In Undertale You Are Player Two

I wrote a brief post about Toby Fox’s Undertale a month or so ago. It was difficult as I was really trying to remain spoiler-free while, at the same time, attempting to actually say something relevant about the game itself. But now that I’ve had some time to think, and talk, about Undertale there are some more things about it that I would like to write about.

You are now in the Spoiler Bone Zone. Please either play the game first, as it is excellent, or don’t upon your own risk. As always, you have been warned.

Undertale

Mechanically speaking, the game is a work of pure genius. For the most part it feels like an RPG with some very elementary, archetypal cartoon aesthetics. On the surface, it is a combination of turn-based battles and puzzles. But then there are some interesting aspects to the conflict portions of the game: interactive gameplay elements that will really affect the plot as you go on. And, believe me, you will see these effects almost immediately.

Undertale Fight

The fact that you have the option to either Fight and kill, or Act and Mercy enemies is not a spoiler in and of itself. Acting actually gives you many options as to how to deal with monsters as people: each one having their own likes and dislikes.

Undertale Act

When you interact with them through the Act option long enough, you can Spare them and continue onward: sometimes gaining money, but no EXP. Or, you can kill them and they disintegrate into dust.

Undertale Combat

The battles, or if you want to get more technical, the Encounters are structured in an interesting fashion. While they are turn-based, allowing you time to heal with items or choose other options on your screen, the monsters’ turns are mostly bullet-hell mini-games. You play as a small red heart in a box, and the object of those games, on the turn of your opponent, is to avoid their attacks until it’s your turn again. Generally, you can move all around the box but then … sometimes … Toby Fox will change the game dynamic.

The way that Fox changes the game dynamic in encounters often ties into the Special Attacks of particular monsters. For instance, there are at least a few situations where a bullet-hell can become a platforming or even a shooter mini-game. Having mini-games in an overall game is nothing new, of course, but these different games — turned into specific dynamics or interactions with characters — provides the skeleton (if you pardon the pun, which is ironic as there are two Skeletons that love and detest puns respectively, with their own encounters) of Undertale as a game.

Of course, I’m probably not saying anything at this point that no one has heard before. The game itself, like many contemporary and independently created interactive narratives, is fairly self-referential and — a jargony word — intertextual. It is a game that spiritually and mechanically knows its a game to the point of fourth-wall breaking and is aware of other games. Even the plot of the game is fairly straightforward at first glance: where you play a silent protagonist child character who is trying to escape from an Underground realm ruled by Monsters that were banished there by humans during an ancient war from long ago.

But aspect from the Pacifist options of being able to Act and Spare in encounters, Undertale has two more unique characteristics that can either make, or break, a good game.

These two elements play into each other well. The first is that Toby Fox creates archetypal and relatable characters. You very clearly know who they are from their brilliant musical leitmotifs and their cartoon aesthetics. And the best part is that a majority of all the other characters are Monsters. That’s right. They could be your enemies and Toby Fox goes out of his way to make sure that they are people who have their own hobbies, likes, dislikes, families, and friends. They are not nameless creatures that you kill to gain EXP. And some even befriend you on their own.

Sans and Papyrus

Fox manages to blend enough self-awareness, humour, and far-reaching emotional resonance into your interactions to make you seriously look at what you’re doing in the Underground and what you are willing to do while you are there.

Just think about it. That Woshua that just wants to clean you and might not be aware that they are hurting you until you Act with it, could be a Monster that you just kill. Or that Froggit that comes at you in all ignorance, that could have given you some advice in the beginning, could be your unintended victim.

But you see, you can’t really kill by accident. Well, not exactly. Because there is also the other element of Undertale to consider: the moral structure of the game itself.

And here lies the rub. There will be times, especially in the beginning, when you don’t know how to Spare a Monster if they won’t Act with you. In my experience, what happened was that without knowing what to do, I reverted back to my old time and tested gamer routine: I tried to damage an opponent to the point where I hoped they would ask me to Spare them, or give me the option to do so.

It didn’t work. And they died. They died because of my own actions.

I was horrified. That was not what I intended to do, and yet in retrospect I realized how flawed that idea was. I mean, when you meet someone sympathetic in real life and they get in your way, do you beat them within an inch of their life to get past them? To get what you want? Just what kind of person does that? What kind of person does that make you?

And so, I decided to reset, to Load my Save because I knew there was another way to deal with it without killing them: this character whom I’d grown to care about, to relate to, and made me feel conflict when they opposed me. But even when I figured that out, the game itself … remembered what I did in my last Save. It didn’t let me forget.

The game still forgave, then, but it didn’t forget.

Undertale Flowey the Flower

Undertale’s moral structure acts like something of a stereotypical gamer deterrent. It punishes you for gaining Levels, for grinding for Levels, for resolving issues with “Solo shooting first violence” and even for the extreme end of Determination: for seeking to do something just because you know that you can.

This is the spirit of Undertale. It is more than one of those games that have consequences for every action of the player. It is the child of a popular idea in various parts of the independent game-making scene: the notion of deconstructing violence as a normal interaction in games and creating alternatives. And some of those alternatives branch into consequences and elements of diversity and representation. What I love about Undertale is that these aspects do not lead into places of heavy-headed preaching or messages. Rather, your actions are reflected in what happens to the characters whom you’ve grown to relate towards: even and especially if they are different from you.

Snowdin Puzzle

In a way Undertale can also represent the idea of a ludic society: of a social order and community operating on interactions of “playfulness” or games. The Underground literally has a tradition of puzzle games to confound and challenge humans and outsiders. These puzzles are how the denizens of the Underground interact with each other and the player: and they notable because they are generally non-lethal. Even befriending certain characters triggers parodies of dating sims mini-games.

Papyrus Date

It can also be seen to reflect another ideal in some of the independent game-making scene: of games being more than just entertainment, but art itself. But perhaps this potential Games studies look, with its possible influences on independent game-making night be reading a little too much into what Toby Fox might be intimating.

But these implications are good to discuss. Because Undertale does say something about a particular stereotype of a gamer that is hard to ignore. The way he does this is fascinating. At the beginning of the game you are told to name the character that you will, presumably, be playing. In addition, you will encounter your first enemy: who will continue to follow you around and offer “advice” throughout the entire game. It even fits well into the story.

As it turns out, you have a special power as a human called Determination. In your case, it allows you to control time to a limited extent. You can Load and Save your progress. You can even Reset the game: the very world in which you are interacting. Your enemy, if he is your enemy, also had this power once until you came along. He is, in a lot of ways, your shadow: your doppelganger. He represents what happens when you replay a game far too many times, when you commit all good and evil on each reset, when you become bored with your game, when you persevere to great and ridiculous lengths to gain an achievement … and he will question and mock you for everything you do: while sometimes helping you … for his own benefit.

But here is the thing that you need to understand. This first enemy of yours, as powerful and terrifying as he can become, may not really be your enemy at all. He represents something. And depending on what you do, this antagonist is just Player Two to the real enemy that can manifest in the game.

After all, there’s a reason why the mirrors in Undertale have dialogue boxes when you click on them.

Undertale Mirror

Eventually — depending on what life choices you make — you realize that the person you named, early in your adventure, isn’t who your silent protagonist actually is. It turns out there was another human, long ago, who fell into the Underground. They are the person that you name. And if you choose what’s called the Genocide Route, namely going through the intense grinding motions of leveling up and killing every Monster in your way, they will manifest and you will lose control of the character.

In fact, the person you play as isn’t even your character. They have their own name. It is a revelation that through the grandiosity of the True Pacifist Ending actually took me out of my immersion with the game by sheer confusion. I named that character. Even if they were different from me, that was how I related to them. Naming was yet another assumption that gets subverted. It’s only when you play the Genocide Route, it is your murderous intentions, your capacity to kill, your lack of caring for puzzles or characters as people, your lack of fun, that will re-awaken someone or something else that will take control of the person you were supposed to guide. It is pretty clear what Undertale states through these actions, and the words of some characters towards the end, about certain kinds of gamers.

And it can be both unsettling and off-putting.

The truth is, you can’t accidentally play the Genocide Route. You have to painstakingly, numbingly, grind through all those Monsters with their own thoughts and feelings. You have to distance yourself from your emotions and capacity to feel relationships to kill and maim and take what you want. You will destroy people that you could have been friends with: that you could have loved. And you will encounter bullet-hells and platforming battles that are completely unforgiving: and the ending of the game will not be a pleasant one. You do not get rewarded for mass-murder.

In fact, your “reward” for doing this will ultimately be a jump-scare worthy of a creepypasta.

Undertale Chara's Deaths

And it gets worse. If you play Genocide before Pacifism, it will taint every other playthrough that you make. It is at this point that the game does not forgive you. You deal with the consequences of your actions. And if you played Pacifist first, killing and tormenting your friends will feel like agony unless you have completely distanced yourself from these interactions as “just a game.”

