I Attempted the Pacifist Route on My First-Ever Undertale Run, and Here's What Happened

Since it was first released in 2014, indie RPG Undertale has achieved cult status as an innovative, as well as poignant and touching, game.

From an outsider's perspective, it was tough to see what all the hubbub was about. I had only seen screenshots of the game, and while I enjoyed some of the character designs, overall it didn't seem particularly inspiring.

But this year, my curiosity was piqued when some of my favorite streamers started playing the game on their channels. By watching them, I was introduced to the game's core combat mechanic, in which players control a red, heart-shaped Soul and drive it around a black box to avoid enemy attacks.

I also discovered that one of the key elements of Undertale is that you always have the option to be kind and spare your opponent, rather than to defeat them. More than once, I watched players despair after accidentally killing an opponent, and that guilt would crop up again later in the game at a point that character might have shown up if they were still alive.

When I discovered that Undertale would be hitting the Nintendo Switch (the platform I'd prefer to play almost every game on) I stopped watching the streams. I knew I had to get my hands on the game myself, and I absolutely didn't want any more spoilers to guide how I'd play the game. So I bought myself a copy of Undertale and started on my pacifist run.

On the surface, Undertale's backstory is pretty simple. Many years ago, humans and monsters lived and ruled together. That all ended when the two groups went to war with one another. The humans won, and using magic they banished all of the monsters to live underground. The monsters resettled in their new home, though many still hold onto dreams of once again returning to the land above. To do so, they need human souls. Of course, the player takes on the role of a human who's someone found themself in the monster's realm.

Undertale: Backstory title screen

(Undertale via Toby Fox)

The game opened with my character waking from sleep. I walked through a few doors, until I stumbled upon a cute little flower named Flowey. He showed me how to control my Soul in battle, and tough me about LOVE, which is essentially equivalent to level, as well as EXP, which could be gained in battle in order to level up. It was only a matter of time before I also discovered he was totally evil.

Undertale: That is your soul

(Undertale via Toby Fox)

He was about to kill me when I was rescued by a cow-like monster named Toriel. It wasn't long before she took me under her wing and showed me how to navigate the world, acting as a kindly mother figure. She had me battle, but told me to chat with my opponents to kill time rather than fighting them.

Undertale: Toriel guides you through the catacombs

(Undertale via Toby Fox)

As I followed Toriel home, this came in handy again and again. I complimented Froggits, terrorized and consoled Whimsuns and flirted with Nabstablook the ghost.  When I accidentally ate a vegetable-shaped monster called a Vegetoid, I was worried that I'd already messed up my run, but I found that every time I spared my enemies, I got no EXP, and the same happened when I ate Vegetoids, so I would probably be okay.

Undertale: Flirting with Nabstablook

(Undertale via Toby Fox)

Everything was going great until I told Toriel I wanted to leave, and she asked me to prove I could handle myself in the outside world. I tried to talk to her again and again rather than fighting, but that didn't seem to be doing anything. Though she fought me, when I got down to a single hit point, she purposely avoided hitting me. Eventually, I assumed that the solution must be to actually fight her. But then the unthinkable happened. She still had more than half of her health bar left when a single hit downed her, and soon she faded away into dust.

Not good. Without even thinking about it, I reset the game to try again (and do things more carefully this time around). I wore her down by just trying to spare her again and again. Eventually, she knew I was determined not to fight and let me go. I thought I was in the clear, before another encounter with Flowey showed me that the game was totally savvy to what I did. Not wanting to restart the whole thing, I simply pressed forward and had to hope for the best.

undertale-you-regretted-it-articleH-101518

(Undertale via Toby Fox)

From that first major fight to the game's last, it would be almost impossible to get into the nitty-gritty of how fun and enlightening it was to work through every confrontation with words and actions rather than with weapons. The characters are some of the silliest I've seen in recent video game history, and I found myself wanting to befriend every last one of them. There's the joke-cracking Sans the skeleton and his brother, the wannabe warrior Papyrus (who you can date, because Undertale is an amazing game).

Undertale: Papyrus goes on a date with you

(Undertale via Toby Fox)

Then there's Undyne, a fish-woman who's the world's top fighter, and Dr. Alphys, an anime-loving dinosaur with a massive crush on Undyne. I also appeared on a deadly cooking show with a robot, helped two macho guards realize they were in love. Forming love connections is another a big part of the pacifist run of the game.

Undertale: Alphys Then She Kisses You

(Undertale via Toby Fox)

Overall, I loved that battles were less about "winning" and more about making people happy and pacifying their spirits. Being able to spare them was about understanding the characters in order to make their lives better. The graphics that seemed rudimentary at first now seemed profoundly charming as I fell in love with each oddball character.

Undertale: Sans says you never gained any love

(Undertale via Toby Fox)

All of this was leading up to a big final battle with Asgore, the king. Mercy wasn't an option in this battle, leaving me scratching my head as to which actions I should take. I tried to talk to him every turn, but things just weren't advancing. I died a dozen times, unsure of what I should do. This was the one time during my run that I cheated a little. I looked it up online and found out that in this one case, the solution actually was fighting.

Undertale: Asgore has killed you too many times to count

(Undertale via Toby Fox)

This wound up being a pretty big challenge for me. By virtue of being a pacifist, I hadn't leveled up at all during the game, so my attack power and hit points were at the same level as they were when I started the game.  I had even stopped picking up stronger weapons along the way, so I wound up backtracking to get powered-up items so I could survive longer in the fight. I also stocked up on items along the way, but I still wound up dying a lot.

There's still more to the story after Asgore is defeated, but I can't go into the details without some major spoilers. Even then, just when I thought I'd be done, I found that my Undertake adventure wasn't even close to over yet. Guided by a phone call from Sans, I went back and became even closer to some of my the characters I had met before while uncovering more of the game's incredible lore, with each new discovery leading me closer to a totally different ending. Again, I can't say exactly what it was, but it warmed by heart in ways I never expected. Undertale's strengths lie in the goodness of its characters. Despite their flaws, they demonstrate again and again what it means to be a friend.

Undertale: Papyrus and Sans try to capture a human

(Undertale via Toby Fox)

Before playing the game's pacifist run, I had intentions of playing through again in an all-kill run, as well as a run somewhere in the middle. But after finishing it and seeing what I've seen, there's absolutely no way I'm going to let any of Undertale's wonderful characters perish. Looking back, I'm horrified at the idea that any of them wouldn't make it to the end.

Undertale: Dogamy and Dogaressa

(Undertale via Toby Fox)

Still, the game taunts me when I boot it back up. Even after the happy ending, Flowey shows up to remind me that have the power to reset everything and make them go back to the way they were before everything was set straight. I have no intentions of doing so after a threat like that.

Undertale is available on Steam, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita and Nintendo Switch for $14.99.

 

If another game brought me as much joy as Undertale this year, it was Wandersong. Click HERE for my review of that game.