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[Warning, pretty big Undertale spoilers below. Stop reading if you want to avoid spoilers].

The first time I beat Asgore on Undertale’s pacifist route, only to have Flowey come in and force the game to close, I sat in shock. A mechanic had been used; a mechanic the game had never hinted at before. I knew Flowey was likely to end up being a boss I had to fight, and I knew he could remember things in the game even if I did not save them, but the fact he might be able to manually close the game without my control was new and scary to face up against.

However, Flowey being able to control closing my game window was far from the scariest thing about fighting him. Flowey as a character breaks all the rules of how Undertale, up until that point, had operated.

Undertale was developed under arbitrary constraints. Enemies were designed around simple line art, with minimal detail and very little in the way of character animation. Everything was deliberately retro in design, and that was all the game had ever suggested it was going to be.

Flowey turned up to fight, with a face fluidly moving between expressions and laughter properly synced up to his mouth movements. As his body came into view, he appeared to have been designed in full colour. His movements were flexible, unpredictable, and not on set predictable paths.

His attacks were photographic. Explosions taken from reality. All the visual rules of the game had been broken, and I was intimidated.

For my money, Flowey is one of the scariest villains to fight in any video game and that’s mainly thanks to him pulling the rug out from under the game’s metaphorical feet.

What better way to encourage fear than to present your villain as a complete order of magnitude above expectations set up by the game.

Holding back Flowey’s visual style until the last moment, using it as a tool to represent the immense threat his newfound power possessed, was a move of genius that made him stick in player minds far better than perhaps any other villain.

Sometimes it pays off to develop most of your game under artificial constraints. Getting to make an immense leap in presentation when your villain jumps in power is hard to outdo.

 

Join the conversation! 6 Comments

  1. To me, Flowey’s transformation wasn’t just a jump in power; to me, that battle represented that Flowey had become so powerful that the world’s laws of physics no longer applied to him.

    Frankly, if I wasn’t in a state of constant sleep deprivation I’m pretty sure I would have had nightmares for a week or two after that awesome fight.

    • “that the world’s laws of physics no longer applied to him.”

      Exactly. I think that’s exactly the feeling they were going for, and that’s why it was kinda scary. Like, if he an bend the laws of physics, how can you beat him? For a while I thought he was unbeatable and that was the (tragic) end of the game.

  2. I wondering if part of the reason that Flowey’s transformation is so effective is because he breaks the 4th wall just prior to this. When he closed Undertale, after the Asgore fight, my expectations were reset. No longer was Flowey just a computer AI who was somehow able to read what I had done in the game to this point but rather a junior computer hacker who was messing with my system.

    With Flowey invading my real world, all bets were off for he and I.

    The reveal of the fully transformed Flowey then came as no surprise to me. As you mention, the visual style is very impressive and the boss battle insane on many levels. Looking back on it, I’m not sure that this fight could have been in the same artistic or combat style as the rest of the game without feeling flat. By closing the game, against the player’s will, the expectation of drastic change is put in place which needed to be fulfilled in a big way. Thankfully Undertale rose to the occasion.

    #FuckFlowey

  3. (SPOILERS)

    Isn’t Asriel Dreamurr the final boss in a pacifist run? Brilliant article as usual, Laura, just being nit-picky with the title cause I though poor little Goat Bestie was gonna get some love 🙂

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