Undertale Review and reflection (Spoiler)
Review: Undertale is a masterpiece of the interactive art. Not only a game for entertainment but a piece of art that can have a strong impact on its players. This is the kind of game that I dream of making one day. It is not only an extremely epic game that delivers on both gameplay and narrative, it also gave me a deep insight into myself that change my perspective of the world for the better.
In a painting, drawing or photo (Visual arts) all the information about it is coming from you, it is all up to interpretations. A play (Performance arts), delivers information through its vocal expression, the performance of the actors are the most important. A film (Cinematic arts) is special for cinematography, the movement of the camera is the director's way of telling the story through conscious decisions to show what the audience will see. The most unique part about games compare to other mediums is the interactivity. It gives feedbacks to player actions, which none of the other art mediums can do. The audience is not only viewing the art, they are part of the art. Games (Interactive arts) have the power to make the player part of the art. They not only experience the story, they get to live it, and through their actions, the game can interact with them to give them feedback and insights about themselves.
This is the most brilliant part about Undertale, the interactivity. The game gave you the options to kill or spare any character in the game, and each action has its consequences. This has been done many times in other games before, however, what's special about Undertale is that it is aware of all the actions the player took. In other games like The Witcher series or mass effects, if you kill a character, the story changes, and consequences happens, however, the main story will always stay true to the character. This is because if we give the player the ability to kill all characters, there will be potential to change the story drastically, and the potential to break the story and the character. Nobody wants to experience a story which the main character has no humanity or goodness. Imagine if all the hero we love killed for pleasure, that will be out of character and won't make any sense. However, Undertale pulled this off. Yes, you can kill every character in the game, but each character has so much depth that their true nature is always good. Every character in the game are monsters but they are all so nice and human-like in nature, that they feel more human than human. (Like Blade Runner) So when you kill them, it is completely your action. Unlike most game which either didn't give you a choice, or the death of that character always had some reason that you as the player won't feel bad to do, or the death of that character simply didn't matter to the main story. Since the goal of most games is to entertain, game developers avoid trying to make the player experience negative emotions. Undertale did not avoid making the player feel bad at all, and that's the brilliance of it.
First, for the story to work, the decision to kill or spare any character should not change the main story arch at the time but reflects on it at the last act. Yes, you can kill any character, but at the moment you kill them, the consequences are not immediate. You simply won that fight. Whether you kill or spare, you won, and the story continues without that character. However, the consequences will not happen. Other characters will simply think that character you killed is gone missing and still tries to help you, and because your character can't talk, things keep moving without consequence to your actions. However, later on, close to the end and at the end, all the things you've done will be judged, by the game itself. You will then come to the realization of things that you have done and asks yourself what kind person you are. Taking player action and giving it as a feedback to the player for a great insight. If you killed a lot of characters when you know that each one can be spared then what kind of person are you? In most games, the killing has no consequences, or you simply don't have the choice. Almost all games have killed in them, and every time is a kill or is killed situation forcing the player to kill. Sometimes even in the name of good and justice. And people are consumed by their desire for pleasure and committing acts of killing in games. Just because it is not real, doesn't mean it is right. You might not know, but that monster you killed could have a family same as you, it could also be trying it's best to survive this world. There's not much difference between the two of you, so what makes you the right one to live? The nature of every being is to survive. Not good nor evil, but simply trying to survive. This is the main insight I got from Undertale, that even monsters can have a beautiful soul, that's capable of love, compassion and forgiveness. Heck, probably even more so than a human. Each character in this game is so good not because they have some complex fears or problems, but because each of them is simply good persons. They seek the action of killing, but deep down their true nature is full of love and charm. Isn't that what everybody is like? We hurt others because of the desire to survive, but deep down, if we had a choice, we would choose to love and help each other. No games or art in any other medium has ever given me an such a great insight. The moment the game tells you how many you have killed, and you know that you had the choice of sparing them is truly an enlightening moment. By giving the player this feedback, it will make the player reflect upon their actions, and hopefully, choose to be better in real life.
The goal of any art, in my opinion, is to show something to the audience about themselves, a great insight towards who they are. To inspire them to think and reflect upon their experiences and see the nature of their own being. To do that with any art is extremely difficult, and any art that's done it deserves to behold as an important part of human experience. Undertale is, for me, one of such art. As I finished the game, not only it was an unforgettable experience, but one that has changed who I am as a person. I hope, with all of my heart that one day I will make something at the equal level of this masterpiece.
Now, game development insights:
Making the combat interactive is brilliant. Each action the characters do shows their emotion and intention. The character can talk and move and change forms in battle, this makes the game cinematic without cutscenes. Plus the gameplay is so interactive that it uses the combat not only as gameplay function but also as narrative function. For example, when you ask for mercy, some character will actually avoid hitting you.
Characters: Characters in this game are all so well written. Their characteristics are simple and direct. Every character has two qualities; a persona, which is who they seem to be, and their true nature, who they really are. This is true to all the characters including the player. As the player, your persona is a kid who's trying to get back home, but your true nature is shown through your actions. You can be a really nice person or someone who kills for pleasure. All the other characters have pretty similar goals, to stop you from going back, but their true nature is really good. So when you show them empathy, they will treat you the same way. There are no complex characters in the game, their intention and motivation are easy to understand.
Art: The art is the only thing lacking for this game. The art is simple and readable, but it is not beautiful. However, at the same time, low details leaves a lot of information to interpret for the player, at the same time stand out from all the other games because it is so different.
Music: The music is another masterfully done aspect of this game. Although the art of the game is lacking, the music totally fills the void and make things so much more intense. Without the music, most of the game's scene won't work. It just makes every moment so much more emotional. Each song is written so that you can listen to it for a long time without getting tired. Each song is so emotionally charged that it tells you exactly what feeling the characters are experiencing. It just enhances the experience so much more.