Note: Like pretty much everything on this blog, this post contains major spoilers. (Even though you might know this stuff already)
Hey! It’s me, your best friend. I’ve busy playing the HECK out of Pokemon Sun. It’s actually different and sort of a challenge this time, so I’ve been really enjoying it so far.
But for some strange reason, my thoughts drift to genocide.
Undertale is a fantastic game. For reasons that I can’t possibly convey even in the expanse of a blog post, it makes me so, so jealous. Put simply, it’s got really fun and memorable characters, unique boss fights, and incredible music that cannot be overstated. One of my favorite things about Undertale is how even though the game is relatively friendly and benign, it has a lot of darkness and mystery hiding under the surface. This dark side is perfectly exemplified a type of playthrough known by fans as “the Genocide Run”.
The Genocide Run is aptly named, as involves you basically killing everyone in the game. You don’t just attack when given an option to spare, no sir. You have to ACTIVELY SEEK OUT monsters to raise your LV (also known as LOVE, also known as Level of Violence) until there is literally no one left. It’s a huge departure from the mostly cute Pacifist Run that the game “expects” to go on, and is a brutal deconstruction of typical RPG gameplay. It’s like you betrayed all of the friends you made, and the game tries to make you feel as miserable as possible. And at the end, the save file is tainted with a permanent reminder that you can never take back what you did.
But if the run is so tedious and awful, why would any one ever want to go on one? Most people are not bloodthirsty or have some sort of problem or anything like that. The primary reason is that people are just curious. They don’t really want to hurt anyone, but they do it anyway because they want to see what happens. It’s like a horror movie, where you don’t want to know what’s behind the door, but it’s so exciting that you can’t look away.
The other reason that people experience the Genocide run is that has exactly two really, really good boss fights. Most of the bosses that you meet are killed instantly, but Undyne the Undying and Sans manage to deliver some the most challenging and memorable fights in the game. Undyne ascends from death by sheer determination, and heroically battles you in her final form for the fate of the entire world. Sans, the lazy skeleton comedian (who’s hilariously labeled as “the easiest enemy), gets around his measly 1 Attack and Defense by exploiting the game itself, such as dodging your attacks instead of just standing there and damaging you while you go through the menu, all while Toby’s hit song “Megalovania” plays in the background. By no means are these the hardest boss fights in the history of video games, but they compel a lot of people to go on Genocide runs just to enjoy their difficulty.
I played the Genocide run months ago for the second reason. After I beat True Pacifist, I swore to never kill another monster, but I failed to resist the urge of 100% completion and those awesome boss fights. Because I was convinced I wasn’t ever going to do one anyway, I had done some serious research on the subject, so I walked into this basically knowing everything that was going to happen anyway. And you know what, I actually succeeded in having a good time. Sans and Undyne really are worth it.
But there was one part of the Genocide run that seriously bugged me. A certain character, that felt like he should be something more.
It’s this guy, Mettaton NEO. Similar to how Undyne transformed into Undyne the Undying, this is the powered-up version of the glamorous performance robot Mettaton. He might look cool with his new laser wings and Megaman arm cannon, but his form does nothing against the fearsome Attack stat you have gained and is killed instantly like practically everything else. It’s really anticlimactic, and I, like the rest of the world, was seriously disappointed that there wasn’t another awesome fight with him like Sans or Undyne.
Some people think it’s a joke. Others think that Toby Fox is just lazy and didn’t want to design another boss fight. I think that there has to be a good reason for this incarnation of a character to exist in the first place, and I’m going to show you why. Toby is really good at using gameplay (or lack thereof) to support the story, and this fact is particular evident if you examine how the players feel about fighting the two most crucial characters before Mettaton: Papyrus and Undyne.
Oh, Papyrus. For most people (myself included) this is the hardest kill to make in the game. He’s just so innocent and naive, and doesn’t even attack you. He just waits there, expectantly, waiting for you to put down your weapon and leap into his embrace. However, although I’ve heard stories of people abandoning their run right then and there, most people kill him. After all, they’ve killed so many people before. How could they truly undo the damage they’ve done? They feel it’s better to just get the run over with. I recognize this moment as a significant turning point in the Genocide run, because after you kill Papyrus, there is no going back.
Then, you get to Undyne, who is important for different reasons. Because the player have been killing everything they encounter in one hit, the fact that she survives can be more than a little jarring for the player. The fight is already a challenge to begin with, but it’s made more difficult due to the player’s skill at dodging things having atrophied, not to mention that she uses her “green soul” mechanic that’s not seen in the rest of the game anyway. As a result, this battle is a major hurdle for players, and unlike Papyrus, this is a one of skill rather than emotions. Once players struggle through all of her attacks, and deal the final blow, they’re filled with a sense of victory and relief rather than sadness and guilt. After all, Undyne gave them what they wanted. It feels like an RPG again, not a tedious grind with no real challenge. It’s at this point when the Genocide run starts to truly become somewhat of an enjoyable experience.
After that the player is actually excited about what’s to come. What about Alphys and Mettaton? Are they going to fight back, too? What’s going to happen with Sans and Asgore?
After trekking through Hotland, MTT resort (which is pictured here because I didn’t feel I needed to show Mettaton again), and the CORE, the player finally meets the star in battle. It’s worth noting that since Mettaton is a robot who only seems concerned about his ego, this kill is easier to make than the kind old lady, the goofy skeleton, or even the brave warrior with a heart of gold that all came before him. The player is prepared for another volley of difficult attacks and braces themselves for an hour or so of dying repeatedly, but their expectations are shattered, leaving them slightly confused and unsatisfied.
This might seem like a horrible decision for Toby to make, but if you take into account what happens after his boss fight it actually makes a great deal of sense. Mettaton NEO is located very close to the end of the game, and what immediately follows him is the walk through New Home, the section where Flowey, the main antagonist, tells you the story of how he became a murderer. He describes how found himself unable to feel anything and then basically killed everyone out of boredom-just like the player. And after that is the climactic fight with Sans, who you tries to frustrate the player as much as possible so that they’ll quit the game and never come back, because beyond that point they’ll destroy the fabric of existence.
Think about what would happen if we did have an awesome fight against Mettaton NEO. I’d imagine that the player would be so pumped with adrenaline that they wouldn’t take Flowey’s monologue that seriously. They just had a great battle against a robot with fabulous legs, so who cares if a talking flower tries to make them feel bad about it! They had fun! But without a good fight the player remembers the same emptiness they had at the beginning of the game. They come down from that high after fighting Undyne and begin to feel a sense of misery and dread again. Expecting a challenge and than having Flowey almost mock them for their greed is very personal and makes them feel more guilty, tying together the theme of how their power is gained by detachment. Additionally, I don’t think that Sans would be so dramatic and intense if there was another difficult boss fight directly before him.
I guess what I’m trying to communicate is that each character serves a purpose. They’re not just funny or sad or whatever, well-written characters also propel the story along. In retrospect, Mettaton is a lot more like Papyrus than he is Undyne. All of them, however signal shifts in the emotional state of the player and have a profound effect on the overall experience, from guilty to excited to guilty again. I hope you remember that sometimes there’s a point to having something be disappointing.
(Photo Credits: undertale.wikia.com, steamcommunity.com, vsbattles.wikia.com, sureisdusty.tumblr.com, gamefaqs.com, bogleech.com)