by Emily Reuben

On September 15, 2015, the P.C. game, Undertale, took the internet by storm. The pixel styled RPG game created by Toby Fox has become quite the internet sensation spawning a massive fan base, countless pieces of fan art, official merchandise, albums, and various console releases. It’s literally become such an important part of video game creation and pop culture that a copy of the game was given to the Pope.

Today marks the two year anniversary of Undertale’s release. Featuring various endings, Undertale begins with the player falling into the Underground inhabited by monsters. The player must find a way to return to the human world. Along the way the player will meet interesting characters, battle various monsters, and solve puzzles to return home. The simple premise that separates Undertale from other RPGs? The player does not have to kill anyone. Everything comes down to choice. For those who have not yet played Undertale, saying anything more about the plot would be a huge disservice.

To celebrate, we are going to discuss why exactly Undertale is a success and why it resonates so strongly with so many people.

Undertale creator Toby Fox had dabbled in game creation during his high-school years using RPG Maker 2000 to make RPGs and also created a few Earthbound ROM hacks. However he was more widely known for his music compositions. Some of his more notable works include music compositions for the 2009 webcomic Homestuck and various covers posted to the MS Paint Adventures forums. Toby’s music is also set to be featured in Hiveswap, a Homestuck video game.

Image from IGN

Fox started Undertale as a Kickstarter on June 25, 2013. The project quickly garnered interest and eventually raised a total of $51,124 by 2,398 people. When asked in an interview with Outermode what sparked his desire to create Undertale, Fox stated that, “It originated when I decided to create a battle system in Game Maker. Then I made a game around it.”

Fox’s passion for music also played an integral role in the game’s creation. In the Outermode interview, Fox mentioned that  “Over 90% of the songs were composed for the game. I always wrote the songs before I started programming those parts, besides the credits song. Having music helps me decide how the scene should go.”

Fox’s work immediately paid off upon the game’s release. Undertale was met with instant praise from Youtubers, critics, and fans alike that spread the popularity of the game like wildfire. IGN ranked the game 10/10, Metacritic gave a 92%, and it holds at 10/10 rating on Steam. When summarizing the game, IGN reviewer Kallie Plagge states that “It might not be pretty, but Undertale is absolutely a work of art.”

Despite the popularity of the game, some criticized the hype arguing that the style was simplistic. Various message boards on Steam and other gaming forums indicate irritations at the game’s popularity.

from Steam

Even with some negative reception, Undertale swept the 2015 Game of the Year Awards and continues to be a talking point of the gaming community.

One of the most important aspects of the Undertale is the fan base that resulted after the game’s release. A community of those who loved Fox’s game instantly began crafting fan covers, fan art, and merchandise.

For Angelina Moreno, a senior in Ball State University’s Animation Program, her Undertale fan animation led to a viral response.

When asked what inspired Angelina to make the animated short she replied:

“I was inspired to make my Undertale animation by another fan of Undertale. This other creator, who I credit in my video, is a voice actor who, during the Undertale craze, was making fan voiced stuff for fans of Undertale… I remember hearing the dialogue and falling in love with the voices because they reminded me so much of the characters! And of course the script was hilarious as well.”

This is just one example of how one’s work can spark inspiration in others. Obviously Toby Fox inspired fans with the original product, but the fan base continues to plant new seeds in the minds of content creators.

Currently Angelina’s video has a total of 1,597,232 views on Youtube and has appeared in various Undertale animation compilations. When asked about the popularity of her work, she said the following:

“I was surprised my animation was so popular, especially since now that it’s been a couple of years and I can see now it’s not very good. I was surprised at the positivity actually. Most comments were about how good the animation was or the voices being amazing.”

Alongside the incredible art made by fans, many great examples of fan-made Undertale music have been released as well. Interestingly, outside fandoms such as the Steven Universe have heavily influenced the fan made musical pieces inspired by Undertale. A great example of this is the popular “Stronger Than You” Undertale animation and song cover.

As a testament to the popularity of Undertale, this rendition of the song has a higher view count than the official Steven Universe version.

The Undertale fan base is full of creativity and is often quite positive. However, just as in any fandom, there is a very vocal, toxic group of members.

One of the biggest controversies surrounding the fandom revolved around Youtube comments directed at those playing the game. Big Youtubers such as Markiplier were often attacked for playing the game the “wrong way”. In Markiplier’s case, this made his playthrough so devoid of fun that he dropped it altogether after two episodes. Markiplier stated,“I’m not having fun making these videos because I know that no matter what I do, everyone will think I’m wrong.”

Few games spark as much passion as Undertale. Due to the depth of gameplay and characters, players often become connected to the game. This connection prompts them to make other players play the game in the way that they deem it to be the best, but this is never what Toby Fox intended. In response to all of the negativity stemming from the fan base Fox tweeted:

Image from Twitter

With this in conjunction with incestuous fan art, Undertale has gained a bit of a negative reputation based on the fan base. This is a shame, as a few bad apple shouldn’t reflect the entire community or the game itself.

Luckily, this negativity has not stopped Undertale’s growth. Earlier this year the game was ported to the PS4 and PS Vita, opening up more opportunities for new players to pick up and play the game.

So why exactly did Undertale leave such a mark on the gaming industry? Angelina chimes in:

“I think it’s had such a huge impact because so much love, time, and thought went into making this game and people can tell. The characters and the narrative speak on a lot of levels about the human condition. The game makes you feel for the characters. But also. The soundtrack. The soundtrack is so important to any and all forms of media. Undertale’s soundtrack is a masterpiece.”

And many critics and fans would agree with her. The characters have been praised for their shining personalities and lovable demeanor.

Image from MonsterVine

Many modern games simply the love and consideration found in Undertale. Toby utilized his love for music to make an engaging, energetic soundtrack that practically tells a story of its own. Music is often underrated or forgotten. Instead of being a main component, more often than not a game soundtrack serves as background noise. Toby Fox created much of the game around the music he composed, thus giving the Undertale soundtrack a life of it’s own. Fox’s music has proved so popular that various soundtracks have been released as official Undertale merchandise.

In regards to the characters, Undertale manages to make monsters so loving and relatable that it is no wonder so many fans become dramatically attached to the game. There is humanity in each and every monster you see, from the NPCs to the monsters you fight, there is personality attached to each and every encounter. The choice allowed in Undertale drastically changes these character interactions on each playthrough, which makes them all the more real. So few games fail to make pixelated images into seemingly real beings.

Image from The Escapist

After two years, Undertale is still a masterful example of modern gaming. It proves that you don’t need the latest and greatest technology to craft a good game. Gamers flock to play Undertale for the story, character, and dialogue, elements of gaming that can be hard to come by. There is so much heart behind Toby Fox’s work that it is impossible not to feel immensely connected to the Underworld.

Ironically, LOVE is behind  what makes Undertale a success.


Sources: Outermode, Engadget, Kotaku, IGN, YouTube, Twitter

Images: Twitter, IGN, Steam, MonsterVine, The Escapist

Daley is a Telecommunications (Video Production) major who also minors in Japanese. Through Byte she does graphic design, video editing, podcast hosting, visual effects, and most importantly writing. Daley does this through the scope of examining the impact pop culture has on our everyday lives.

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