Video (games) killed the storyteller: Undertale
Many video games revolve around a simple premise; players defeat the enemy and complete the quests. This is an idea that lingers in the minds of many gamers as they interact with a new game. However, some games flip this idea on its head and encourage the player to become more creative with their decisions. One game that does this rather well is “Undertale” by indie developer and composer Toby Fox.
“Undertale” is a role-playing video game and begins with scrawling text. In the text the player is introduced to the world of “Undertale” and given details of a war between humans and monsters, where monsters have been locked underground via magic. There’s a short cut to an image of a mountain, and then a child climbing up it before they fall into a hole, and the player becomes the “fallen child” from the opening.
After the player names the character, the player is introduced to a tiny flower, named Flowey. Flowey introduces themselves and seems nice for a few seconds, but then Flowey explains that they have to “teach you how things work around here.” A box appears with a tiny heart in it and Flowey explains that it is the player’s soul. Flowey then states that in order to become stronger the player must collect “friendliness pellets.”
It doesn’t take long to realize the Flowey is an enemy and not in fact a friend. The pellets hurt the player as soon as they touch them. It was a trick, and Flowey starts to attack. But before Flowey can attack the player again, the player is rescued by Toriel, a monster that looks a bit like a dog and a cow.
This game threw me for a loop when I first played. The developer of this game allows the player to choose how they interact with the world of “Undertale.” The player can choose to never level up and to never harm another character within the game if they so choose. This premise is simply wonderful, and I’ll be focusing on the “pacifist playthrough.”
The dialogue in “Undertale” is entertaining beyond belief. Characters are full of life even though they never speak audibly. instead Toby Fox has managed to give each character life with text alone. This is simply outstanding and the main reason I’m giving the game a 10/10 for its dialogue. While playing I felt engaged throughout and was successfully immersed. The characters even give the player taunts, clues, and rewards based on dialogue interactions. If the player chooses to be nice and decides to instead hug, give food, compliment, etc. they will “defeat” the monster.
The story of “Undertale” is well done. As mentioned above, the dialogue of the game allows for a rather immersive game. The story is straight forward, the player is a human in a world of monsters, the oppressor among the oppressed, a victor in a world where the monsters lost. It’s rather poetic and intriguing. It felt visceral, especially because if the player chooses to proceed with a violent playthrough they are playing into the stereotype of human brutality the game is portraying. Playing passively confuses many of the “enemies,” and it was fun to break that mold. I give the story an 8/10, not because anything is wrong with the story, but because it is a bit harder to understand.
Plot accessibility/understanding: 7/10
Plot accessibility and understanding receive a 7/10 from me for the aforementioned confusion a player may experience while playing. If you play violently all of the “enemies” become incredibly difficult to defeat. This may frustrate some newer gamers and cause “rage quits.” I was lucky enough to know before playing that I should perhaps choose kindness. However, not everyone who picks up this game will be aware of this, especially since most of the game is spent trying to antagonize the player. Many avid gamers are willing to commit violent acts within a game, but “Undertale” isn’t clear that any and all violent acts result in a “bad” ending.
Has “Undertale” killed the storyteller? I think it revived the storyteller and chose to challenge them. “Undertale” gives the storyteller “LV” and a nice warm hug.