Undertale: Metanarrative, Pacifism, and Notions

The Earthbound Effect

In 2015, Toby Fox created an indie game called Undertale, a game with its metanarrative about pacifism and notions. It is a classic turn-based role-playing game with Earthbound influences. The game’s unique mechanic at the base is that the player or a friend can kill each enemy. Also, the game stores everything the player does in order, regardless of the player’s own save and load. With the tagline “the RPG game where you do not have to destroy anyone,” Fox builds the game as a traditional turn-based RPG where the player traverses through game maps or levels. The player will fight the enemy on the battle screen.

By fighting, the player earns G (the main currency like most video games feature) or EXP (not Experience but EXecution Point). The player earns money by choosing to Spare enemies, and the player earns EXP for killing enemies. In the encounter, the player will fight various enemies. The player has a series of options that Undertale presents. The player can also do one of several things on each turn, such as FIGHT, ACT, ITEM, and MERCY. In addition, the player also sees the player’s LV (Level of Violence, as described: a way of measuring someone’s capacity to hurt) and HP (Hit Points or Health Points in most RPGs).

The Traversal Design of Undertale

Over many years, one of everyone’s favorite metanarrative games became Undertale, a small indie game about pacifism and notions made almost entirely by one person. The game is a small 2D RPG that mainly focuses on storytelling and narration through gameplay. The gameplay focuses on the puzzles and battle system inspired by bullet hell games, a subgenre of shooters in which the entire screen is often almost filled with enemy bullets. Many people often praise the game for the choice of play styles that Fox offers to the player. The decision to fight and kill the enemy or even save them is entirely up to the player.

The game presents them with different storylines, different encounters, and different endings based on their decisions. In such a case, seeing how many different opinions about the game end up on how the game is so fast, in the first place, often ignores any aspect of actual level design in its design. It focuses almost entirely on game design, combat design, and overall narrative design. While the game does not try to bias the player that there is almost no actual level design, people are always brushing off the game’s level design quickly. Although the area and level are very straightforward and linear, it does not necessarily include Fox’s specific design choices for traversal, exploration, and combat.

From Right to Up

The puzzles in Undertale also do not offer a deep-level design metanarrative, pacifism, and notions. However, at least, there were wise decisions regarding the level design that Fox made and had a more significant impact than people might realize. Indeed, a slight combination of narrative design, general game design, and level design is essentially a combination design decision of at least two or more. That is because almost everything in the game reinforces or supports story elements. However, the game takes on something that most 2D platformer games have been doing for decades. It adds a layer on top.

Undertale‘s map always flows from left to right, where the player most often moves to the right. By directing players into such behavior from the game’s first room, the intuition that other 2D games have built revives and recreates a very familiar way of navigating through levels in players’ minds. If they looked at the overall map of the entire game, another direction stood out, which was up. The game does not just focus on bringing players from left to right. However, many game areas tend to send players over the top once they are done. That is another reason why players rarely feel lost. Intuitively, the player tends to automatically start moving to the right and up the screen in new areas.

The Narrative Elements

If the player looks at the plot of each section separately, the player will find that the previous areas in the game tend to be a bit flat. Most of the area also moves to the right, while the next area will always focus on the upward movement. Despite being very interesting, the shift in direction always coincides with improvement and becomes the conclusion of each level and storyline. When the player feels the storyline is slowly ending, the story’s climax is getting closer. The level layout improves such feeling by making players feel like they are moving to the surface faster.

Aside from the pacifism reasons behind such design notions, Undertale reinforces and includes the metanarrative elements that fall into the cave. The player had to travel through the underground world to reach the surface again finally. For the setting, slowly moving up through the player’s journey feels much more intuitive and immersive, especially with the upward movement that the end of the storyline speeds up. Apart from the intuition of the narrative, people also often praise the game for its versatility in playing style. The player can also choose how they want to beat the game, whether Pacifist, Neutral, or Genocide. While it is one of the game’s most vital points, the choice of playstyle and the ability to choose the player’s style of play are not as flexible as many think.

Between the Player and the Ending

If the player sees a new player starting the first game, most will be on Neutral Route. It is not because they want it. However, the game lures them into it without making it obvious. Killing many, but not all, creatures the player encounters in the game will give them a Neutral ending. Likewise, saving every creature that the player encounters will give them a Pacifist Route; the player can also find in the game that Genocide Route will end on the condition that they must kill every creature. In the game’s first encounter, it confronts the player with an evil flower named Flowey.

Flowey initially tricked the players and tried to kill them. However, Toriel saved the player. Toriel then guides the player through the first area of Undertale, teaching them that the player can show mercy to the creatures the player is fighting, thereby saving them. The way Fox’s first encounter is arranged in combination with the learning process the player faces. It has established the duality between murder and mercy. However, since the player has not figured out what happens after killing the enemy, they tend to try at least once, especially with the level design and encounter settings that feel very dangerous at the start.

Failsafe

Failsafe is also a thing where it puts the player on the Neutral Route. If they refrained from killing a single monster in the first area, players would always try to leave the ruins. Toriel also always tries to stop them, convincing them that they will die if they leave the ruins. When the player tries to leave, the first boss fight begins against Toriel. There is no indication in the fight that it is possible to save Toriel and continue the game. The entire encounter was constantly reminding the player that they would not let the enemies go.

