Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Undertale's No Mercy Let's Plays

So, for this and any future Undertale rant, I’m just gonna go on the assumption that you know most of the important lore and details of Undertale, have played the game through to its end on at least one path, and that I don’t have to censor myself of spoiler material. Fair warning.

Oh, and get ready for the heaviest load of Taking A Game Too Seriously that you’ve ever seen. Seriously, hardcore Trekkies would say, “Dude, you know this isn’t real, right?” That’s how bad this is. I mean, this rant is basically me seriously engaging in an argument with a fictional character. If you're okay with seeing just how deep the rabbit hole of Utter Pointlessness goes, though, then by all means, continue reading to watch me fall to its very bottom, and then dig that rabbit a new basement.

On with the rant!

It’s okay to watch a Let’s Play of Undertale’s No Mercy path (also known as the Genocide path), rather than play it yourself. You don’t need to feel the lesser for it.

For anyone not in the know, towards the end of a No Mercy playthrough of Undertale (as in, a playthrough in which you intentionally and systematically kill absolutely every last individual that you possibly can), Flowey starts appearing sporadically as you walk through Asgore’s castle to fill you in on some of the game’s interesting lore, most of it specifically related to him. There is a point at which he states, while speaking about how liberating it is to just freely murder those around oneself,

“At least we’re better than those sickos that stand around and WATCH it happen...
Those pathetic people that want to see it, but are too weak to do it themselves.
I bet someone like that’s watching right now, aren’t they...?”

It’s a line that probably just seems like an odd bit of dialogue that means nothing in particular to someone actually playing the game, but to someone who’s watching the No Mercy run via someone else’s gaming video, it’s pretty damn obvious that Flowey is calling him or her out. I gotta hand it to Toby Fox, creator of Undertale: the guy really does think of everything. I saw that line, and I slammed my fist onto my desk because DAMN IT, EVEN THROUGH YOUTUBE FLOWEY MANAGES TO FUCK MY SHIT UP! I swear to Thanatos I hate that little dandelion asshole so damn much!

Ahem. So, here’s the thing. I find this little “Gotcha!” moment amusing and clever, to be sure, and I admire Mr. Fox for being sharp. But I don’t actually feel bad about watching a Let’s Play instead of playing through the No Mercy run myself. And I don’t think anyone else should feel bad, either.

First of all, consider the source of this criticism. I may be being told that I’m no better for watching rather than doing, and in fact that I’m actually worse for it, but...I’m being told this by Flowey. This guy is not exactly the mouthpiece of all that is just and righteous, now, is he? It’s like being rebuked about something by Suikoden 2’s Luca Blight, or Earthbound and Mother 3’s Porky. If Emperor Palpatine started lecturing you sanctimoniously about what was and wasn’t polite, how much attention would you pay to him, really?

But let’s consider the possibility that Flowey is more than just Flowey when he says this. Let’s say that this is meant, as is often the case with lines by Flowey and some by Sans, to be a direct message from the game to you. We’ll say that this rebuke is from the game, and Toby Fox himself, simply delivered through the mouthpiece of an obnoxious little bundle of tea ingredients. Do I feel a little chastised, now that the source of the reprimand is legitimate?

Still no.

See, here’s the thing. You can call it cowardice, sure. I did sate my curiosity about certain events of the No Mercy run, while being too cowardly to make them happen myself.* My reason for watching the Let’s Play was really more about learning the lore that only comes up in the No Mercy path, than “just seeing what happens,” so maybe I’m not even the real target of this line, but let’s say I am. You can call it cowardice. But it’s not equally bad to doing the act myself. Because drawing on the knowledge and experience of others who have done wrong helps us to avoid doing wrong ourselves. It is a GOOD thing to sate your curiosity in simulation rather than in practice. Reading others’ accounts of how it feels to commit wrong helps us to understand the criminal mind, which gives us the knowledge to recognize warning signs of potential criminal acts, and to better track down those who have perpetrated such deeds. It helps us to understand how terrible war is, so that we know better than to hastily wage it without just cause and no alternatives, and seek to bring its end about as quickly as possible. It helps us to find empathy with those who have done wrong, so that we can learn how to understand and help them to become better.

We learn best from mistakes. But they don’t have to be our own. When one commits a mistake to public record, it is for the benefit of all to learn it, to lessen how many times it must be repeated. I think it’s reasonable to say that the No Mercy playthrough of Undertale is “bad.” I would feel guilty (sick, really) if I did it myself. And if no one ever did, I still wouldn’t do it, even at the expense of not knowing what happened within it. But some people have played the No Mercy run of Undertale, and they’ve posted their experience online, and I’ll watch it, and satisfy my curiosity, and I won’t feel any less for it. Regardless of what Flowey’s incomplete and unexamined philosophy on the matter may be, there’s no shame in the knowledge of evil passed on by another, only in the knowledge of evil gained through experience.

Sorry, Flowey, but I’m not gonna feel bad about NOT killing people.

* I personally would call it simply loving the characters too much to commit harm against them myself, though. Of course, that opens up a whole new can of worms about what difference that makes, whether I’m a hypocrite for it, and so on. Oh well.


  1. Interesting take on this. I admittedly haven't played this game yet - my youngest has been asking me about it regularly and I know it has gotten rave reviews, but it did not pique my interest personally yet. Still, I enjoyed this take on your Undertale experience.

    1. Always nice to see a comment from you, sir. I'm glad you're entertained, but you totally should play it through yourself, too.

  2. I agree with the conclusion for this rant about how there shouldn't be any shame or guilt in watching someone else performing the genocide run , but not with (some of) the reasoning. If a villain that commits bad deeds scolds you for doing something bad, then wouldn't that emphasise how bad whatever you're doing is (well, that's how it would be for me at least)?

