Villainous Agency – Undertale and Murder

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[Warning, Undertale plot spoilers ahead]

Usually when I play video games touted as “be the villain” experiences, I come off feeling like I still played as the hero of a narrative. I might have had an evil laugh, demonic horns and been dressed in red and black exclusively, but I still felt like I was playing a character who knew what they were doing was right, stayed away from truly heinous acts and ultimately ended up more anti-hero than actual villain.

That is, until I started killing people in Undertale.

The first time I played Undertale, I did a pacifist run, followed by the extended True Pacifist ending. I didn’t kill a soul, I got everyone a happy ending and I loved the game I had played.

At the end, Flowey told me I could play more Undertale, but that I would have to pull this happy ending away from those I had worked so hard for. At first I convinced myself that I could happily leave half of my favourite game of the year unplayed.

Over time, the temptation grew. It remained in the back of my mind, like an itch you just can’t reach.

Against my better judgement, I reset the game and started a Genocide playthrough. I was not just going to kill everything that got in my way, I was going to actively hunt down every last random encounter in every single area and kill them.

I wanted to go as deep down the rabbit hole as was possible.

Toriel, who had previously told me she wanted to protect me from the world, used her dying breath to tell me she was wrong. She was trying to protect the world from me. My goat mother saw me as a heartless monster, incapable of redemption.

Sans, who had previously encouraged me to make friends with his brother, actively warned me that if I kept following this route, I was going to have a bad time.

Papyrus, my skeleton boyfriend, died at my feet still believing I could be saved. He thought he could be the one to save me from the monster I was becoming.

Undyne resisted death, increasing in power and refusing to die. Her on screen dialogue described her as the heroine. She died buying time for the remaining monsters to flee my advance. I, not the heroine, soldiered on.

Flowey, previously my greatest enemy, cowered in fear and ran from my advance.

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Sans…

Sans stood up to me in a manner that finally forced me to face what I had done.

Sans hit me with an onslaught of attacks unmatched by anyone.

Sans defended his friends so powerfully my determination began to waver.

Sans defended his friends so staunchly that, when offered a chance to turn back and repent, I accepted it.

Sans murdered me for dropping my guard. He had not forgiven me for murdering his brother.

Sans fought me off so ferociously, for such a long time, that I started to truly regret what I had done.

I didn’t want to win.

I knew I was the villain.

I knew I was doing something I could not take back.

I knew I was still too curious. 

I knew I still needed to know.

I was still determined.

Undertale really succeeds at allowing you to play as a villain, by making it’s villainous path one only achieved through actions, and only maintained by continued action in the face of opposition. You’re never told to feel guilt, but you’ll feel it because of the things you have to do in order to keep yourself on the path of darkness.

Undertale actively puts people in your way, labeling them as the heroes of this story and allowing you to infer your own villainous status within the world.

So yeah, Undertale is pretty masterful at allowing you to play a villain.

I still feel my sins crawling on my back.

3 thoughts on “Villainous Agency – Undertale and Murder

  1. Did you manage to finish it now? I remember listening to your spoilercast where you said you were getting your ass kicked by Sans (no surprise there, it seems impossible). Something I REALLY liked is when he says “if you really want redemption, don’t come back” after he kills you. The game KNOWS you will come back because you’re just too curious, which falls in perfectly with Flowey’s narrative of “first I was good, but then I got bored and curious”.

    Great game. I think I would’ve enjoyed it more without the hype, but it’s definitely one of the best from 2015.

    1. Flowey’s whole monologue is just brilliantly written. Just tapping into the whole psyche of the player willing to put themselves through a genocide run (and even the people choosing to ‘just’ watch the play through).

  2. Spoilers: 😛

    The brilliant thing that I also love about what Undertale does is the way it actively reshapes the world based around the narrative your actions create. When it sees you (the Protagonist) don’t love or appreciate the characters and their crazy antics the game takes the depth out of the world. Not only by having the NPCs go into hiding from you, but also having Flowey complete puzzles for you and get rid of all that stuff that gets between you and the only thing you care about, power. Puzzles don’t make you more powerful, nor do conversations, only violence gives the protagonist the greater power they seek and Flowey clears the way for your insatiable appetite not realizing till too late that he’s the final course.

    Going from the complex, layered, heartwarming story of the TP run with a world that feels so full of life to the bleak, depressing and so much more flat world of what’s left in your wake in the genocidal gives you that feeling of being truly evil. The world isn’t full of fun mischief with just a few screws loose from your actions, you’re far too good a villain for that. You’re not satisfied till you’ve pushed the world to its edge, seen every horrific sight it has to offer. And beyond the fact that you committed those actions, the story shatters the 4th wall and condemns you, the player, for wanting to know so bad that you would put the characters you’ve grown to know and love through something like that. A more compelling moral story component than I have ever seen in a game before.

    Great article Laura, Undertale’s storytelling has so many different unique layers to appreciate, and I really enjoy hearing your perspective. 🙂

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