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Undertale is an indie-produced video game created by Toby Fox, who was well-known as a composer for Homestuck. It is a 2D pixel-art RPG with turn-based combat and a strong focus on the story. Unlike the vast majority of video game RPGs, Undertale's tag line is "The friendly RPG where nobody has to die.". Within three months of release, Undertale had sold just short of 500,000 copies on Steam. It is available on Steam and as a DRM-free download for Mac and PC, and was ported to the PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Vita in 2017, also featuring a Japanese localization by 8-4.
Undertale begins as a standard exploration-and-story-based RPG: the protagonist falls down a hole into the land of monsters, who long ago lost a war with humans and were forced underground. You encounter many different types of monsters, from well-developed NPCs (skeletons, goats, fish, dinosaurs, ghosts) to encounters with "generic" monsters like sentient jellies and spiders. There is only one save file, and progress is saved both manually at save points and automatically to system data. The player automatically returns to the last manual-save checkpoint after dying, and can also quit and restart at their last save point or reset to the very beginning of the game at any time.
One of the innovative aspects of Undertale is that several NPCs notice when you have reset--they will greet you differently when you reach a room for the second time, or if you kill or spare someone differently in your next playthrough. Many players re-play the game several time, trying to find all the dialogue options.
The three main "routes" through the game are based on three, mutually-incompatible play styles: Kill nothing, kill some things, and kill everything.
- Neutral: Played by killing one or more monsters. This route has many different ending variations based on which major NPCs are alive at the end of the route, and some flavor text changes based on how high or low the main character's LV is. After reaching the ending, the player is given the opportunity to replay the game from the beginning, and therefore play a different route if they choose.
- Pacifist: Played by never killing any monsters and befriending all bosses. At the end of the game the player will reach a special version of the neutral ending (sometimes called the Imperfect Pacifist Ending), and will then be given the opportunity to load their save file and continue the game with the ability to access new story events and areas, a unique boss, and the game's happiest ending (often called the True Pacifist Ending).
- Genocide/No Mercy: Played by satisfying a kill count of monsters in each area. There are two unique bosses in this route, and the story is much darker in tone than the other routes. Opportunities are provided by the game to revert to a neutral run partway through, and until the route is completed, the player is able to reset and replay a different route. Once this route is completed, the ending of another route is permanently altered as a consequence. This can only be reversed by cheating (altering or deleting the game's system saves).
There are many easter eggs present in the game, which helps ensure that every player has a unique experience with the game. A non-comprehensive list includes:
- The "Fun" events, which are tied to a hidden variable in the game which generates a random value on each playthrough. These events include humorous extra phone calls, and events tied to the game's resident cryptid W.D. Gaster (Alphys' predecessor as Royal Scientist) and his Gaster Followers. The Gaster events were accidentally dummied out of the very first release of the game, and became possible to access without cheating in version 1.01.
- The hidden bosses So Sorry and Glyde, both characters designed by backers.
- Events where Flowey can be spotted stalking the main character in certain areas if the player backtracks quickly.
- Some special events or dialogue are prepared for the player trying to behave in creative or unusual ways during certain parts of the story, such as dodging the friendliness pellets in Flowey's tutorial or dying in Toriel's boss fight (where the player normally cannot be killed) by using a healing item and then deliberately running into Toriel's bullets.
Provided in alphabetical instead of game-encounter order:
- Alphys, the Royal Scientist
- Asgore Dreemurr, the King of Monsters
- Asriel Dreemurr, the late Prince of Monsters
- Chara, a human
- Flowey, the flower
- Frisk, a human
- Papyrus, an excitable skeleton
- Mettaton, a robotic TV star
- Monster Kid, a monster kid
- Muffet, a donut-selling spider
- Sans, a lazy skeleton
- Toriel, a motherly goatlike monster
- Napstablook, a ghost DJ
- Undyne, Captain of the Royal Guard
- Alphys/Undyne (Alphyne)
- Chara/Asriel (Charasriel or Chasriel)
- Frisk/Asriel (Friskriel)
- Chara/Frisk (Charisk or Frischara)
- Sans/Toriel (Soriel)
- Asgore/Toriel (Asgoriel)
- Mettaton/Papyrus (Papyton)
- Sans/Papyrus - Incest pairing known as Fontcest
- Sans/Sans - Undertale's many AUs make this a common pairing; AU Sans shippers often cite a tweet by Toby Fox saying that his favorite pairing is "Sans by himself" (in reference to the content descriptions of the second-ever Undertale fic posted) in support of Sans/Sans fic.