This morality is Undertale‘s greatest strength. It can also, arguably, be considered a flaw. Genocide reveals other information about the story line that you would not have gotten in any other route. There are different interactions and sides to the characters that you will not see in any other way. And if you do this, you will be punished for it in all of the aforementioned ways. For the most part, it isn’t preachy but there are some moments where it feels like you are being punished for wanting the full experience of the entire game. It even goes as far as to castigate you if you watch the Genocide route on YouTube.

Flowey is an Asshole

Obviously, this moral mechanic destroys Undertale‘s replay potential. You don’t want to go back and kill your friends. You also don’t want to obliterate their — or your character’s — happy ending if you have achieved the True Pacifist run. And so here is this game, with all heart, that when it’s over — if you think of these characters as people — you should just make sure it’s over. It is said that art is an imitation of life, and if Undertale subscribes to that ideal of being art instead of primarily entertainment — even through the microcosms of the puzzles that the Monsters make in their society — then there you are: that is your experience.

In fact, it’s not even your experience. It’s not supposed to be about you. The person you name isn’t even the protagonist and all of your aggressive gamer impulses, if you have them, are vilified … by you. And no matter what, whether you are Pacifist or have committed Genocide, the story becomes about someone else. And if you respect the flow and the rules of the game and its code, you will have to walk away.

The fact that Undertale feels like it is against replay value can be seen as a detriment and a punishment to that completionist mentality in a gamer, but the Catch 22 of the thing is that without it, this game would not be Undertale. It would not be special.

And there is the rub. Just like the foe you displaced by coming to this world of games, you are not the central character. How does it feel to actually know that you were always Player Two? And do you have the strength to play through it, to guide your character, to go for the best ending, to relate to others without hurting them, to walk away when your time is finally done with some grace? Will you need to alleviate that need to know more by “cowardly” viewing “other timelines” on YouTube or other recordings? Will you need to read and create fanfiction to make the emptiness of Undertale‘s completion go away? Or will you just grind on and become a Dirty Brother Killer?

In the end, I know what choice I made when I put my metaphorical controller down.

Frisk the Ambassador

The Greatest Mystery of All

Dedicated to Toby Fox’s Undertale. This is the sequel to Opposite of a DogWarning: there be Spoilers here. Reader’s discretion is advised. 

Even now, you are not entirely sure why you did it. After you welcomed the human and the others inside of you, you’ve seen all the alternate realities. Sometimes you died. Other times you made friends with the human and they left. In a few more timelines you got to even fight the sun with them. But now you know that these different places and times are all the same: in you.

They remind you of the tangled three-dimensional model pasta experiment that once stuck inside your rib cage.

“eh.” your brother says as he reaches towards the human’s floating Soul. “just how much can i still afford to care.”

Your gloved hand closes over the red heart first. “LAZY BONES. YOU’LL FIND  THAT, WITH PRACTICE, MY DEAR BROTHER,  YOUR CAPACITY TO CARE WILL ONLY INCREASE TEN-FOLD.” 

Sans’ eye-sockets widen. “pap … what are you … no …”

“NYEH HEH HEHHH …” You tell Sans and the Soul of the Human in your hands. “DON’T WORRY. I, THE GREAT PAPYRUS, SHALL SAVE THE DAY.”

Papyrus Enthusiastic

Poor Sans is distressed. The human has come back and fallen down. They wanted Sans to help them, but you know better. Sans has, dare you think it to yourself, worked himself to the bone … (wowie, puns still make you wince even after everything) so far. It is a good thing you got sick of him missing a spaghetti dinner again and couldn’t find him at Grillby’s. It’s also fortunate that you can smell the scent of his magic and that he wasn’t far away from Lesser Dog’s old sentry point: a place you’ve made a point of still patrolling just in case any new humans came through … or the old one, your friend and former date, returned.

The Soul in your hands quivers, as though trying to get away from you. But you understand. This is a scary mission from what you’ve heard: one to save the timelines and Monsterkind. To save the human. But you can do it. 

*You shouldn’t have done it, Papyrus.

It’s your friend’s voice. Even as you sail through the rainbow-coloured wave of infinity to your next destination (you are in no hurry, as you really don’t feel like rushing infinity: it will do its job anyway), they still sound old and sad.

You’ve tried. One of the first things you did when you rescued their Soul was take the two of you, or yourself, for a Nice Cream: just to cheer you up.

“NONSENSE, HUMAN.” You tell them cheerfully. “I COULDN’T ABANDON MY BROTHER AND MY FRIEND IN NEED. YOU KNOW THAT. I HAVE A REPUTATION TO UPHOLD.”

*Papyrus … you took an awful risk. After everything I did … I didn’t want …

“bro.” Sans’ eye is actually glowing blue now. “don’t … don’t do this …”

“NO SANS. YOU AND THE HUMAN SHOULD’VE INVITED ME TO THIS SECRET SAVE THE WORLD MEETING. ESPECIALLY SINCE THE HUMAN’S FALLEN DOWN. I CAN HELP YOU. I’M GOING TO HELP YOU.”

“no …” Sans reaches for you. In retrospect you wonder why he didn’t just use his pranking abilities in space and time to just take the human’s Soul from you, but really, he was probably too shocked by your daring and deductive reasoning to even think about doing something so cheap and unfair. 

“AND THEY’RE COLD.” You say, feeling the Soul shivering violently in your hands, as though trying to get away from you. “DON’T WORRY, HUMAN.” You say as tenderly as you can. “YOU WILL BE WARM IN MY RIB CAGE UNTIL WE GET THIS ALL SORTED OUT.”

“PAPYRUS! NO …”

But it’s too late. You eased the trembling heart between your ribs. You recall hoping that it doesn’t fall out of them like all of your pasta. 

Undertale Heart

That is when it happens. You’ve never really felt the cold before, what with being a skeleton and all. But suddenly … you can feel it. At the same time you feel a raging warmth inside of your rib cage that makes you aware of the cold, but utterly immune to it. Something is beating, not unpleasantly, in your skull. Sans is in front of you still, but you can now see an afterimage. It’s white and shining. You blink and memories and thoughts that aren’t your own, and are, fill the deep cavern of your brain. 

Textures, colours, sounds, and sensations fill your bones. You recall something spoken not too long ago.

“WOWIE, HUMAN.” You tell them, drawing on the vast reservoir of culinary knowledge now at your disposal. “WE REALLY DON’T TASTE LIKE KETCHUP.” 

*Papyrus. Please. It’s not too late. Just put me down … and give me to Sans.

Sans is looking at you, at the two of you, in shock. “kid …” He looks at you and the human’s body on the ground. You realize, belatedly, that the human just spoke through your mouth. That’s ok. It’s only fair since you are roomies now. “pap. listen to the human. you … you don’t know what this power will do to you. i … i can take it from here.”

He is afraid. And you realize he is afraid for you. 

“SANS …” you say, and your voice sounds simultaneously large and quiet. “DO YOU … KNOW WHAT THIS FEELS LIKE?”

“pap … c’mon, bro.” Sans is pleading now, tears coming out of his eye-sockets. 

You go up to him and lean down. You put a hand on his face and wipe the tears away. “I CAN … FEEL YOUR TEARS, BROTHER. FEAR, HORROR, SORROW, REGRET, EXHAUSTION, DARKNESS, AND LIGHT … HUMAN?” You ask the presence, feeling awe, now inside of you, “IS THIS WHAT YOU FEEL ALL THE TIME? IS THIS WHAT YOU SEE?”

There is a pause. *Papyrus, this is what we … both see. I’ve never done this before, not in this timeline but I can see so many others now … No, Papyrus. Let me go. Please. I can’t do this to you. Not you. Of all people, not you. 

You realize it now. “YOU DON’T THINK I CAN HELP YOU.”

“bro, it’s not like that. this is … too dangerous.”

“NO.” You look at Sans and the human’s body on the ground and you understand. “YOU’VE BEEN PROTECTING ME. BOTH OF YOU. BUT, DON’T YOU UNDERSTAND?” You grin at them. “I AM THE GREAT PAPYRUS! IT IS MY JOB, MY DUTY AS A PROSPECTIVE MEMBER OF THE ROYAL GUARD TO FIND A HUMAN AND TO SAVE ALL OF MONSTERKIND! I FOUND YOU HUMAN. AND AS PART OF MONSTERKIND I NEED TO PROTECT YOU, SANS!”

“… bro.” Sans is openly weeping now. “please. i can’t lose you. not again. not like this.”

There are many rifts in the rainbow coloured expanse that you ride: opening to more strands of reality than there are strings of angel-hair pasta. You now understand that this is similar to how Sans would take his short-cuts, the lazy bones. It’s also close to how he was able to view different timelines.

But you also understand, with some sadness, just what he has been going through. There is a difference though.

“HUMAN,” you tell them, “HEROISM IS A RISKY BUSINESS. BUT WE HAVE SAVES AND LOADS. IT REALLY SAVED MY BATTLE BODY THE LAST TIME.”

*Papyrus, you really shouldn’t have put your costume in a washer with our Soul power. 