Most of the players ended up defeating instead of saving Toriel in the first playthrough, ending the odds for Neutral Route. The Genocide Route, on the other hand, is relatively difficult for the player to achieve as it requires much grinding. Almost all the players will need prior knowledge of the mode’s existence for the player to start the route. Therefore, it is also rarely the first playthrough for the player. Undertale will almost certainly push new players onto the Neutral Route. The storyline will always break the fourth wall, refer to other games, save, restart, etc. The game also sends the player back with cryptic dialogue at the end of the game, motivating the player to play another game with a different style of play.

The Mechanisms

Despite being very simple, it takes much time. Just doing the Pacifist Route requires the player to beat all encounters in the game without gaining any EXP. That is because the player will always be at base HP, which is quite challenging and unsuitable for new players. Genocide, on the other hand, allows the player to gain multiple levels. However, there are very challenging encounters, and Fox created specifically the route, which is also not very suitable for new players. The Neutral Route incorporates easier encounters than the Pacifist Route and the possibility for players to gain more HP and EXP.

The way Undertale arranges encounters and notions, combined with how the first area and pacifism, almost silently forces most players into the optimal metanarrative for new players without realizing it. It is a great design, mainly because it feels natural and subtle. The game’s level design system is the source of a series of mechanisms that contribute strongly to one of the game’s aesthetic appeals. In any design, even in combat, the player can win in two ways. They can attack until their opponent’s HP reaches zero, or they can use any number of actions the game gives them to calm the opponent and end the battle peacefully.

Pacifism

Every conflict thus stems from the desire to kill. Any such resolution also stems from a refusal to kill. If the enemy wanted to kill the player, they just needed not to kill them. Finally, the player can get the Pacifist Route, making them not want to kill the player. It is a simple morality befitting combat, a variation of the turn-based JRPG combat system without all the options to attack. The combat in Undertale is more of a puzzle. When the player’s opponent was upset for some reason, they could kill the enemies if they wanted to.

The metanarrative of Undertale will make the player feel bad because of its notions and pacifism. To remain victorious and kind, the player must choose an action to make them feel better. The pattern the player repeatedly plays when they find new characters. The player’s first primary opponent is a skeleton guard named Papyrus. He had sworn to protect the entrance to the monster world from humans. When the player appears, he naturally wants to fight the player. Despite not being very smart, he did not even recognize the player as a human at first. Instead of fighting the player directly, he prefers to put up puzzle traps.

Papyrus and Undyne

Papyrus is an incompetent character. He is just lonely. Despite living with his brother Sans, Sans prefers puns to other types of puzzles. When Papyrus meets the player, he is happy to be with someone who can, and will, solve his puzzles. He started to want to win the player. However, at the end of the player’s time together, they bonded. When they finally did fight, it was clear that Papyrus was making a show. When the player does not kill him like a good person, he lets the player go deeper into the monster world.

In the next level, the player will meet Undyne. She is a female fish knight, unreasonable, will accept no mercy, and will attack the player relentlessly with the intent to kill. So, the player should retreat instead. The player fled to the next level, where she fainted from the scorching heat of her armor. When she is unconscious, the player will give herself a little water at her most vulnerable, so she backs off. If the players chase her, they will get a sequence where she teaches the player how to cook correctly.

Toriel

The goat-mother, Toriel, only fights with the players to keep them from harming Asgore, the king of monsters. She only fights with the player because she thinks it will save his kingdom. Even Flowey, the sadistic and antagonistic talking flower of the whole game, the game was canceled at the mercy of the player. If the player has taken the actual Pacifist Route, then the souls of the characters in the game come to help the player in battle. Flowey will reach a moment of actualization where he admits his anger and loneliness to the player. It may take a while, but mercy always wins in the game.

When it comes to the Alphys case is an exception. She is a nerdy but shy scientist. Her characters are complex and repeatedly grow beyond the game’s narrow moral compass. She forced the player into a situation they could not quickly resolve via the Pacifist Route. The game raises many problems through Alphys. However, it also gave rise to an answer without the ability of the player to answer. Regardless of which, Undertale‘s morality is so strict that it cannot handle the moral complications that the game creates. Therefore, blind morality always runs into any situation more complex than killing or not.

Alphys

At one point, the metanarrative of Undertale constantly rewrites the notions of Alphys as a character who always turns things into conflict, not pacifism. When the player first met her, she was happy to see the player’s arrival. She had also watched the player’s exploits ever since they came to the monster world. In short, she had become a fan of the player. Players need to note that she became a particular fan from seeing them in layers. Alphys became a representation of many nerds and gamers. She is an intelligent individual. However, she is entirely antisocial and cannot relate to other people.