- Papyrus/Reader - because the protagonist has a canonical date with Papyrus, reader-insert fics paired with him are common
Fan References Within the Game
The game includes many puns and references to other fandoms.
- Flavor text describing an enemy called Loox claims its last name is Eyewalker, a reference to Star Wars
- Midboss Greater Dog's doghouse, which is very small, is described as "bigger on the inside" after fighting it, a reference to Doctor Who
- Examining a croissant on Muffet's bake sale table will cause it to be compared to a bracelet, a reference to The Legend of Zelda
Toby Fox cites EarthBound, Touhou, Shin Megami Tensei, Brandish, the Mario & Luigi RPGs, Cave Story, and Moon: Remix RPG Adventure as inspirations for different aspects of Undertale.
Not long after the full game was released, Toby Fox posted a request (in-character as Mettaton) that fans use the alternate tag "Undertail" for NSFW fanworks where possible, in order to help younger fans avoid accidentally stumbling across 18+ fanwork. The term Undertail was successively adopted for smut use, and is even used in overseas fandom websites, such as on Pixiv.
Fanfiction and Fanart
Undertale inspires a surprising number of Reader Insert fics, and a lot of AUs, in both fic and art. Reader insert fics are encouraged by some fans as an alternative to using Frisk or Chara as a reader stand-in for writing romances with Sans (see "Shipping" under the Fandom Controversies section).
Undertale has swarms of AUs, many of which begin as art on tumblr. Some are unique to Undertale and several are Undertale-style names of classic fic tropes. These are written both as "normal" AUs and mashed-up with each other, in both fic and art. Many fanworks focus on characters from one AU meeting characters from another, or meeting themselves from another universe.
- Underfell - An "evil" AU where all the monster characters are portrayed as much more hostile than in canon, with the exception of Flowey, who is generally portrayed as friendly and helpful.
- Underswap - Roleswap AU where Frisk and Chara, Toriel and Asgore, Sans and Papyrus, Undyne and Alphys, and Mettaton and Napstablook switch roles. This has inspired other similar roleswap AUs, such as Storyshift.
- Swapfell - An "evil" spinoff of Underswap in the same vein as Underfell.
- Bitty Bones
- Errortale - Error is an AU name for Sans
- Mafiatale - 20's-esque Mobster AU
- Humantale - a Mundane AU
- Horrortale - Horror AU
- Outertale - Space AU
- Floweypot (Houseplant Flowey) - A canon divergent AU where Flowey is brought to the Surface after the game, usually portrayed as living with Frisk and Toriel. Artists such as tumblr users velocesmells and creepyknees helped popularize this AU with comics.
These are especially common, because many players don't want to play through all three main styles, and most players don't care to play through enough to find all the possibilities and easter eggs.
Undertale has been praised for its innovative original soundtrack, and the fans have run with it since the game's release.
- Megalovania Extended Version Megalovania is San's boss fight music. One notable fan spin-off of this song is Megalomaniac a song about Sans' fight from both Frisk's and Sans' point of views.
- They Need A Monster is a song from Mettaton's point of view made by MandoPony.
- His Theme is the original song by bumble-lily from Asriel's and Flowey's point of view throughout the story.
- Undertale parody of Strong in the Real Way was made by dolce.
- Spider Dance Vocal Music Box Cover was created by adrisaurus. The lyrics go to the original tune.
- Promise Me is a song that was created by NateWantsToBattle from Toriel's point of view when Frisk first falls down into the Ruins. It is set in a Pacifist play through.