‘NYEH HEH HEHEHHH!” You pat the human, or really just yourself on the back. “BUT LOOK AT HOW IT TURNED OUT THE SEVENTIETH TIME. THE HUMANS IN THAT PARADE ON THE SURFACE REALLY LIKED HOW IT TURNED OUT.”

The human sighs. *We agreed to use that power to just make your scarf … match your eyes. Even the others thought the … The human sighs again. *The Rainbow Shell Battle Body was a little too … derivative. 

“BUT WE NEED TO ANNOUNCE OUR INTENTIONS LOUDLY. THAT IS WHAT A TRUE HERO SHOULD DO. BESIDES, WE CAN ALWAYS RESET –”

*Papyrus …

“YES YES I KNOW.” You shake your head. “LOADS AND SAVES ARE FINE. RESETTING IS BAD. TRUE RESETTING IS EVEN WORSE.” You sigh, suddenly a little melancholy. “IF MY BROTHER COULD ONLY SEE THIS, HUMAN. I MEAN, HE CAN. BUT I KNOW JUST HOW MUCH HE LOOKED FOR THIS POWER. IT’S AS EASY AS JUMPING THROUGH UNDYNE’S GLASS PLATE WINDOW TO USE THE WASHROOM. IT COULD HAVE SAVED HIM SO MUCH PAIN …”

*Trust me, Papyrus. It would have only caused him more, in the long run …

“OH LOOK AT WHAT YOU’VE DONE, HUMAN. YOU’RE CAUSING ANOTHER NARRATIVE FLASHBACK –”

“IF THIS POWER IS SO DANGEROUS, AS YOU SAY BROTHER.” You confront Sans, with your hands on your hips just so he knows you mean business now. “THEN WHY IS IT OK FOR YOU TO HAVE IT? AND YOU TOO HUMAN, WHY IS IT OK FOR SANS TO HAVE IT?”

They tell him that Sans has had experience with Resets and other Timelines. They tell you that you have a different duty and destiny. But you know that, what they’re really saying, what even Undyne had been thinking with all of your private training, is that they see you as just too … innocent. 

But this is the point where you need to tell them what is what. 

“SANS. YOU HAVE 1 HP.”

“pap …”

“1 HP. 1 DEFENSE. 1 ATTACK. SANS, HUMAN, I CAN SEE THE TIMELINES A LITTLE MORE NOW. UNDYNE HAD DETERMINATION. ALL THOSE OTHERS. THEY MELTED. AND YOU HAVEN’T EVEN BEEN TRAINING. REALLY, IT SHOULD BE HIS MAJESTY AND MAYBE HIS … CLONE? HUH, THAT’S NEW. AS BOSS MONSTERS THEY MIGHT BE ABLE TO HANDLE THIS. BUT I CAN’T RISK THE ROYAL FAMILY, OR YOU.”

“pap. listen to me.  t h i s  i s  n o t  a  g a m e.” 

“D O N  ‘  T   Y O U   T H I N K   I   K N OW  T H A T ?” 

“stop it bro.”

“NOW YOU KNOW HOW I FEEL WHEN YOU MAKE YOUR PUNS.”

For the first time this entire evening, Sans actually smiles a bit. You smile too. 

“THERE. THAT’S THE FIRST REAL SMILE I’VE SEEN YOU HAVE IN A WHILE BROTHER.”

“pap … even with all that power. you’re still the same skele-ton of a brother.”

“SANS!” You scream at his bad pun and a nearby mountain threatens to explode from the power you just unwittingly unleashed. “OH. OH I SEE WHAT YOU MEAN ABOUT THE POWER.” You put your hands on his shoulders. “BROTHER, I SEE NOW HOW YOU’VE PROTECTED ME. BUT JUST FOR ONCE, JUST IN THIS RUN, LET ME BE THE ONE TO TAKE CARE OF YOU.”

“bro …” The two of you hug. Even without the power of the Soul, you know that you’ve won this argument. The only other issue now will be to talk to the human, and then His Majesty. But one thing bothers you. 

“SANS. AM I … REALLY THE SAME NOW?”

“well …” Sans looks away from you.

“SANS!”

“all right all right already.” He stares you with an expressionless look on his face. “pap.” He reaches up to put his hands on both sides of your ribs. “your eyes.”

“YES BROTHER?”

“they look … like alphys’ rainbow brite …”

You feel a powerful sensation course through your chest. It doesn’t take you long to realize it is complete and total joy. ‘THAT’S SO … BEAUTIFUL.”

“it’s a nice look on you, bro.” Sans looks at your chest. “hey, kid. i know you’re in there. please … take care of the big lug here for me. stay Determined, for him.” You don’t miss his eye-sockets turning dark. “or else.” 

“SANS THERE IS NO NEED FOR …”

*I understand Sans. I-I’m so sorry …

“forget about it.” Sans waves it off, the lights back in his eyes. “you believe in me, kid. and i believe in my bro. time i put my money where my mouth is, stuff it in my ribs, and let him be a hero.” He hugs you, the both of you, again. “and pap. take care of the kid too. they’re good people.” 

“I PROMISE SANS.”

“and … don’t turn the world into spaghetti …”

“OF COURSE I WON’T.” You say as you dash to a short-cut. “AFTER ALL, IT ALREADY IS, SANS. IT ALREADY IS …”

The flashbacks are almost done now. Well, that’s not true. Ever since you walked into the Palace and asked a flabbergasted Mr. Dremurr for the location of the other six human Souls over a nice cup of Golden Flower Tea, you can see the flashbacks and the code still being written as you continue on your journey as a unified being affecting multiple universes.

The first thing you did after getting a human Soul was bury the human’s body. The human told you not to: that you both have great work to do, but you know you have time. They told you that it is just a shell and that once you’ve finished your Quest, it won’t matter anymore as this timeline will be negated anyway. But you did it in any case. You told them to do it.

You control your body fifty-fifty, or whatever number since then after the funeral and getting your six other human Soul friends on board the Papyrus Express (you promised the human never to use that terminology again in reference to your unique situation and arrangement). You made the hole and encouraged the human to take their body and place it down. They looked so old and fragile. Tears coursed down your face, though the human claims they were only yours.

Maybe it was your imagination, but you can feel some of their guilt and regret lighten a bit. Sans was also helpful. He even placed one of his favourite whoopie cushions into the hole to keep the human’s body company.

You read the notebook that the human left Sans, but you realized you knew most of this stuff anyway. Then you said your farewells to everyone else. Then your hellos to new friends and places. Then you said farewells and more hellos. You even met Fun Values and took care of Gaster (you still have no idea why no one can generally remember him, his name isn’t that hard). And now, you have a plan. It’s something even the human doesn’t know about. Yet.

Papyrus Devious

*Some of the others don’t understand. The human tells you. *We had already traveled to the time of the War. We explored the days before that. We even came to the very beginning of Asgore and Toriel’s reign Underground. At any point, we could have changed it. We could have destroyed the Barrier, or made sure it never existed to begin with. 

“AND WHAT DO YOU THINK, HUMAN?”

You hear a pause. And it is a sound. Even before the power of the Seven Souls, you’ve always known that silence has a sound of its own. It actually sounds like thinking: which is exactly what the human is doing inside of you before they respond.

Undertale War

*I think that disrupting history might complicate matters. It could endanger whether or not some of you even exist, or possibly make it worse in the process. And … some of you are so … angry. There is another moment of loud thinking. *And rightfully so. We imprisoned you down there and letting you out so quickly, after all that, without explanation, would be too dangerous for both humans and Monsters. Good intentions, don’t always go to good places, Papyrus. 

“NO HUMAN.” You tell them. “THAT KIND OF CYNICISM IS A BAD ATTITUDE TO HAVE. GOOD INTENTIONS ARE, WELL, GOOD. BUT I THINK THAT YOU NEED TO HAVE SOME GOOD ACTIONS TO GO WITH THEM, YOU KNOW? LIKE A FINE RED JAM WITH SPAGHETTI.”

*It’s good to know godlike power hasn’t changed your lack of taste buds, the human’s voice can’t help but chuckle, for which you are glad.

“ALL RIGHT. LET ME EXPLAIN IT ANOTHER WAY.” You tell them, you tell all of them. “I TEND TO THINK OF EVERYTHING IN TERMS OF PASTA … AND PUZZLES.”

*We couldn’t have guessed.

“WELL YOU WERE PREOCCUPIED IN EVERY TIMELINE WE MET, SO YOU ARE FORGIVEN HUMAN. NO. JUST AS I HAVE ALWAYS ENDEAVOURED TO CREATE THE GREATEST OF CULINARY FEATS OF PASTA, SO TOO HAVE WE SOUGHT TO MAKE THE MOST CHALLENGING OF PUZZLES. IT IS OUR KIND’S TRADITION. PUZZLES PROTECT US, BUT THEY ALSO CHALLENGE US. THEY MAKE US TRAIN, AND THINK, AND GROW. AFTER ALL WE, BY NATURE, ARE THE ULTIMATE GAMERS!” You chuckle. “YOU SEE, HUMAN, THERE IS NOTHING FUN OR REWARDING ABOUT HAVING AN ANSWER HANDED TO YOU. PUZZLES CAN BE TOUGH, MUCH LIKE PASTA, BUT WHEN YOU GET TO THE SOFT CORE OF IT ON YOUR OWN MERIT, THAT IS WHERE THE REAL JOY LIES. BUT I, THE GREAT PAPYRUS, SEEK TO DO SOMETHING … DIFFERENT NOW.”

