The Ruins

        Today I’m looking at the very popular game Undertale, or at least the first segment of it. I’m sure the game has been talked about to death, but after playing it again recently, I came to some new conclusions that I didn’t before, and, well, it seemed worth to time to write them down. Who knows, maybe you’ll look at it a bit differently too.
        So, to start with, Undertale begins with a little narration. There are two races- humans and monsters. They lived peacefully for a time, but eventually humans grew to fear monsters and drove them underground, scared of the power a monster may possess if they obtained a human’s soul. However, this was a very long ago, and now no one really remembers the monsters locked away in Mt. Ebott. However, they do say that anyone who goes up to the mountain will never come back.
        That’s where we start, as one such child who went up the mountain, fell in a hole, and ended up underground with the monsters. And almost immediately after we run into one such monster: Flowey the Flower. He is not only the first character we see, but the first real thing of note. Our first bit of information outside the introduction, our first actual glimpse of what monsters are like.
        Flowey greets you nicely, happy music fills the air, and he looks like a cartoon flower- smiling, cheerful, friendly. He says that you must be new to the Underground, and offers to show you how things work. The character is then taking to a completely new screen- Flowey appears on the top of the now fully black screen, colored drained out so he is white, while your character has been transformed into a floating heart that can move about.
        He explains this is your ‘SOUL’ and that it starts off weak, but can becomes stronger by gaining ‘LV’. He then says that if you want it, he can share some LV in the form of “little white ‘friendliness pellets’”, which appear above him, spinning in place, before he sends them down at you and tells you to grab them.
        As a Touhou fan, my first impulse when confronted by what looks a lot like bullets from that series is to dodge, so I do. Flowey says you missed them, and fires some more. Dodge again, and he starts getting angry, finally admitting they are bullets before inexplicably replacing ‘bullets’ with ‘friendliness pellets’ in his speech bubble. Perhaps this is a hint at the powers Flowey possesses, but whatever the case I doubt anyone would fall for it.
        The music gets steadily more distorted as he keeps missing, and eventually falters entirely. He says that you realize what he’s up to, which if you got to this point, you probably do, and then simply surrounds you in a ring of bullets, undodgable. If you got hit, on the other hand, he laughs and calls you an idiot before doing the same. Either way, he clearly plans to kill you and take your SOUL, just as the humans feared monsters would.
        However, while he laughs and the bullets close in, they do not hurt you. This comes as a big surprise to him for sure, and he only has seconds to process this before a blast of flame sends him packing, and we’re introduced to our second monster- Toriel. She calls Flowey a ‘terrible creature’ for trying to hurt ‘such a poor, innocent youth’, and introduces herself as Toriel, caretaker of the Ruins. She says you are the first human to fall down here in a long time, and tells you to follow her.
        Now, I should pause for a moment. My reactions thus far, in all my playthroughs, were fairly similar- I didn’t trust Flowey because anyone shooting at me can’t mean well, and trusted Toriel because she protected me. However, in my last playthrough, I found that trust shaken. I’ll explain why.
        At first I didn’t notice, but from the very second you meet her, Toriel always refers to you as ‘my child’. Some may find it sweet, and I did too the first time, and I was glad to follow the nice goat lady who saved me from the evil flower. But for this run I decided to shove aside my foreknowledge about the game, and play like I was actually there. What would I do if I were in that situation?
        I’d still trust Toriel, but I’d make careful note of her words and actions. She saved my life, and wants me to follow her, presumably to safety. She tells you how monsters may attack you, but urges you not to fight back, instead to simply stall for time by talking and such until Toriel can show up to resolve it, showing she intends to keep protecting me for quite a while.
        She even shows me that the Ruins is full of puzzles to solve, and gives me pointers for the first couple- well, more accurately, she solves the first herself, and the second is labeled to show which switch is right- she won’t even let you pick the wrong one, so she’s holding your hand throughout. She decides to let you try the next puzzle on your own… then sees it is a bed of spikes, and literally holds your hand to guide you through it. If you backtrack to examine it, you’ll find there is a clue to find the proper path, saying it follows the same progression as the previous hallway, and it doesn’t actually hurt you at all if you don’t proceed exactly right. So she’s just being overprotective, and I chafed a little at this.
        But then, I suppose I understand her doing so- I did just get attacked by a killer flower, and a frog-like monster tried to attack, I think, before she chased it off. It might not have been, it didn’t get the chance to do anything. In any case, she then tells me to go across a hallway on my own- a very easy task, of course, but she makes it sound like she’s dropping me off a cliff to see if I can fly. I made it across without harm, and she says she did so to see if I can be on my own for a while. She gives me a cell phone to call her if I need to, and leaves me alone.
        Naturally, I don’t stay put and proceed without her. A foolish move in retrospect, but I wanted to do something for myself- you don’t really get the chance to do much yourself until now in the game. And, of course, the game doesn’t move on until you do.
        The first new thing is a Froggit like the one who attacked before- maybe even the same one. It tells me that if a monster’s name is yellow in combat, it can be Spared, and that I should do so rather than strike them down. I kept that in mind, and soon found that doing so gets me money, but no EXP, as the game points out. As for why I didn’t actually finish off any enemies, well… you’re given the option to let them flee, and Flowey certainly wouldn’t let them. Did I want to be like Flowey? No.