    On another topic, the most recent Nintendo Direct seemed to be mostly RPG-centric (with the announcement of both Dragon Quest games, Xenoblade X and maybe Cloud being in SSB4 would count as well since he's from an RPG...). Did you have any thoughts for the presentation in particular?

    1. I dunno, I get what you're saying, but a villain (usually) is at a point where their moral compass is screwy, so I really don't know how much you could trust them even in the case of them saying you're doing something worse. I guess it depends on how sane and rational the villain is...if, say, Van Grants or Fou-Lu were to reprimand me, I would take note, because their villainy comes from a rational, thoughtful source and they are as thoughtful and in control of their minds as any other individual--your clashes with them are born of separate ideologies and their extreme methods. But Flowey's a very unbalanced, disturbed individual. He can pretend to some basic rationality and certainly arguments can be made for his unpleasant philosophy, but he's still a villain who is partially mad, and who was emotionally unhealthy even back when he was in control of his mind. So while yes, your point stands in the case of villains whose rationality can be trusted to some degree, like the examples I mentioned, a villain like Flowey is more in line with ones like Sephiroth and Geldoblame: not totally batshit crazy, but nowhere even near mentally functional enough to be trusted.

      I didn't actually catch the presentation. I did hear about Cloud being added to Smash, though. No strong feelings on that; I think it's kind of cool, but there are so many more worthy SquareEnix characters than him for the position that I can't really get too into it. It's clearly just more hype about that FF7 remake thing. What DOES interest me is that SquareEnix is playing ball with Nintendo in a Smash game at all...could this mean that we might finally see Geno take his rightful place in Smash now?

  3. Another take on that line of dialogue is to look at the contextual elements that surround it: Flowey is the game's antagonist, but he is also in the similar power situation as the player. Formerly having the power to save & load games, having at 1st played the hero, but out of ennui choosing every possible option, a big motivating factor as a villain is your appearance into the game resulted in his losing his 'player powers'.

    Flowey doesn't generally feel anything due to the lack of a soul (or no hormonal responses) but under 2 circumstances this changes. A) Acquiring his old body back in the pacifist confrontation B) Fearing for his existence in the Genocide play-through. It is in this 2nd situation where the line comes up, as a means of trying to connect to Chara/the player by attempting to focus mutual disdain for an other.

    Taking it a step further the line also serves to justify your & Flowey's morally terrible actions due to the lack of consequences. Sparing Flowey in the neutral endings has him aid you toward getting the pacifist ending, implying that Asriel's conscience isn't completely gone which provides a necessity for said justification in the 1st place. The truly Amoral don't feel a need to justify their actions.

    Why mention all this? Because most author to audience lines tend to be out of character for the agent delivering them, which is what makes them debatable if they should even be paid attention to (especially if you believe "the author is dead"). In this case Flowey's chastisement of play through watchers is just as in character and equally as valid as his ragging you for killing random encounters in the ruins: If you feel bad for characters within a video game dying for you own ends, then you should also feel bad when you experience the rewards of other people killing said video game characters, you're still complicit in their virtual deaths.

    That said, I don't feel bad about either. The Genocide run is my favorite run, partially because I'm a Bullet Hell fan, and the Sans fight is AWESOME. But really I feel that Undertale should be Chara's story, a story that is very much a classical tragedy about revenge and the cycle of violence. Frisk is a nice guy and all, but in my opinion, Chara's genocide route is the true story of Undertale.

    1. An interesting and thoughtful insight; thank you for sharing it! You should write a guest rant!

      I would note, as an irrelevant aside, that Flowey's aiding you to getting the Pacifist ending thanks to your sparing him in the Neutral run, though, is not necessarily a case of his conscience at all. It absolutely COULD be, sure, but it could also just as easily be Flowey feeding you a line in an attempt to lure Frisk and company into the trap that he sets at the Pacifist run's conclusion. having determined during the Neutral run that he needs more than just the human souls to overcome Frisk.

      ...We disagree on which route is the true story of Undertale, though. Greatly.

  4. I haven't played Undertale yet but I had herd that it actively discourages replaying the game and in a game with multiple paths and endings, that doesn't really make much sense from a design stand point. Is that true?

    1. Uh...well, I suppose that technically, that's true...if you play through the game on the Pacifist path and get the True Ending, there's a word of discouragement for you if you're interested in playing through again. What you have to understand, though, is that this is, in-game, very true and fitting, and that Undertale fully intends to subvert and modify your preconceived understanding of replay value and multiple endings in a game. On paper, you're right, this doesn't make much sense for a video game--but Undertale offers a very different perspective than the one we're used to as players. So yes, what you say is true, but it's also true that Undertale's deconstruction of RPG convention means that it's not the design flaw that it would be for virtually any other game, if that makes any sense.

    2. I see though also heard that if you complete a No mercy route you are forever locked out of ever obtaining the True ending which is probably overly harsh even for a deconstruction.

      Also the annual list is coming up and I should point you to Tales of Zesteria where we have a person fighting with PAPER and two others fighting with pendulums (like a whip). There are in-universe explanations for why they do this but still.

      Tales of Zesteria is pretty sloppy in general. When it's good it's good but it also has problems with not following up on plots and an overall lack of character development.

      The most obvious problem would be Rose though as she is a pure hearted assassin who only target evil people in a world where malevolence causes people to turn into monsters. The assassin angle really isn't explored or even used much outside of a few cases.

    3. Harsh, yes, but fair. With our tools of save files and resets, we gamers have the hubris to think we should be above consequences for our actions...Undertale disagrees.

      Rose's schtick as you describe it sounds kind of convoluted and hard to sustain as a character. At any rate, it's been a couple years since the last time I tried a Tales of game, but I can't say that Zestiria sounds like it should be the next one I go after, from this description.