The human’s presence is slow and hesitant. *Does this have to do with the surprise that you’re planning, Papyrus.

“NYEH HEH HEHHH … HUMAN, YOU ARE MOST ASTUTE!” You have gained enough power and discipline, along with promises of personal privacy and common decency from the other Souls to pick up their soul-socks without having to write too many mental notes that you can keep some element of surprise in play for them. It’s more entertaining than being stuck in glass jars for years on end watching dust, or bashing your head against a temporal paradox one too many times.

“YOU HAVE ALWAYS BEEN EXCELLENT AT FOILING THE MOST DIABOLICAL OF MY PUZZLES, HUMAN. LET’S SEE IF YOU CAN SOLVE THIS ONE, THIS GREATEST MOST WORTHY MYSTERY, BEFORE I DO.”

Papyrus Foiled Again.

*Papyrus. We should really do what we set out to. We don’t know how … long your body will …

Before it turns into a mass of ooze. You were already aware of that. As you’ve already stated in your internal monologues beforehand, it seemed most likely that only Boss Monsters or Vessels like your lost flower friend could safely hold this much power before liquidating like one of Sans’ failed quiches. You don’t like to think about Undyne in so many of the timelines who, on her own merit, managed to find Determination: or the poor people that Alphys tried to help out.

“WE HAVE BEEN GOOD SO FAR. EVEN UNDYNE, AT HER WORST, LASTED A CONSIDERABLE AMOUNT OF TIME. AND THAT WAS WITHOUT A HUMAN SOUL. I HAVE ALL SEVEN OF YOU NOW. AND I FEEL … GREAT. AS IS MY NAME OF COURSE. BESIDES, THIS IS GOING TO BE OUR LAST STOP.”

*Papyrus, I made a promise to Sans. I won’t let you sacrifice yourself.

“AND I MADE A PROMISE TO SANS TOO, HUMAN. AND TO YOU.” You say. There is that loud quiet again inside of your merged Souls as you come to the closest rift: the one that you’ve been looking for. You marvel at this, one of your last journeys. Sans’ short-cuts are generally good, but limited to specific spaces and times and storage spaces for sleeping Gaster Blasters (while you only used them in the past to store your bones) whereas the Human’s Resets are linear in experience. Together, your journeys are winding and tangential. You make a good team. ‘AND HERE WE ARE. NEXT STOP FOR THE PAPYRUS EXPR –”

The collective groaning of your co-travelers is cut off by the sudden appearance of your current destination. It’s familiar to you, even though they aren’t necessarily your memories.

You are in the Underground again. Vast, ancient rumbling pillars surround you. You look up and see the hole of the mountain where humans can enter, but never leave. Somehow, though you don’t have lungs, you can feel the rest of your passengers holding their collective breaths: especially the human that was your first friend.

Where golden flowers should be growing are, instead, patches of hearty grass and dried dirt. Someone is lying on the ground.

Chara Has Fallen

They are wearing a green stripped sweater. Somehow, you know you have time before anyone else finds them.

Suddenly, one of your bones flies out from the short cut space where you keep them between training and duels. It’s your largest bone. Somehow the multi-coloured glow surrounding it is far less friendly than usual. The human lying on the ground looks up at you. They have paler skin and rosy cheeks. Long bangs of brown hair are plastered to their smudged face.

It’s like looking into a mirror, but it’s not you that’s looking — filled with rage and grief — and preparing to release your Special Attack.

“HUMAN.” You tell them. “PLEASE DESIST.”

Your human friend, controlling your Attack, does nothing. They aren’t listening. The human child opens their mouth. They scramble back, trying to find something: anything to defend themselves. But when all they find is dirt and grass, they lower their head. Then they look up at you again.

“Huh.” They say. Their eyes are distant and cold. “I didn’t know they had rainbow demons in hell.”

You don’t move. Neither does your Attack. But you find that you can still speak. “I AM AFRAID THAT YOU ARE NOT DECEASED. YOU ARE VERY MUCH ALIVE.”

*Not if I have anything to say about it!

“HUMAN, THAT’S ENOUGH.”

The human child in front of you looks up with some puzzlement. “What is …” They look up at the hovering bone. Then their face becomes expressionless again. “I see.”

You feel the other Souls wriggling inside of you. You realize that they are trying to stop your friend. But your friend was always so Determined. And now they are angry. They are screaming at them. At the child. At you in particular.

*Papyrus. Let me end this now. 

You shake your head. “NO HUMAN.”

*Papyrus. All of you. This is their fault. You are all here because of them. Let me kill them.

You shake your head again. Meanwhile, the child in front of you laughs. It is a cold, mirthless, dead sound. Even with the Seven Souls inside of you, even knowing how helpless they are, you can’t help but be disturbed by that sound.

“So that’s how it is.” The child says. “Well, I was going to do it anyway. Go on, Monster.”

*Let me kill them. They barely have enough LOVE yet. Hardly any EXP. If I kill them, I can end this. 

“HUMAN …”  You love the human, but you are not pleased with this development, even if if you should have expected it. This is their last chance.

“This world is cruel and vicious.” The child says. “It’s meaningless. I knew it was going to get me one day.”

*They made me kill Shyren while she sang. They made me kill my Mother after she made me pie. The Snowman kept screaming as they took him apart … as they laughed. And everyone … And Sans and … you. I’ll never forgive them. I’ll never …

The child sighs, as though bored of their incoming death. “It’s kill or be killed.”

That does it. “HUMAN, I AM DISAPPOINTED IN YOU. YOU ARE DOING EXACTLY TO ME WHAT THIS CHILD HERE DID TO ASRIEL.”

Suddenly, there is a surge of horror inside of you and your bone disappears.

*Oh … oh god. Papyrus I’m … oh no. It’s … it’s me.

“IT’S ALL RIGHT HUMAN.” You tell them, relaxing again, sending out some calming vibes to your friend inside of you. “DESPITE EVERYTHING, IT’S YOU.”

You urge the other Souls to comfort your friend as you turn your attention back to the child in front of you. They are completely still. If you didn’t know any better they might as well have been carved from the rock around you. You’ve chosen your words carefully. You are, after all now, a skeleton of great elocution.

“I AM THE GREAT PAPYRUS.” You tell them, towering over them. “I AM AFRAID THAT YOU WON’T REMEMBER ME BY THE TIME WE ARE DONE HERE. A LONG TIME AGO, YEARS FROM NOW, IN ANOTHER PLACE, IN ANOTHER LIFETIME, WHEN YOU BECAME SOMEONE ELSE, MY BROTHER ASKED YOU A QUESTION.

“DO YOU THINK EVEN THE WORST PERSON CAN CHANGE?”

The child stares up at you: completely and utterly dumbfounded. “What …”

You sigh and begin to pace, moving your hands around in a way reminiscent of Gaster. “THE HUMAN INSIDE OF ME TOLD ME ABOUT THE IMPLICATIONS OF LIFE AND IN PARTICULAR TIME TRAVEL. I ACTUALLY COMPARED IT TO PASTA AND PUZZLES. BUT MAYBE WHAT WE ARE REALLY DEALING WITH HERE, IS COOKING.

“YOU SEE, IF I DEALT WITH THIS THE WAY THE HUMAN WANTED TO, IT’D BE LIKE MY SPECIAL LESSONS WITH UNDYNE: MESSY, DESTRUCTIVE, AND ONLY FIRE WOULD LIVE HERE. UNDYNE IS A GREAT TEACHER, BUT THE STUDENT MUST EVENTUALLY SURPASS THE MASTER.

“BUT SPAGHETTI, YOU SEE, HAS TO BE AGED IN AN OAKEN CASKET. YOU HAVE TO TAKE TIME AND EXPERIMENT WITH IT. YOU HAVE TO BE PATIENT.  YOU HAVE TO, IN THE WORDS OF MY BROTHER, SHOW IT LOVE INSTEAD OF LOVE. YOU ARE IN LUCK. MY BROTHER. HE LIKES JOKES. BUT ME. I LOVE RIDDLES.”

“AND THIS IS WHERE I NEED YOUR HELP.”

The human gets to their feet. You wait until they get themselves composed. Those dead eyes flicker with something you’ve not seen before: a shimmer of uncertainty.

“YOU SEE, I PROMISED MY FRIEND HERE.” You point to your chest where your friend is now watching, tense, sad, but incredibly observant. “I PROMISED THEM TODAY THAT I WAS GOING TO SOLVE A MYSTERY INSTEAD OF CREATING ONE. I WAS PLANNING ON GIVING THEM A SURPRISE.

