One More Year
It's been a few years since I completed Undertale's pacifist route for the second time. My steam play-time currently sits at fifteen hours which ultimately represents about 2 full pacifist playthroughs and a handful of abandoned runs. I have never completed any other ending besides the True Pacifist ending.
Despite my extremely low play time and the fact I have only experienced one of the game's endings, I can say without a doubt that this game has imprinted on my soul harder than anything else in the entire medium of video games – and I most certainly do not state this lightly.
For context, I have played video games since I was incredibly young. As a mere toddler my parents were generous enough to give me mostly unlimited access to a PlayStation, with two standout games – Crash Team Racing and Spyro 3: Year of the Dragon – still surviving with me to this day. I could not even begin to fathom the sheer number of video games I have played, not to mention the things that transcend the definition of “video games”. But in my short 15 hours with this game, and after 4 years of letting it collect dust, I can still recall moments and characters from this game with photographic accuracy.
It's not the only game that has achieved similar levels of imprinting, but Undertale in particular... there's something special about it.
I realize that I sound like a (forgive the pun) broken record, these sentiments have been echoed by countless individuals across the Internet and beyond. I'm not exactly saying anything surprising here. But that, in and of itself, should be testament to the fact Undertale is special.
Trying to describe what makes it so impactful is honestly doing a disservice to Undertale, and frankly, there are plenty of people who played the entire game and simply didn't understand the appeal. It's not like this game is guaranteed to be an instant emotional atom bomb for every human being in the universe. But there is clearly a large subsection of people who are deeply affected by the experience called Undertale, and it's a game that doesn't just feel like it was made for us... it was made with us.
Undertale is a game that most people hear the praises of before they've even seen a screenshot. This has created a reputation that its fandom is forceful, overly passionate, annoying – and there are certainly individuals who embody that stereotype. But I have always been an advocate of letting art speak for itself.
Undertale feels like a game that reads your mind. So much of the game is built around the expectations of the player, and it subverts them in ways that you could (almost) never see coming. Being spoiled to one of Undertale's many tricks is being robbed of a surprise that you can only get once. And it does these things not just for the sake of stabbing you in the metaphorical gut, but to immerse you. To spend an evening with you.
Undertale is... emotionally raw. It's a game that makes you feel things. But not in the way that your usual “mindblowing” or “psychological horror” type experience would; Undertale really can't be compared to anything besides its most on-the-nose direct inspirations (EarthBound being the obvious example). Undertale lends a lot of its appeal to nostalgia for sure, but it is not simply nostalgia for nostalgia's sake. It is a truly original experience built atop the foundations of a bygone era, weaponizing its nostalgia and contextualizing it into a viscerally intimate experience.
The gaming industry is often so commercialized – more so than ever in recent days – and even back in our nostalgic childhoods there was certainly a commercialized aspect to everything. Games have earned a lot of their trademark features for reasons relating to generating profit, or at least trying to guarantee some level of success. Undertale, despite still having a price tag, is completely devoid of any such motivations, it does not ask anything else of you besides your time.
This is the part where I start to sound incredibly corny. To an outsider, I might sound like I'm fetishizing this game or obsessing over it like a child, but those who may resonate with this game will understand.
Undertale's characters care about you. They may be scripted creations in a computer program, but there is a soul in Undertale. It's not really trying to be a game, so much as an experience. It's a story that you, the player, are truly included in.
Undertale feels like the medium of gaming itself, in a very abstract sense, is loving you back. Telling you that it appreciates all the time you've spent with it. That it just wants to spend an evening, a few beautiful hours, exchanging some deep heartfelt feelings with each other. It only lasts a fleeting moment, it's practically over when you blink, but you might never forget it.
Undertale feels like it's trying to let you know that it's okay to care about video games. It's okay to think the fantastical worlds and the friends you make within them are just a little bit real. It's okay to care about fictional characters on a bright rectangle, and to feel like they care about you too.
Undertale feels like home. It reminds me of how everything felt when I was a child, when the world was an endless ocean of mystery but everything that mattered to me still seemed to make perfect sense. It feels like something that understands you and loves you just the way you are, and simply asks that you share those precious few hours to go on a journey together. It has untold depths of mystery and intrigue to unravel, and perhaps that level of extensive depth is what created the impact for some people – it is most definitely there if you feel compelled to explore it.
But for me... I'm certainly curious what the other endings hold, and maybe I'll go through the trouble of playing them someday. But at least for now, I feel that my memory of Undertale should not be spoiled. I feel like it deserves to stay as a precious few hours in the back of my mind for a while.
Really, I wish I could forget it. I wish I could let it all go and reset everything, just so I could experience it again. I could never do that, of course, unless I were horribly injured. And the game knows this too.
That's pretty much why I haven't touched this game for four years, outside of occasionally listening to remixes or appreciating fan art of its characters. When YouTube's enigmatic algorithm recommended me this video, I simply stopped what I was doing and gave it the few minutes it asked of me. Allowed myself to appreciate that I had the fantastic opportunity to experience this beautiful game. Let myself be happy that I inhabit in a world where something like this exists.
I set an alarm on my phone a few days ago.
“Remind me in one year to play Undertale”
This video... it definitely made me itch to relive that experience. There are definitely details that have faded, and it would likely have a quite tangible impact on me if I were to play it again now. But some part of me feels compelled to honor this alarm.
Even if I waited 30 years, I would still remember parts of it. I would still know that it was special, and I fear that some of its impact would remain dampened. Singing the praises on this blog is perhaps already spoiling this potential to some extent, but honestly... if it gets someone to play this game who otherwise wouldn't have, if I can share an experience that matters deeply to me with just one other person, then this blog post was worth the effort.
You only truly get to play Undertale once. It might not affect you, but if it does, you only get one shot.
I will never get to experience it for the first time again, but I intend to honor my memory of this game and give it the respect it deserves. I don't want to exhaust this game of all of its intrigue and novelty for me; I've missed out on quite a lot of its content after all. Maybe I'll explore it someday.
Undertale doesn't feel like something designed to be put into a museum. It feels so much more personal. I wonder if Undertale might be destined to fade away into obscurity one day, whether future historians will even acknowledge its beauty. Maybe it's meant to be that way.
Maybe this game is just for us.