Undertale being one of the most memorable experiences to many is one of the top-selling games of 2015. Being the one to revolutionize a game mechanic that hasn’t been changed since it’s inclusion in Fable in 2001: the morality system. Their workflow is simple. There are certain choices or quests throughout a game that ultimately leads to consequences. Whether good or bad they often have an impact on the story and character development.
The spectrum of morality is composed of choices and consequences only in Undertale the consequences are much more highlighted than any other RPG.
Picking from a list of options is not really what appeals to the player within a game, rather the consequences of the choice are what drives a player further into the story. For example, choosing to save between two characters won’t be as meaningful if there is only one outcome, whereas a gameplay where the choice is going to change who lives and dies is much more interesting. Players are simply interested in how the game world would react to the choice. Unfortunately, in many games, consequences are often the smallest part and the story goes in one direction not really influenced by choices the player makes, but that is exactly where Undertale differs.
What truly makes this indie game brilliant is how the developers have turned the classic game morality on its head by removing it completely.
Undertale doesn’t have a unified morality system rather every gameplay mechanic is affected by the game’s inherent moral sensibilities like narrative, combat exploration etc. Morality is the core of the game, as everything revolves around the consequences of the player’s choices.
The mechanic is the opposite of the classic morality in games. There’s barely any focus on choice, the biggest attention drawn to the consequences. Just like in every other game the player can make any choice, including bad choices, but in this game particularly most players would avoid that but why?
This game focuses so much on consequences the players think twice before making a choice, thinking of the serious repercussions for making the wrong choice. But why is that?
Most players are used to the same mechanic in RPG games when it comes to NPC and boss fighting. The principle is simple: the main character kills their enemies and the game usually indicates that a hostile NPC that attacks the player has to be eliminated. In undertale, however, that is not the case although many players make the mistake to kill the characters only to find out the game actually makes them feel bad about their actions. It’s a completely new approach that still confuses players. But the answer probably lies in the direct relationship between action and reaction. Undertale itself encourages players to focus on the characters and the world.
According to Madhavan, instead of ordinary role-playing games, where the monsters are essentially just entities to slaughter, Undertale gives each monster unique characters, speech patterns and different ways of interacting with the player, depending on the different choices that the player makes.(Madhavan, 2016)
It offers a chance of bounding with the NPCs though not immediately. The game hints through various scenes that there are two main
moral decisions of the game: the “pacifist” and the “genocide” route.
The pacifist route consists of the player refusing to fight the other characters, instead of engaging in multiple conversations with them, getting to know and befriend them which eventually would lead to the good ending, however, the character’s stats like attack and health for example, never increase. But what if the player tries to increase their stats or kill an NPC?
This is where the third so-called “normal” and the “genocide” route come in. The game doesn’t really give off the impression of something unique in terms of morality until the player gets to battle the first NPC. Then they are given the choice to “fight” or “mercy” which are two of the most important and story determining actions in the entire game. Based on that decision the game presents different opportunities in terms of story and development. For example, killing a few monsters would result in the normal ending as long as the player decides to spare all the rest since the game presents the act of murder as something bad and wrong. But if the player despite the game’s hints continues to kill all the monsters. They will level up but they will lose the ability to befriend the other characters making the world much lonelier and emptier.
The NPCs approach towards the main character would be much more hostile, the game would be much more difficult and the cheerful or ambient music would fall in silence, in some places replaced by a creepy slow background sound.
What’s incredibly interesting is that the game more or less judges the player’s actions by changing the world and the characters to fit the player’s path. It doesn’t, however, force the player to choose a single path. It’s pretty open about the underlying mechanics, yet it highly affects the player’s experience as it treats them completely different based on their actions. This game more or less makes the player feel bad for playing the genocide route, calling them a monster, whereas the pacifist route has the opposite impact and offers the player.