“AND I WILL GIVE YOU SOMETHING AS WELL.”

You loom over the child and open up your arms. The human inside of you starts screaming again, but the other Souls are gently holding them back, and reminding them that they trust you.

You walk up to the child. They actually flinch back, but they stop themselves as you are both at eye-level now. Before they can react, you stretch out your arms and wrap them around the child. The human inside you grows as silent as the child you are holding.

The child themselves stiffens in your arms. “What are you …”

You close your eyes and draw on the power of your friends inside you. You imagine using this power to break the Barrier in two. You take that power and you imagine a series of hard, brittle noodles. In this state, they cut the insides of people’s mouths. They could damage their stomachs going down. And when you squeezed them, they could so easily break.

But you know that when you put them in boiling water, something will happen. The noodles will grow. They will expand and soften. They will settle into the bottom of the pot and lengthen to the point of becoming completely and utterly expansive … and inclusive.

That is the armour around the child’s heart. You feel their eyes widen. But now you need to release them out of the pot. Out of the boiling water that coursing, unabated now, through their Soul.

“I DON’T KNOW WHAT THE OUTSIDE WORLD DID TO YOU, HUMAN. TO MAKE YOU FEEL THE WAY YOU DO, BUT I’M SORRY. I’M SO SORRY.”

Undertale Papyrus

You are burning with power now. It is coursing into the child’s mind and Soul: into their very being. The other Souls join in — including and especially your friend’s — and they soften the hard bits that are the child’s heart and conscience. They start to feel what you feel, what they feel. They get all of your friend’s memories. They feel the emotions and the pain of everyone they have touched: and everyone they haven’t even met yet. The child begins to shake violently: as hard as your friend’s Soul did that day above their aged body at Lesser Dog’s outpost.

“Wh-what I …” You gently let go of them. The child looks around. Then looks at you. Tears are streaming down their rosy cheeks. They put their shaking hands up to their face. “What is this?” they blubber. “What … what have I done? No … oh … oh god.”

The child wails. They fall onto their knees and puke. You rub their back gently as they scream. Years of pain and anguish experienced and inflicted rip out of them. The Souls inside of you are quiet as they realize what you have done. But then you hear the approach of footsteps from the Ruins and know that there isn’t much time left.

You whisper to the sobbing, convulsing child in front of you. “Remember. You can still be a better person.”

With that, you get up and walk behind a pillar. You watch as a young Boss Monster finds a crying, injured human child. You wait until the Monster takes the child and calls out for his parents.

Asriel and Chara

Then you step into a corner … and go into another shortcut.

You find yourselves back outside Snowdin: just out of Lesser Dog’s sentry post again. This time, however, the place seems more lived in: complete with even more sculptures than before. Your friend’s grave mound is no longer there.

*It’s funny. Your friend’s voice says through your head. *In some ways, I think what you did to them was far more cruel than simply killing them. Changing is painful. I remember that day, in the Ruins when you met me …

You walk towards the sentry house as you begin to release the other Souls out of your body: letting them dissipate out of you like a rainbow mist.

*That day I met my parents and my brother. I lived with what I did and tried to help them. When I died, the first time, I left. I told them I would come back one day.

The other Souls leave into the timeless space where all human and Monster Souls go when they are done. The world seems a little less vibrant now, but it’s replaced by a pleasant sort of tiredness.

*And I was told the story of the six other humans that found their way down here. Each one brought something new to New Home and Monsterkind. They were the children of the King and Queen, just as I was … Each generation would come until the Ambassador.

You smile.

Frisk the Ambassador

*The other six would leave their Souls with our parents and brother after showing Monsters that not all humans are bad.  And one with a strong Soul … will pass through the Barrier and help Monsters communicate with humanity and get a final voluntary Soul to free them. It’s amazing, Papyrus.

You feel your friend’s Soul relax and begin to rise out of your rib cage, out of your being.

*Even as a Soul, I can feel time expanding out, changing, like a noodle. My past is my future, and vice versa. I was the first. I remember being told about myself. I am also the last. I am not really here, am I? I … you are the real hero here Papyrus. Thank you … goodbye … 

“I DON’T ALLOW GOODBYES IN MY TOWN, HUMAN,” You say as a red light shines brilliantly and disappears. “SEE YOU LATER, MY FRIEND.”

Then you rest against the sentry post and go to sleep.

A little while later, someone nudges Papyrus.

“knock knock.”

Papyrus sighs, knowing there is no way around this. “WHO’S THERE?”

“doctor.”

“DOCTOR W — GAH! SANS! STOP WITH THE FREAKING PUNS!”

“well, someone had to wake you. seriously, bro.” Sans looks down at Papyrus with some concern. “i’m the one who sleeps around these here parts.”

“THAT’S FUNNY SANS. HEY. WHERE IS EVERYONE?”

“well … i don’t want to interrupt your rest six feet under, but …”

“SANS …”

“ok, well you know those humans you’re always looking for? well, prince asriel: he was in the ruins, at his sibling’s grave. and he found one.”

Papyrus folds his hands behind his head. “OH REALLY?”

“um. yeah. says they look just like the first kid. like his sibling. i … guess i see the resemblance. hey, what gives, pap?” Sans looks down at Papyrus quizzically. “i mean, uh, you’ve been looking forward to seeing a human for a while now. and what’s with the rainbow scarf getup?”

“WELL, PERHAPS THAT IS A MYSTERY FOR ANOTHER DAY. TO GIVE YOU SOMETHING TO LOOK FORWARD TO. AFTER ALL,” Papyrus winks, as he gets to his feet, dusting off the snow that accumulated on his knees. “NOT ALL OF US CAN BE THE LEGENDARY FARTMASTER.”

Sans looks at Papyrus. Papyrus grins back at Sans. Suddenly, they both begin to laugh.

Sans and Papyrus

“what did you do, pap?”

“MYSTERY, SANS.” The taller skeleton says, putting an arm around his brother’s shoulders. “AND I WANT TO GO SEE THE HUMAN. AFTER I MAKE US SOME EGGS.”

“eggs?”

Papyrus shrugs. “YES. FOR SOME REASON I WANT SOME SCRAMBLED EGGS. AND SOME CLOVER. AND … WELL, I GUESS THAT NOT EVEN I, THE GREAT PAPYRUS, CAN EXPLAIN EVERYTHING.”

Opposite of a Dog

Dedicated to Toby Fox’s Undertale. Warning: there be Spoilers here. Reader’s discretion is advised. 

You are at Lesser Dog’s sentry post. You’re tired now: resting your back against the crumbling shack, your legs covered in a thin blanket of snow. It almost matches the long grey hair that’s covered your gaunt, exhausted face.

A faint smile flickers at the corners of your mouth and eyes when you look at the toppled snow sculptures of the long-necked dog. It’s been a while since he was here, you think to yourself. If his kind have the same lifespans as their cousins on the Surface, then he hasn’t been here for a long time and any successor he had probably had a post somewhere else that you must have somehow missed on the way here. It’d certainly explain why no one touched the sculptures: out of a sense of love and respect. You somehow know they spread his dust around his creations. It’s sad, somehow it fills you with a rosy sense of sentimental Determination … just for a little while longer.

Undertale Lesser Dog Sculptures

Your arms are wrapped around your upper body: enveloping the frayed and tattered blue and purple sweater on your body with warmth. You hold an object against you, huddling it into your chest.

And you wait.

“hey.” a voice says, waking you up from another longer blink. “ice to see you.”

So he is still alive. Somehow, this doesn’t surprise you. In fact, you were hoping for it.

“heh.” Sans walks out of the snowfall with his hands in his jumper pockets. “wasn’t my best, i gotta say. but i’m still on human-watching duty, so … freeze!”

You chuckle, but it comes out as a coughing fit. Still the same old Sans … in all the ways that mattered. The snow crunches under his feet as he comes closer to you. Somehow, those empty eye-sockets seem to squint down at you. Sans always said that he’d learned how to read people’s faces, but it’s you that sees it takes him a while to realize who he is looking at.

“kid.” He says, simply. “so this is what you’ve been doing these past couple of years? i mean, uh, pap and i could’ve shown you how to make snow angels.”

You see some lights in his eye sockets and, if you didn’t know any better, you’d think the blue glow lifting you slightly off the ground, warming you, was another hallucination brought on by the cold.

You laugh again. It crackles a bit, but you aren’t doubled over this time. Even though Sans smiles, because he can’t do anything else, you can sense his intended frown.

“you leaving and not phoning us. i’ll admit: that was cold.” He says as he lowers you to the ground. “and it’s just, uh, icing on the cake to find you like this.”

If you didn’t already know that many of his puns and jokes were defense mechanisms more potent than what he really kept in reserve, the bead of sweat on his skull would have given away the fact that Sans is worried about you. As you feel your back gently land back in the snow, you know it’s time. Slowly, and with some effort, you uncurl your arms. Now that you’re trying to move again, they scream like a Nice Cream headache.

