Undertale, with the main characters on top of the title

RWP: Undertale – Amy Lo

I chose to play Undertale as a pacifist, which subverted my expectations of the RPG genre that typically relies on quick combat as a core game mechanic. From my playthrough, I noticed how the aesthetics of challenge and fellowship are reinforced by the procedural rhetorics in Undertale. 



Undertale gives players the unique choice to fight or to spare their opponents in the game in order to advance through the ruins. 

If you fight: As the player learns more about the world, they experience an increasing difficulty curve in terms of the strength of their attacks, the strength of monsters’ attacks, and the rising stakes of having to reset the game to their last save point. The procedural rhetoric of fighting monsters is reinforced by the environment; as you explore, you are likely to encounter a monster periodically that will interrupt your gameplay. You also need money in the game in order to purchase items for your inventory, and succeeding in fights with monsters is the primary way you gain money. 

If you spare: The choice not to fight is a challenge in itself. It would likely be more efficient time wise to attack a monster rather than to talk with it and reason. Additionally, the game primes you to attack because you are potentially losing health from your attempts to talk to monsters – you still have to dodge their attacks, such that you’re the only one losing health points. Another challenge reinforced by the game is trying to figure out what combination of actions you can take before a monster will allow you to spare them. In terms of the reading, the procedural rhetoric is reinforced by this gameplay loop – encounter monster, take actions, spare. The game attempts to make it harder and more tedious each time for you to choose peace in the game, which relates to the idea that negotiation and peace is difficult (fighting is easy). 


The aesthetic of fellowship is reinforced through the mechanics of sparing an opponent. Because the game gives you a chance to spare your opponent, the resultant player dynamic is that players have the option to engage with their “enemies” through actions and discussion. While frustrating with certain mobs, it is also incredibly rewarding and heartwarming to see how your stereotypes about scary-looking opponents can be challenged by their surprisingly sweet personalities (for ex. doggo). I found myself getting attached to multiple characters and audibly “aww”-ing when I had to depart from Toriel. In other worlds, the dialogue is reliant on NPCs, not mobs to drive the story and worldbuilding in the environment. However, in this game, we see that the mobs are a form of NPCs as well, building the world and your expectations while also posing a challenge to you as a player. In terms of the procedural rhetoric, the game is reinforcing your choice to spare your enemies by offering you to choose to befriend them, create your own micro-narratives about them, and empathize with them beyond your initial impressions. While the “fights” and puzzles in the game become harder and harder throughout the game, it is also more rewarding because you get to greet old enemies like you would a friend. My one critique is that the dialogue for each mob tends to repeat itself, so if I were to introduce a change I would introduce a status monitoring system such that we can take note of how many times we have seen a mob and how our relationship with them has grown. 

Overall Impressions

At times, Undertale can feel repetitive from the mobs that you meet over and over again (or the number of times I’ve repeatedly lost the game). However, this is useful in teaching the moral of the game (peace is an option), and Undertale is a special example of how to do this effectively in the game and build a strong culture around its “true” ending. However, I wonder whether this game hits it too hard on the head. Can we offer people opportunities to learn and grow, accommodating the gray sense of morality that many of us have? I wonder if I had played it from a non-pacifist perspective, what cues the game gives you to push you to a particular direction. Overall, Undertale primes me to rethink how the lack of a choice (the choice to spare an enemy) presents itself in other games. When we think about how to give players autonomy, we have to not only consider what choices we give them, but also what choices we leave out.

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  1. Hi Amy,
    Thank you for your thoughtful response. I really liked how you broke down your analysis in chunks with subheadings. I do agree with your small criticism about the repetitiveness of mobs. That’s partly why I ended up killing some of them. Your analysis of the benefits and disadvantages of fighting vs. sparing were pretty spot on. Killing may be the easier route in the short-term, but being peaceful can reap its benefits in the long-term, which I think is a very interesting dynamic.

  2. Hi Amy, really enjoyed reading your thoughtful response! I thought what you mentioned about the game possibly hitting the pacifist route/culture too hard on the head was really interesting, and it’s something I thought about a lot with my first playthrough after having learned about the pacifist ending existing. At first, not knowing anything about the game, I fought and killed mobs because that’s what I was taught to do in RPGs. But once the option of sparing was introduced, as well as the idea that not all mobs want to fight, I started to lean more into being a pacifist and not actually fighting. I feel like I could’ve achieved the pacifist route from that point on if the game allowed for the opportunity for players to learn and grow, instead of it being a cut and dry 0 mobs killed vs any mobs killed.

  3. As you talk about in your post, is interesting to think about the idea that Undertale does not just give players the option to choose peace and encourage players to have empathy for the monsters, but it also reinforces the idea that fighting is easy and peace can be difficult by making it much harder to get through the interactions with monsters by choosing peace. At first, I didn’t understand why sparing monsters would still result in having to dodge the monster’s attacks, and I resorted to violence to try to increase the chances that I would make it out of the interaction alive. I now understand how Undertale created a culture where pacifict route is the most celebrated at least partly becauase it is the more difficult and therefore the more impressive and noble route to take.

  4. Hi Amy, I really enjoyed the breakdown you provided in your response. Like Ngoc, I also agree that sometimes it gets repetitive to fight the same mobs over and over again. At one point, the mobs where it took longer to get the sparing option, I just opted to attack or run away.

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