        I was attacked by various monsters- Whismur would appear and ‘attack’, but it never actually tried to hit me, and no matter what I did, it fled quickly. I felt bad if anything for it. It seemed to think it was obligated to strike me, making me wonder why it would think that. The Froggits showed up once more, and these do actually attack, though they are easily rid of if you threaten them and let them go, as I discovered. Complimenting also works, but why would I compliment my attacker? Moldsmal appears afterwards, and these blob like creatures, well, can be Spared on the first turn, and are described as being brainless. They might not even be aware of me.
        So the only really deadly monster I’ve seen so far is Flowey himself. After all that, however, we see Napstablook. The depressed ghost was something of a conundrum- there is a choice to threaten them, like the Froggits, but it doesn’t lead to them leaving. In fact, he outright tells you to make good on your threat!
        Of course, I realized, he’s already dead, how could I hurt him further? He doesn’t seem very keen on fighting me either- on one turn he doesn’t even attack, but words appear saying he isn’t feeling up to fighting this turn. So instead, I tried to cheer him up- both to make him feel better, as it was getting me down too, and because I figured a happy ghost won’t try to kill me. This worked, and the ghost vanished, letting me pass, happy he found a friend. If it means he won’t attack me anymore, I’ll call him anything.
        Anyway, moving on I run into him again. After falling in a hole, I saw that he was stuck in another and go see him. He says hello, and then remembers ghosts can fly and just floats out. While I was checking the holes, I also saw something sticking out of the ground. Thinking it was an item, I checked it out- and was not an item, but one of my least liked monsters, the Vegetoid. At first, they were just strange vegetable looking creatures that could be Spared like the others- but then they started appearing with other monsters.
        In particular, it appeared with Migosp, which only ever attacks you when there are other monsters around. Given some of Migosp’s dialogue, I got the impression the other monsters were basically somehow making it obey their commands to attack you. Given I didn’t like Vegetoid much already, and it appeared most often with Migosp to me, and on top of that they just looked plain evil, I ended up hitting Vegetoid a lot, though I didn’t kill them- just enough to make them flee or, in one case, take a bite out of it to get some health. It was rather catartic. Plus, Migosp seemed very happy to be itself and just dance, implying, at least to me, that it certainly wasn’t in control of its actions and would never have harmed me otherwise.
        In conclusion, I have a new evil monster to worry about- the Vegetoids. Plants are evil in Undertale, it seems. They’re probably in league with Flowey. But anyway, moving on. After all that I finally found Toriel again, who was just heading into same area to go find me. She was of course surprised I made it this far, and healed my wounds before taking me into her home. Or, as she put it, my new home.
        While I took this kindly in my first run, in my latest playthrough it did strike me as a bit creepy. She was already refering to me as her child, now she wants me to stay with her? I never agreed to that! I mean, sure, it was wonderful of her to save me, but this is a bit much. I probably have actual parents and an actual home to return to. Granted, the game never says so, but given you eventually must ask her how to leave, I can only assume your character wants to as well.
        It’s not that I don’t appreciate her kindness- I did. But she’s very overbearing and controlling in this regard. Even before I arrived she’d decided for me that I would stay with her, and she’d already gone as far as to arrange a teaching curriculum in advance. Not to mention how she kept me out of the basement every time I tried to go down there, which lead me to think she must have something to hide, and I shuddered to think what.
        So eventually, I do ask her how to leave. And no sooner than I do that she gets up and runs downstairs. She repeatedly tells me to go back up, but I’m adamant. She reveals that every time I a human fell down here, she took care of them, for a time, but eventually they left, and they died. And she wouldn’t let it happen again. In light of that, I can see why she was so very overprotective before.
        Finally, you’re both before the gate. She says that if you really want to leave, you’ll have to prove you can defend yourself. And so, the battle begins. Toriel is much stronger than any of your previous enemies, and checking her stats proves it- she has no less than 80 attack and defense, so logically she can probably end you in a single shot… but she does not. She doesn’t actually want to kill you, so she only uses a small bit of her power- enough to hurt, yes, and presumably make you want to flee, which you can do, but not kill.
        There are no actions you can do to make her stop fighting or to Spare her, so I fought back, but she was doing much more damage to me than the other way around. And once my health got low enough… she stopped aiming for me. Instead, her attacks actively moved around me. It was a show of force, but she wouldn’t actually harm me any further. I could have struck back, but, since she was showing me mercy, I pushed the Spare button instead. And this finally prompted a response from her.
        She demanded to know what I was doing, told me to fight or flee, before eventually caving and stopping her attacks entirely, trying to reason with you to stay. And, listening to her, it seemed clear that she wouldn’t stop trying to keep me here, whether I liked it or not. It was a warm and cozy cage, to be sure, but it was one, nonetheless. Perhaps that’s how the monsters feel about the Underground. Regardless, it seemed at the time that I had one option to actually get past her. And I struck.
        Caught off guard, Toriel was felted in that last attack, and she herself realized it, saying that to strike like that, at her most vulnerable, I really must be as vile as the monsters she wanted to protect me from. Needless to say, I wasn’t in the best of spirits after that. And especially not with Flowey showing up to rub it in, pointing out the irony of her trying to save you. Even more ironic, of course, is that she would have let me go if I just held firm and listened to her a bit longer. Really shows why one should think through their actions.
        But at the time, it made sense. Even if she was nice to me, she still had planned to trap me here forever, and I couldn’t allow that, right? So there is what happened, and, while I do feel a bit bad over it, I’m not going to reset the game to try again. That would rather ruin the moral I took from it at the time, to avoid rash and hasty judgments, especially with such serious matters. Instead, I’ll keep playing and let the game run its course. And perhaps that is something I’ll write about later, we’ll see. Until next time, dear readers.

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