“hey.” Sans holds your arms and helps you move them apart. “what’s … that you got there, kid?”

Sans looks down and slowly pries the object out of your arms. You remember now. It’s an old, battered notebook. It’s ripped at the edges. Some of the papers had been ripped out but you’d found the missing pages and added new ones. Through the receding pain in your limbs, you manage to nod at Sans. The skeleton doesn’t ask if you if you want him to read it. You were never really much for small talk anyway. In fact, you were not much for any kind of talk at all. You know what you wrote in there. You’d written in it so much … and so many times that you know it all off by heart. You watch as Sans scans the first page of the notebook.

Hey Sans:

It’s not really a way to start off a diary. But this was never a diary to begin with. It was a Torn Notebook got it at Waterfall, from Gerson’s shop. It belonged to one of the humans that came here before me. They recorded some observations about the Underground and other things that I missed the first couple of times around. 

I’ve had a long time to think about this. I’ve had too much time to think about it, and do a lot about it. I think you know exactly what I mean. “let’s get to the point.” Right.

I’m a stupid doodoo butt.

I’m the legendary fartmaster.

Undertale Sans Password

Sans looks up at you as he found that passage. His eyes pierce your own. You now know that there is no turning back. He looks down, somehow closing his eyes, and he continues to read the pieced together notebook.

First, I’m going to tell you what happened this time around. After I met you in the great hall, I went to Asgore. I went to Asgore as I had many times before. I went there and he killed me. I went there and I killed him. I went there and Flowey betrayed and killed him. Sometimes he just killed himself. I went there and all of you interceded on my behalf. Toriel, the woman you trade puns with through the door to the Ruins — my Mom — saved me. 

But this time, I was going to do something different. I did my research in other Loads and Resets. I tried to find out as much about the other Souls — the other humans — as I could. I wanted to see how they died. Who killed them. I wanted to know if any of them just gave themselves up. 

Maybe you knew that. Maybe you even asked me about it and followed me. Perhaps you even helped me. But I can’t remember. There are too many variables and I can’t take items with me. Or Save them. 

Sans, I was going to give myself up. I’d do it myself and make sure that you didn’t break your promise to Toriel. I was going to give Asgore my Soul.

But I didn’t. I couldn’t.

Undertale Asgore

Asgore let me go: to take care of any business I left unfinished. I think we both hoped I would never come back. I was surprised that you didn’t stop me or ask me what was going on. Everyone else thought I got past him somehow. No one ever came looking for me in any case. But I thought you, of all people, would have seen me. 

Perhaps you did. 

“kid …”

Sans briefly glances at you again and it is all the confirmation that you need. You incline your neck. You want him to keep reading.

So I ran away. I hid like a coward. I went back to the Ruins and Mom took me back. She never asked me what happened this time around. Maybe she thought the responsibility was too much for me. It makes sense. No matter what I was capable of doing, I was still a child Sans. I was scared. Still, it’s no excuse for …

She taught me things, Sans. Mom taught me more than how to survive in the Ruins. In addition to collecting and cooking snails, I managed to learn a little more about the humans that came before me. What each of them did. You know, a little more than the impressions I had when I had to face them, or free them so many times before. More than the objects they left behind. 

Mom also taught me some magic. I’ll never be as skilled as the rest of you, of course, but I know how it works now: just enough for when it counts. Between her and the encounters I’ve had I’ve learned how to bare my Soul. I’ve read the murals and spent time in the Library, Sans. I talked with Alphys. I even saw the True Lab and what she made with good intentions. 

Good intentions … Souls … They say that a human soul can survive without love. A being can even survive without a Soul. But that’s not true, Sans. A Soul can exist without love. A being can function without a Soul. But that’s not the same as living. Trust me, Sans. I should know. 

Undertale Flowey the Flower

You see Sans stop turning the pages as something catches itself between them. The large petal is still golden yellow after all this time. You avert your eyes from it, even as you remember why you put in there this time around. It is to remind you. You are so much older now, and he was still there taunting you, threatening you and your loved ones, waiting for you to die … You couldn’t risk that happening again. Not to them. Not to him. Even so, Flowey hadn’t resisted when you came that last time. But even his relief will never wash that guilt away.

There was another being who could utilize Determination. He was a being that could Reset. In almost every timeline Flowey took advantage of Asgore and stole the Souls away from him. It was one of the reasons I left. If I had died and Flowey had gained all Seven Souls himself … But it was not ever about the power, even with him. He was lonely, and soulless. He didn’t deserve what happened to him. We knew each other too well, Sans. 

The problem talking with you about any of this is that, every time I try, I never know just how much you know or remember. At one point you showed me your workshop and its drawers. I know that you can keep items and notes in there from other timelines. Maybe that is how you remember. Perhaps you have some psychic ability, or you just read faces well in addition to that sense of deja vu that a few other people get when I come around again. I just don’t know. 

And it’s not really important. As for why I came back to the Ruins, many of the above reasons are true. But there is one more thing.

I was afraid.

Again, I don’t know how much you know. You and Papyrus came to Snowdin a while ago and that is all the information I could get on you. But maybe you were working in the Hotlands then. I still don’t know much about Gaster: aside that I am aware that you had some association with him, or some of the … inventions that he created. Even finding the scraps and echoes of his presence — in the “Fun Values” of existence itself — it took every inch of discipline that Toriel ingrained into me in other timelines in addition to my Determination. 

Undertale DT

I don’t even know if he was involved with Alphys’ studies into the Human Soul but I know enough to realize that he could study timelines, perhaps much like you if you examine the graphs I pasted next to this entry. 

If you didn’t have Sans’ attention before, you know that you got it now. His eyes are definitely glowing and you can see his bony fingers shaking. And you know what’s coming next. You know what might happen.

Darkness. Darker and darker still … I didn’t want to admit it. It all began one day, after Mom kept me from leaving the Ruins. I ran upstairs, terrified from our first encounter, and lay down in my bed. That was when the memories started. But that’s not true. They started before, right after I fell. I saw the tapes in the True Lab. I heard about them at the Capital. I saw their clothes and their toys. 

I heard their voice in some isolated Echo Flowers. We even wore similar striped shirts. And we both fell through Mount Ebott. We even have … had the same colour Soul. And how could I read the Monster language on the murals and in the Library without having learned it from somewhere? There were times, Sans. It’s not so much a voice, at least not anymore. But it was a series of feelings and memories that weren’t my own. Most of the time they were impulses. I was so scared when I first came here. It seemed like everything was trying to kill me: to take my Soul. I thought everyone was like Flowey. Pretending to be nice, but biding their time … 

“It’s kill or be killed …”

Undertale Mirror

“kid.” Sans is shaking more than you are now. “that’s not possible. it can’t be …”

You shake your head violently. He needs to see this. He needs to understand and read on.

Sans puts the book down and his eye sockets are dark. “no.”

You look up at him. Your eyes start to blur. Your eyes are wide and pleading silently with him. You’re begging him to keep going. Sans regards you for a few moments, judging you much in the way that he did back in that palace hallway so many decades ago, so many different timelines ago. Your friend, your judge, your enemy continues to read the direction where your thoughts are headed.

Alphys never determined, if you’ll pardon the pun, what happens to a Human Soul when a Monster doesn’t claim it. She also didn’t determine what happens when a Monster carrying that Soul dies. Where does that Soul go, Sans? What does it do? Does it linger on the Earth forever? Does it move on? Or is it a cycle? Like a Reset. When Asriel died so many years ago, when he turned into dust, just what happened to Chara’s Soul? 

How is it possible to have two sets of memories? How it is possible for one set and its feelings and impulses to grow over your own? I thought they were a parasite or a demon. Perhaps a vengeful ghost buried in the flowers. I thought they were outside of me. But those early days, when I was first here, I fed them. I gave them what they wanted so I could survive. 

And when I was done, when they were done, I Reset and … the darkness, Sans. That’s why I really left. No matter how many times I Reset, or Load it’s there. Waiting for me. It eats at me, Sans. It chips away at what experience, what life I had, and I just couldn’t … I didn’t know if I could keep it at bay. I still don’t know … if I can keep it, from keeping myself, from killing everyone. Again. 

Undertale Chara's Deaths

You can’t even look at him. Tears flow down your withered cheeks. Sans is glaring into you now. And you can see it. Even through your blurry eyes what you’ve been building up to has finally happened. Sans has dropped the notebook completely. Only one of his eyes is glowing now. It glows with a luminescent cyan and baleful yellow. You remember that energy well. It haunted your nightmares for years. And now he remembers … now he knows too …

Sans glares down at you. “you dirty brother killer.”

You squeeze your eyes shut and turn away from him in shame. Those four words hurt you more than any bone, or Gaster Blaster ever could. But maybe now it will be easier. Perhaps now you can do what you set out to this time. Maybe you can finish what you’ve started.

“i should kill you.” Sans says. “i always felt something was off, with you. to think everyone, to think pap misses something like you. i can’t believe i didn’t see it at the palace. you looked so innocent. so determined. you’re disgusting. i wish didn’t make the old lady that promise.”

