward for beating Genocide is? It must be something really cool, because of how awesome this game is, and stuff…”
You get. Absolutely. Nothing. The game does not reward you at all for completing Genocide. In fact, it tries to outright berate the player for choosing to play the path! You read that right, it doesn’t just try to make the protagonist feel guilty, but the player as well. This is intentional game design.
Seen above: One of the two (yes, two) truly difficult bosses in Genocide, the “True Hero”
Throughout Genocide the game is giving constant reminders that you are a soulless being. The boss seen in the above image is said to be the acclaimed True Hero set out to stop you, the human, from killing all of the monsters in the underground. It’s debatably the hardest fight in the game, harder than any of the path’s final bosses, not just Genocide’s.
The game tries so hard to push it’s simple moral of “if you’re not a jerk, everyone’s got perk” that it seems to miss the entire point of providing drastically harder challenges to the player, which is allowing the player to feel rewarded for overcoming said challenge no matter the realistic feelings or morales of the characters involved. Heck, Shadow the Hedgehog rewards players for choosing to follow the inhumane “Dark Side” with unlockable weapons.
One could argue that’s the entire point, not rewarding the player, but then just…why? Would it even be defined as good game design at that point? I’m going to be perfectly honest; I don’t think it is.
Seen above: The final boss of Genocide, right after a difficult-to-avoid surprise attack to start off the battle
By the end of Genocide you’re greeted with this guy, accompanied by quite possibly the most popular soundtrack from Undertale, Megalovania. At this point in the game, it no longer cares about guilt-tripping the protagonist, it feels the need to guilt-trip you.
Throughout the battle, he talks about oddities in the time-space-continuum, how timelines are jumping left and right in weird positions, and specifically how it’s your fault. I’ll be blunt and explain it; he’s saying that you saving/reloading your game over a Genocide path save file is creating a bunch of incomplete timelines everywhere and ruining time as a whole. That’s literally it.
So not only by breaking the fourth wall are they berating the player for coming this far, but they’re effectively ruining the immersion Undertale has been trying to build up throughout the entire game. This is intentional game design.
Seen above: After winning the fight
So you’ve beaten the final boss. He crawls (and dies) offscreen, you exit the battle, and move on to the next few rooms the game has to offer. You come across the flower character you met at the very beginning of the game, kill him too, and the screen goes black, which soon becomes occupied by this character.
As if Genocide wasn’t already bad enough, this event is the cherry on top. To boil it down, you’re offered a choice between erasing or not erasing the world, but no matter which you pick, you’re going to be greeted by a jumpscare, which ends in you taking an unreasonable amount of damage, and likely dying. And then the game closes.
…Wait, the game closes? That’s really weird (and akin to a not-so-well-written creepypasta). Well, okay, your first instinct is to start the game back up. So you do that, and…
…You’re greeted with a completely black screen, and the sound of howling wind. The logo doesn’t come up. The save file load screen doesn’t appear either. You wait a minute, nothing happens, you wait a couple more minutes, nothing happens.
Naturally, your next thought would probably be “What’s going on? Is my game bugged? Can I not play my game I spend $10 on?”
It soon becomes clear that you really can’t play the game anymore, and that you’ve probably just wasted $10…at least, unless you somehow figure out that you have to wait ten full minutes before a cutscene will begin to play out, wherein going through with it will allow you to play the game normally again.
I am not kidding. This is a real thing. This is an intended feature in the programming of Undertale.
Intended. Game. Design.
Seen above: After the 10 minute wait, the game literally asks you if you want to play it again
Ultimately, your reward for beating Genocide is a fake-out scene intent on making you believe you just wasted your money on it, and if you weren’t told about having to wait 10 minutes on the blank screen previously, you very well could have wasted your money!
And that’s not all. Being a part of Undertale’s community after having played Genocide through to it’s fullest extent is virtually impossible, as by the nature of Genocide’s severe punishment and discouragement wrought onto the player, a lot of people see it as an opportunity to berate you as well.
A community making fun of itself is bad, albeit passable due to the fact that there will always be bad apples in any community. But a community being encouraged to harass one another over an ultimately subjective choice is even worse. It divides the community up into sections, which goes against the entire point of a community. But I digress. This is going a teeny bit irrelevant now, so I’ll wrap it up.
All in all, Genocide tries too hard to convey a moral instead of focusing on what makes a video game enjoyable, and as a result fails to deliver a rewarding experience in the form of unlockable content, good endings, or even bragging rights to players looking for a challenge. There is zero reason for you to play Genocide, and it’s reason for being a choice in the first place is questionable at best. You’re better off playing Pacifist.
…Speaking of Pacifist, if you are intent on playing it after you finish Genocide…
Seen above: The bad ending you get at the end of Pacifist if you had completed Genocide before playing it.
Yes. Even after you’ve admitted to the game that you’re such a horrible monster for killing so many harmless creatures, even when the game “forgives” you and actually allows you access to the title screen (and thus, the game) again, it flips a switch that enables this bad ending at the end of the Pacifist Route, juuuuust to remind you how much of a jerk you were in your previous save file. Just so you can never get a happy ending. Because all you were looking for was merely a good challenge, as well as a reward to go along with it.
With that said, please remember that this is just a game, and also don’t forget to respect your fellow community members even if they are soulless killing machines. I hope you all have a wonderful day!
Like what you just read? Do you agree or disagree? Leave a comment or reply and start some discussion!