- Unaligned is a song that was created by NateWantsToBattle from Frisk's point of view during what is perceived to be the beginning when they are in the Ruins. It is set in a Neutral play through.
- An Ending was created by bumble-lily told from both Chara's and Frisk's point of view.
- Several Touhou-fandom-esque arrange albums have been spawned, including RichaadEB and Ace Waters' progressive-metal three-parter "Determination" and DM Dokuro's electronic/dance album "The Underground Radio" ( and its followup The Untouched Radio.)
- Underveil, a series of free tribute remix albums organized by the Japanese fandom and including tracks from some popular Vocaloid composers. The organizers hosted a live event in Ikebukuro on May 27, 2017.
- bad time memes by demondicecal
The route of the game that involves killing all monsters was nicknamed the "Genocide Route" in one of the first livestreams that featured it, wherein the player character was (as noted in the video description where it is posted on Youtube) "named Hitler in honor of killing everything". This sparked backlash from other groups, especially Jewish and Rromani fans, who felt the Holocaust joke to be in poor taste, and led to "No Mercy Route" being proposed as an alternate term. One Twitter user claimed that Toby Fox himself suggested "No Mercy" as an alternate term at a convention, but other fans doubt the truth of this story.
Arguments against the use of "No Mercy Route" involve that it is possible to never use the Mercy command without playing this route, as kill counts in each area must be exhausted to progress. Other terms such as the "Kill-All Route" are also used for this reason, and the different names for this route are sometimes used interchangeably in English-speaking fandom. "Genocide Route" or "G-Route" is the term most commonly used in Korean and Japanese fan communities, and AO3 tags that involve this route have been wrangled and rewrangled multiple times to change whether "Genocide Route" or "No Mercy Route" is considered the parent tag.
The question of whether Frisk, Chara, or the player should bear blame for the Genocide/No Mercy route has been an increasing source of fan drama from 2016 onwards.
In 2015, when Chara was most commonly interpreted as pure evil and the game's villain, they were generally portrayed as being to blame for this route in fanworks and in meta; the theory being that Chara's "true goal" was to steal Frisk's soul via the Genocide/No Mercy ending, manipulate the player into playing True Pacifist afterwards, and therefore change places with Frisk and then wipe out humanity. This theory slowly began to fall out of favor as the narrator Chara theory rose in popularity in early '16, but this led to passionate fan wank as to whether the Genocide/No Mercy route is Frisk's fault or the player's.
Proponents of blaming Frisk for the worst ending, such as passionate theory blogger saveloadreset on tumblr, argue that the player should not be considered an in-game entity at all because that means that Frisk has no agency, and therefore makes their character arc "boring" or "meaningless". Fans who agree with this theory tend to produce fanwork where Frisk is portrayed as having a violent or angry nature, or portrays Chara as a victim forced to watch Frisk murdering the monsters. These fans also tend to accuse their opponents of bullying or gaslighting. An article on Kotaku bemoaning the "toxicity" of the Undertale fandom (ranging from documented problems such as inter-fandom harassment and bullying to more debatable "problems" such as the prevalence of ""bad"" ships and erotica featuring aged-up or postcanon versions of underage cast members; see Shipping below) conflated blaming the real-world player for the worst ending with the (sadly common) harassment of Youtube Let's Players who start the game with a Neutral route.
Proponents of blaming the player for the worst ending cite the metatextual nature of Undertale as a whole, and that many of Toby Fox's inspirations for the game, such as the Mother series, actively acknowledge the presence of the real-world player. Some of these theorists argue that Frisk's character arc is instead centered around identity and lack of agency and that how interesting or meaningful individual fans find that is a matter of opinion. Others note that many fans who portray Frisk as violent ("edgy Frisk") and blame them for the worst ending portray Frisk as Black, which can have awkward implications when the producers of this sort of fanwork are not Black themselves.
Some fans on both sides of the argument criticize the way that fanwork treating the player as an in-game entity focuses disproportionately on Genocide/No Mercy players, which does not reflect how many real-life Undertale fans prefer to play the Pacifist and Neutral routes.