“Please.” You manage to say.

Sans pauses for a few moments. “please? please what?” Then you see understanding dawn in his expression. “you mean, you want to die?”

The skeleton is silent. He is looking at you, looking right into you. It is his judgment in the palace all over again: except this time with all of the facts. Just as suddenly, however, Sans’ eyes are back. He shakes his head, slowly, and then shrugs his shoulders.

“you know what? no.” He says. “i’m not going to do it. you know why, buddy? you’re just going to reset anyway, right?”

Undertale Sans Meglovania

“No.” You say, quietly. “I …” your voice is hoarse and quiet from disuse. “I don’t want to Reset anymore.”

“quit jossing me.” Sans’ grin is manic, angry. “what? you think this elderly shtick is going to make me feel sorry for you? you think letting yourself get all wrinkled and grey is going to get me into your sick little routine? no. i’m not giving you what you want.”

Sans picks up your notebook. “you chose the darkness. you even said it’s a part of you. you’re the one that dropped the ball, buddy. the moment you gave into it, you deserved everything you got. the only reason you’re pulling this guilt and remorse thing is so that you can save yourself. so i can put you out of your misery. and even if i wanted to, and i don’t, it won’t even work. you’ll just come back. but that’s fine. i’ll tell you what buddy.

“i’m going to take this here notebook and, uh, put it in my drawer. i’m going to read it. and when that darkness takes you again, because you’re weak and you’ll do it, i’ll be ready for you. i’ll use what i find in here to give you a bad time. i’ll use it to hurt you. but death? nah, kid. that’s too good for a brother killer like you.”

“… you’re right.” You say. “I am a brother killer.” You let the sins of other timelines and other lives crawl down your back. “I killed mine too. I’m glad you will never have to know what that feels like.”

Sans’ eye burns into you. “live with it or just don’t come back. it’s not our problem.” He starts to turn away.

“You can stop me from Resetting.”

Sans stops. You start coughing again. They are hard, raucous spasms. A minute of the sound goes by before you get your breath back.

“You can stop me from using the Reset. Forever.” You repeat. “You’ve read this far.” You tell him. “I know you want to stop me. Please. Finish reading. I … it will save us … save you time.”

Sans stands there with your notebook in his hands. Finally, he shrugs his shoulders again. “well, i guess we both, uh, got some time to kill, huh.”

You watch as Sans flips through more pages. They are diagrams of the different coloured hearts, the Souls currently in Asgore’s collection. You placed it right next to your findings and theories about Souls and your current predicament.

Undertale Asgore and the Six Human Souls

I’ve realized that the Reset is not always a conscious force on my part. I’m not even sure that Chara themselves is responsible for it. I recall Flowey’s observations, when he told me about how close to death he was once. There was a will, a struggle to survive, to live, to exist. I think that Determination is just another aspect of self-preservation. It’s inherent in everyone: Human, Monster … Plant. 

I could die, I have died a thousand times, but something, sheer animal instinct perhaps, will always bring me back: and specifically bring me back here to the Underground. I can’t end myself. I can’t stay dead. I’m too weak, Sans. 

But I think I know what I have to do now. It has, ironically, taken time Sans. I gathered all the information here into this book: taken from the Purple Soul who had it before me, the murals, the Library, Alphys’ notes, transcripts of your timeline graphs, my own recollections and interactions. All of it. 

The final reason that I ran from Asgore was partly for this purpose, and also out of pure selfishness. It never occurred to me before to live out my life down here. I needed more lived experience, more knowledge, and a sturdier sense of reality. But I also wanted to spend more time with my Mom, before … She doesn’t know Sans. I mean, she knew I had to leave again. I’ve lived a long life, for someone of my kind. I sharpened my mind and my will, and I let my body age. I robbed that other part of me of almost any other tool or weapon to get to this point. 

But I am getting older and Mom doesn’t age like most people. I just couldn’t do that to her. I don’t want her to see me like this. But I’ve had my time, Sans. I’ve had more than my time. I took all of yours. I mentioned good intentions earlier. And even in staying away from Asgore, I’ve only allowed the Underground to suffer. I can see the decline in birthrates and the stagnation setting in. I abandoned you. But I won’t turn away from this final task. 

I regret what I’ve done with my Resets, with all the people I’ve hurt through my actions and inaction. There is one thing I need you to do now. I think you already know what it is. I still can’t surrender myself to Asgore. We both know that he can’t handle this burden. No one else can. I’ve seen what that kind of power does to a Monster, or something close to it. 

I know you don’t like to work Sans. You pride yourself on your laziness if I can still say so. But you know, or you can view the timelines. You are aware of the SAVE state, of LOADING, of the RESET and the TRUE RESET. You are already a master of spatial travel. And you have the will. All you need is time now. And I have honed myself to the point where I can help you do what needs to be done. 

You know what to do, Sans. You know how to end this.

You can’t afford not to care. 

Undertale Sans Lab

Sans closes the notebook. You look up at him, silently pleading, knowing that he has now seen everything. You await his decision. Sans shakes his head.

“it’s not fair.” He says. “taking your time travel and using my own jibes back at me before i even make ’em. heh, you really are a class act. you know that?” His shoulders slump. “the sad thing is, i can tell you really mean it. you did some shitty things, killing us and taking our future away, but i can see it. you’re tired. but i’m tired too. and, uh, no offense, but after everything i really don’t want that soul of yours in me.”

You know this is your last chance. Sans is on that brink. You just need to hit home your point now. You dive deep into what strength you have left.

“Think of the timelines.” You say, your voice quavering. “Think about Monsterkind.

“Think about Papyrus.”

Undertale Papyrus

You lay your head back in the snow. That’s it. That is everything you can say to him now. The pain in your limbs is becoming more distant: just another set of memories that aren’t your own. You hear Sans’ footsteps crunch near your head. You focus your eyes and look up at him.

“you really want to die, don’t you.”

“This …” you cough for a long time. “This was never … about me … Sans. I read.” You force the cold air into your lungs. “I know the Prophecy. I was just a kid that never even knew how to make a snow angel.”

“… dammit.” Sans crouches down near you. “kid …”

You start shaking. Sans’ hand is on your head. “kid!”

It’s almost time now. The feeling is almost unbearable. You moan and writhe as you will the sensation out. You can feel Sans’ blue magic enveloping you.

“it’s ok, buddy. i’ll get us to snowdin and …”

You push up your sleeves. The pinpricks that are Sans’ eyes seem to shrink in horror. “kid, what did you do …”

“Too late. I … prepared. Before this.” The red through your cut wrists contrasts against the white around you. “I had years of practice …”

“no.” You can feel Sans’ magic attempting to knit your flesh together, but your body is too old and it would take Sans time to move you and potentially cause you more injury. “don’t do this …”

“Don’t worry.” You say, trying to lighten the mood. “It’s all right. If it makes you feel any better … it’s like my Soul … it tastes just like ketchup.”

Undertale Heart

“… t h a t ‘ s  n o t  f u n n y.”

“No.” You shudder. “I don’t … suppose it is. I’m … sorry. I’m sorry for everything.”

You can’t make out Sans’ face now, but there seems to be something running out of his blurry sockets. “it’s … it’s ok buddy. just hold on … no …”

You feel the warmth of your Soul rise up. Everything is red. It’s redder than your own blood. It is bathing the white around you in vitality. Your pain is gone now. The darkness of lifetimes is finally gone. You feel at peace.

“Sans …” You say. You find his finger bones clutching your hands. “Promise me … please … take my Soul. Take the others that Asgore has. End this. I … I believe in you.”

“buddy …”

You look up and see the dog sculptures: some spiraling out of themselves, or deep into the ground. Others broken and crumbling. Still more are left unfinished. It’s somehow fitting: that it would all end here. Another thought occurs to you.

“Hey … Sans …”

The bony hands hold yours tighter. “what is it, kid?”

“… I have a joke for you.” The crimson of the floating heart of your Soul envelops the both of you now, but you are still looking at the sculptures. “What do you become when you spell a dog backwards?”

Sans pauses, tears coursing down his eye sockets. “i don’t know, kid. what do you become?”

Undertale Lesser Dog

But you are already gone.

Sans looks at the old human, who had once been a child, lying there in front of him. All that is left of them is their Soul … and a smile on their face. Slowly, tenderly, the skeleton closes their eyes.

He stares at the human Soul floating above their chest. He thinks about the timelines, and his friends. And Papyrus. He thinks about himself. Sans exhales the invisible knot of grief and pain that had somehow been in the centre of his fleshless rib cage.

And then: Sans understands.

“heh.” he says. “i get it now.” He regards the red Soul. “still not funny.”

Then he slowly shakes his head.

“eh.” he sighs, reaching one hand towards the Soul. “just how much can i still afford to care.”

SAVE FAILED

Dedicated to Toby Fox’s Undertale. There be Spoilers here. Do not say that you were not warned.