Her computer screen became her window into the world. The player also seems to have come out of the layer to meet her face to face, a fantasy that comes to life. Alphys forces herself to become the player’s assistant in the following sequence. It is a regular job for a supporting character in a video game, allowing her to be near the player. However, she wants to be a major player in the player’s story out of the spotlight. She is also bad at work, giving the player hints after solving puzzles. At a specific moment, she would not even give the player a hint because it would spoil the fun of the puzzle. She failed at such things even though she was always talking nonstop.

Mettaton

As Alphys guides the player through the Hotland, the player must also deal with Mettaton, a reality TV show robot who has become an unstoppable killing machine for human bloodlust. Alphys readily admits that it was her deed. However, it was not intentional. So far, she has proven herself to be a sweet character. However, she is also very dangerous. She tries to guide the player but does such a lousy job that she hurts the player. When she tries to eliminate Mettaton, she makes him stronger. Despite having good intentions, her actions always lead to danger and violence.

In Hotland, the player spends most of the fighting and running from Mettaton. Such a plan works well because it keeps everyone alive. In the final act, Mettaton gets serious, revealing an information bomb. He is not a former TV show reader turned killing machine. It has all been a show, faking a fight so Alphys can come, save the player, and make the player like her. Alphys is a pathetic character, so incapable of relating to other people that she has to make up common fantasy scenarios around any real-life interactions. What is even sadder is that she devises elaborate schemes to create a secure version of herself that other people will love.

The Philosophy of Determination

In another case, the concept of determination, where the theme is often even the word the game always mentioned, fills the player’s character every time visits a save point. The player discovers at the end of the Genocide Route that determination is what allows the player to reset the timeline to the last save. When the player has a conversation with Flowey, who in the first place can reset time, the ability to reset time is the ultimate method of conquering determination. However, the game shows another consequence of such abilities when telling the player Flowey’s story. Flowey becomes a representation of the victim of determination.

Flowey is part of the soul of Asriel, a monster who is an underground prince and is brought back to life as a living flower. When Asgore and Toriel reject him, his isolation leads him into a deep depression that causes him to commit suicide. However, as he approached the threshold of death, he realized that he did not want to die. In his early life as a flower, he reappeared or was reborn. He realized that he could reset his timeline by bringing himself to the brink of death. In many moments, he begins to use his ability to manipulate people to develop sociopathic tendencies. His ability to completely conquer determination leads him into moral decline. He began to lose the ability to see other people as tools again.

Every Choices Are Matters

Undertale highlights the many notions in which the metanarrative and pacifism were set up. It shows that many things are options that people do not usually think of. By highlighting the theme using RPG mechanics, the player is faced with many options for not killing enemies that one might not use in such a type of game. It offers options they might not expect as well for specific settings. Regardless of the game’s narrative and the theme itself, the endings that vary due to choices at the beginning tie the concept of real-world applications together.

It highlights that a lot of the things that the player feels attracted to are choices they make consciously or unconsciously. The game has always used the method to highlight that people can make better choices than they feel attracted to. Well routed, it shows and requires a step back, a departure from what the player feels is the main attraction. From the choices at the beginning, the structural ideas from before became a notion for the player. When the player retreats, the game’s narrative always uses the player’s prejudice regarding how the game reacts until the player plays the system like an RPG in general. It helps make the player subconscious when reloading or resetting the save point.

Every Notions Are Real

The presentation of notions in Undertale demonstrates an awareness of what will happen to the player’s many prejudices, pacifism, and metanarrative. It shows the player why such things do not apply. The player always considers many things, from small things to big things, when talking about being one step ahead. The game is also aware of how the player will approach certain situations, indicating that what the player faces is often wrong in such situations. It is a direct emphasis on the notes the player has generally chosen. When there is a significant consequence, the player adopts a particular paradigm of action that they think makes sense.

For example, humans and monsters look at each other in the story. The players saw the monsters’ perspective and how they saw humans, too, filled with hatred, and thought that humans deserved to die. However, implicitly, Asgore displays his essence with a subtle demonic aesthetic. His red trident, horn, and implication are that human stories about monsters can be an actual demonization of what kind of story monsters’ narratives are bent from reality. Structural ideas about outsiders breaking free from them become representations of notions again. When it comes to reality, spiritual and religious statements show that what people hate is also included in such a paradigm.

“This is a SAVE point. It’s the manifestation of your own DETERMINATION.”

By being a new phenomenon, Undertale‘s constraint mechanism has communicative value. No matter what shows the game and Fox put on, nonviolent resistance plays a role in responding to the aggressor. It gives up one kind of power in the hope of gaining another. The constraint of nonviolent combat suggests something similar in highlighting how choosing not to fight is a considerable risk. Likewise, with other routes, whether the player takes Neutral or Genocide, the player will always have their determination. The presence of every character that the player encounters in the system carefully builds every choice. It determines how such choices in the game are communicated to players.

However, it shows something different. The failure of notions and their success also establish the nature of the system itself. In whatever rhetoric, the game charmingly hides the coercive weakness of its systematic approach to moral issues alike. At the end of the game (even though personally, no one will be able to finish the game), everybody has to go back from the beginning again and again. Even though many people have struggled to take other routes, there will always be ways to manipulate the game’s systems. However, there are no shortcuts. Any player who plays the game will not see any other options, but it is not wrong from another perspective.

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