The fandom is known for being largely involved in anti-ship movements, groups of people who attack other fans over their shipping preferences. A lot of these reported cases center around Frisk, Chara, and Asriel. This is due to passionate fan disagreement as to whether or not it is appropriate to depict child characters in romantic relationships or feature them in 18+ works (even if aged up), complicated because fan interpretations of these characters' ages varies from very young children (5-6 years old) to early teens (12-13). There is also disagreement over whether or not shipping Frisk, Chara, and Asriel with each other counts as incest, as some fans interpret them as adopted siblings.
Fontcest is another controversial pair because of fandom's distaste for incest. Sans/Frisk and other ships where Frisk is paired with adult NPCs are controversial because of the age gap, again exacerbated by the difference in fans' personal headcanons as to how old each character is.
This inter-community conflict came to a head recently with the assault of Taiwanese fanartist Avimedes at a convention, when a fan gave her cookies with pins hidden inside them, causing lacerations in her mouth that required her to be hospitalized. It is largely thought that the attack was instigated because of Avimedes' art of Frisk/Sans, however this has yet to be officially confirmed as the culprit hasn't been apprehended. Regardless, this event started trending far outside the Undertale fandom, and has since sparked conversation in and out of the fandom about the morality of these anti-ship movements.
The Flowerfell AU became the center of huge drama that led to the creators stopping the project.
Not long after the game's initial release, fandom discovered the identity of backer character/cameo miniboss So Sorry's creator, Samael, and harassed them for having drawn fetish art unrelated to Undertale, which was deemed "inappropriate" and "disgusting". Theory blogger undertale-science encouraged the harassment campaign, painting Toby Fox as a victim forced to include a "fetishistic, sexual" character in his game because of the size of Samael's donation to the Kickstarter campaign. Other fans spread rumors that it was possible to kill So Sorry and still play the Pacifist run, creating fake screenshots of the judgment scene in which Sans says that the player didn't hurt anyone who mattered.
Toby Fox stated repeatedly to fans not to harass any backers and that all monsters are by nature good, but this did not stop the harassment campaign. Eventually Samael made a post on their own tumblr about the harassment they were receiving, as well as the frustration they felt over So Sorry's reduced role in the final game and Toby's attempts at reproaching fans being unspecific and insufficient. Shortly after this, Toby made a much more specific post to his own tumblr directly addressing the harassment of Samael. Both Toby and Samael stressed heavily that the situation between the two of them was "cool" and that they had come to an understanding on the matter.
After this incident, rumors began to spread about possible favoritism involved in how large a role Muffet, another backer miniboss, has in comparison to other backer-designed NPCs and So Sorry.
As Undertale's story features a number of plot threads that are mostly communicated through subtext or small plot hints, it is the subject of a great deal of fan theorizing. Popular subjects for speculation include the past of popular character Sans, the true identity of secret character W.D. Gaster and what relation he has to Sans and Papyrus, and what Chara's true role in the game and real moral nature are.
Most of these essays are full of spoilers and probably should not be read if you want to avoid being spoiled.
- Why Would You Ever Climb A Mountain Like That? - Depression, Suicide, and Surviving in Undertale (about recurring motifs of mental health problems in the main story)
- Save (six essays, linked at the top of this post, about the significance of the Save sequences in the final battle of the True Pacifist Route)
- On Undertale And Fighting (an analysis of power dynamics in Undertale's discussion of pacifism)
- On Chara and RPG Morality (thematic analysis of Chara based on how Undertale examines popular RPG genre conventions)
- UNDERTALE Release Trailer - YouTube,
- Steam Sales Statistics Accessed Dec 15th 2015.
- The Undertale Drama, Chloe Spencer, 21 August 2017 (retrieved 12 December 2017)
- AO3 comment by Feral Phoenix, 16 September 2017, retrieved 12 December 2017
- About Sam / "So Sorry", - fwugradiation on tumblr (accessed 27 November 2017)