I’m not sure when it happened. Sometimes I forget … sometimes …

Yes. Recording. I don’t know how much time I have left. Or there’s too much time … to contemplate what happened. I’d reached Entry 17 of my Scientific Journal. I hope that you both found it in my attachment.

I remember now. I was examining the Souls. The Barrier was created around us: sealing us Underground with the power of human magic. There are two schools of thought on this matter: first, that humans only gained power through the consumption of Boss Monster Souls that exist longer than those of most Monsters. However, there have historically been few Boss Monsters among our kind and even they do not last as long as Human Souls.

Human Souls are energy sources that utilize a power known as Determination. Alphys, or perhaps you — Sans — will come up with this label. It makes sense that if the apex of Monsterkind can gift Humans with power, that any Human Soul grants us a far greater measure of possibility.

Undertale DT

I made plans for a DT Extractor, but I fear that won’t nearly be enough. But I have made a machine that allows me to utilize this energy in a limited capacity. I didn’t want to use the Souls themselves — that power was to be for His Majesty — but I distilled enough energy through the matrices to view the time lines: to see what possibilities there are to escape from the Barrier’s properties.

Through my machine, I was able to find the underlying codes and variables of reality. During the War, it was said that the Humans were able to cancel out previous actions, or come back from death itself. Some could even change events entirely and … confuse the memories of others. A truly terrifying, and magnificent power if there ever was one. One common theme in my research into the matter was that this Human SAVE function created a node in reality: a place that intersected between psionic, spiritual and geomantic dimensions. Essentially, a SAVE is a spot in the land itself created by the power of Determination.

I realized that seeing the timelines, and then the codes of existence — the “fun values” — was the first step. The second would be to observe and eventually manipulate said values. Eventually, if taken towards its inevitable conclusion, one could theoretically create a RESET: that same power that took victory away from us time and again: leaving all but a few without memory of our past achievements in the War and perhaps even the deaths of other Boss Monsters for Human ends. Truly, a distressing concept.

With a RESET, we wouldn’t even need to circumvent the Barrier with the correct number of Human Souls. Rather, we would restart reality itself and change history. We could rewrite the War. We could have made it so that the Humans had never won. Or perhaps that the elements that began the War never occurred. We could have made it so that we had never been imprisoned to begin with.

But before that final phase in our potential endeavours, there was the third phase: the SAVE function. This would be essential in case anything should go wrong. In fact, SAVING would be valuable in and of itself. Aside from the potential therapeutic qualities of spontaneous regeneration more potent than even healing magic, imagine if anything should happen to the Underground: if there were a calamity of some kind such as a sickness or even an invader that our magic isn’t capable of halting. The ability to LOAD from the SAVE would allow all denizens of the Underground to survive. Perhaps, over time, we could even begin to slowly and gradually absorb the powers of Determination from our SAVE points. If not in our generation, then certainly in further and future generations we had the potential to develop that power and free ourselves altogether. Certainly, learning from our previous mistakes and memories would only bolster our potential as a species.

The possibilities are endless. But so are the tribulations.

You couldn’t conceive of what I saw. When I extracted that small amount of Determination into my machine, I saw all the building blocks of life, space, and time. All of the possibilities. Well, that isn’t true. Sans, you know exactly what I’m talking about even now. The experience was greater than anything else I’d ever achieved: more than my Blasters, even more than utilizing the geothermal power of the Earth to create the Core seemed minuscule compared to this. Even so, the work that led to the Core, miniaturized, was just the first step in utilizing geomantic energy to make our first SAVE point.

I think you know the first mistake by now, you two. The darkness I warned you about earlier. There was … there is an anomaly. I can’t account for it. It threatens all the timelines. I’ll admit: it terrified me. That was when I knew. The Barrier was petty compared to the threat of this cosmological aberration. I had to make that SAVE. I had to override reality to save us all.

I should have spent more time … but that’s exactly what I have now. More time. Yes. I said that already. I accessed the fun values. I attempted to change them. I tried to focus the machine’s Determination energy into one area and then I SAVED.

It didn’t work.

I didn’t unify in one place as I know I should have. Instead, I felt my body, and my being, spreading thin … disintegrating … I scattered everywhere. I’m data in the Core. I’m a child who should have died. I am a man who, in another time, decided to walk away from a Spider Bake Sale. Or I’m a face from the ground talking about myself, listening to everything …

I’m right behind someone. I’m sailing down a river? And I’m in a grey version of a room that I changed with tainted SAVE data. Use it to store anything. Not even a RESET will erase the matter in there. Not even the broken machine …

Undertale Sans Lab

But there is, there was some strange creature in front of me … Perhaps that is the anomaly? I was so focused on understanding it, on stopping it.

But there is a difference between Determination and obsession.

My friends, I don’t know how coherent I’m going to remain. I don’t even know if I’m talking to you in one timeline, or another. Or all of them. But you are all in danger. The Darkness will come from either outside, or within … Don’t listen to the Flowers. Beware the Child … I don’t understand … I’m everything, I’m …

Sans. Papyrus … I’m you. I’m will try to find a way to find you. Take care, my … take … Stay determined. Stay Determined … stay de-terminated … deter … mine …

….

Treat or Trap: Toby Fox’s Undertale

In honour of Halloween, tonight’s quick and dirty Mythic Bios article will be a video game review appropriate to the season at hand.

It is a fine game to play on an autumn afternoon or Halloween night. Imagine taking Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are and combining it with Abby Howard’s The Last Halloween, apparently some Earthbound and some subversive turn-based RPG mechanics and what you might get is Toby Fox’s Undertale. And this description doesn’t do the game any justice.

Undertale

In Undertale, you play as a child who has climbed up Mount Ebott and found themselves in the Underground: the site of which the race of monsters was banished ages ago in an ancient war with humankind. Now, there are two ways you can play this game. However before I go on, I want to reiterate something. A long time ago, I mentioned that a friend of mine truly appreciates “games with consequences.”

So imagine the phrase “games with consequences” existing in a Dictionary somewhere. If you can do that, think of the picture right beside the entry. That picture would be Undertale.

The first way you can play this game is to utilize one of its unique mechanics. This Path is called the Pacifist Run. That’s right. You can play through the game by killing absolutely no one. But what fun is that, you might ask? Well, imagine a child’s world. Think of a child coming across an Underground world of monsters: each one with their own hopes, dreams, and fears. Consider how scared children can be, but also how curious they often become, and then think about how they might handle a situation with a strange and eccentric being compared to how an adult might — or might not — do so.

Ironically, in a lot of ways the Pacifist route is a lot harder than its … opposite. But if you play it right: if you get to know the monsters and realize they are not different from you — and if you pay very close attention to details — you will be well rewarded.

And then you have the other … route. The alternative isn’t that hard to figure out if you are a long-time gamer. Basically, when you encounter monsters you consider them enemies and you essentially kill them all. You kill them and take their EXP. You level up. You will also learn a lot about this world, but your lessons — for all the ease of killing and staying to the tried, tested, and true mentality of being a gamer — will ultimately be harder ones.

It might be all the difference between an epic fantasy adventure … and a personal horror game.

I’m not going to go into much more detail beyond any of this, I’m afraid. To be honest, I’m just not feeling it. Toby Fox and his team create an excellent archetypal world of almost cartoonish beings, but with a lot of heart and serious subject matter amid some silliness verging into the profound. Also … they play with the form of the medium and genres that they are working with: a lot.

I really appreciate the story and the surface level simpleness of the game belying its true complexities. It is a game filled, literally, with heart but also secrets, and mysteries: some of which have still not even been solved to this very day. The music and graphics hearken back to the 8-bit nostalgia prevalent in much of the independent game scene.

But if I had one major quibble with Undertale, it’s ironically with the core of what it is: that actions have consequences. I will tell you right now: as with real life, if you are not at all careful your actions will leave a permanent mark on your gaming experience. And no amount of Saving or Restarting will ever change this. In fact, you can count on Saving or Restarting to have consequences of their own.

It is amazing to see a game that is so moralistic to the point of being both forgiving at times, and completely unforgiving: while also not being particularly all that preachy. Sometimes, it will give you just a few opportunities to see something wonderful but if you’re slow or you don’t pay attention, you will miss it. Yet what’s worse is that you will not get the entire story through one playthrough. It’s just not possible. You will miss details if you only have one playthrough. But the Catch 22 of another playthrough is, well that …

Consequences will be on you.

I’m just going to say this: this game is a self-aware completionist’s bane. Perhaps the best way to explain this without spoilers is to talk about two other games. Gaming Pixie created her own RPG: She Who Fights Monsters. At the very end, depending on your choices — even those made in the blink of an eye — and how much you pay attention to details, you will have only a few chances to get a particular ending. Your actions will colour what you get.

At the same time, there is also the lesson inherent in Gaming Pixie’s Shadow of a Soul. Sometimes, the only way to play a game is to not play that particular game at all. Either way, I hope that you will play Toby Fox’s Undertale and that no matter what you do you will stay determined.