Diversity, Inclusivity, & Validation in ‘Undertale’

Undertale

Undertale is a critically acclaimed JRPG indie title that was recently released, and you can get it on the game’s official website or Steam. This EarthBound/Mother series-inspired game does a lot of interesting things with narrative, gameplay mechanics, playing with expectations, and most notably, making it possible to beat the game without killing anybody in what is known as a “pacifist run.” What I think is also an important element of the game is that it is incredibly good at creating lovable characters who are also pretty diverse and relatable. This is what I want to talk about in this article in the hope that some of you out there might also find the immense joy I found from this game.

Going forward, I will discuss potential spoilers, however, and the game does rely on a lot of surprises to deliver its narrative as well as its oddball comedy. Be sure to not read too much before playing it if you find you want to try it out!

Undertale is the story about a world where humans and monsters live together peacefully until, one day, a war breaks out between the two factions. The monsters—whose strength doesn’t match up to the humans for reasons revealed later in the story—lose the war and end up sealed underground with a magic barrier to keep them from ever returning to the surface. All hope seems to be lost for the monsters to ever return until many years later when a human child falls down into the underground, setting forth a chain of events where how they react to the monster people living there determines the fate of society.

As expected, you play as the human child in the game, but what is interesting to note is that even if there is no character customization besides picking a name for the human, the game does a great job of making them feel like your avatar with the help of some simple, but smart tricks in the design. The human’s gender, for example, is kept ambiguous throughout the whole game; characters refer to you as “they” and you can find and equip items to increase your stats that apply to all sorts of gender expressions and interests, making it possible to imagine your character as any gender you’d like. Your character is also bi/pansexual by default, as you have the ability to (innocently) flirt with characters of different genders, which can be used to unlock dates and additional dialogue with some characters.

Undertale

A few hours into the game, you’ll encounter a character who is one of my personal favorites: Undyne. She is a sea monster and the leader of the king’s royal guard who is sent out to hunt down the human in order to protect the other monsters from harm. What makes her interesting, though, is that she is one of the rare instances of a queer woman who doesn’t show any overt feminine traits being shown as a major character in a video game, which is always a nice surprise when it happens.

She wears heavy and practical full body armor during battle and is a complete badass, able to throw volleys of spears at you and hunt you down easily—all of this without any sort of cliched “He is a SHE?” type reveal. She is always referred to as “her” or “she” from the start, and her identity is never questioned or mocked. If you manage to beat her in a really tough boss battle in a non-lethal way, you can later go back to her house and befriend her, which reveals her to also be a cool friend with a sense of humor and many different hobbies through an amusing dialogue encounter. You can later keep in contact via the in-game cellphone system. Last but definitely not least, she is also revealed to be a lesbian (or bi/pansexual).

In comes Dr. Alphys, the royal scientist who is in charge of trying to find a way to get the magic barrier away. She is a cute dinosaur-esque monster nerd who—in-between doing science—uses her spare time religiously watching anime and talking to friends online. She also struggles with depression and confidence issues. She is shown to be bi/pansexual pretty early on, and is wildly in love with Undyne, who secretly loves her back as well. There are a lot of hints about their affection hidden in the game—anything as vague as dialogue about them being very good friends for a long time to clues within the quiz show boss fight in the lab, but it’s made perfectly clear that this is canon during the ending segments of the best ending you can get through a pacifist run.

After what appears to be the final boss is defeated, you can go back out of the final castle where you’ll get a phone call from Undyne. She asks you to deliver a letter for her to Alphys because she is too nervous about delivering it herself, which sets off a chain of events where Alphys admits she is in love with Undyne in what is a refreshingly open and clear way that, to me at least, seems like something you usually see with straight couples in romantic comedies and not so much with people of other sexualities. Things happens along the way that prevents them from getting together right after the reveal, though when those things are sorted out, they become a couple. They are shown to be dating during the ending when all the monsters return in peace to the surface world.

Undertale

I absolutely adore Undyne and Alphys and I got so happy when they got together. They are both fleshed out, strong, and dynamic lady characters who are genuinely in love with each other, and everybody seems to be okay with it too, which is an awesome thing to put in as one of the main events of the epic finale of the game. I also love their relationship because I can relate to them on a somewhat deeper, personal level in which I can see myself in Undyne and see my wonderful girlfriend in Alphys (and even vise versa, too!), which is a unfamiliar but very nice feeling. That sense of feeling included and that our relationship is completely valid and wonderful from a game that was already fantastic to begin with made me really feel like this was something extra special.

As well as Undyne and Alphys, there are also some other characters who fall within the LGBTQIA+ spectrum as well who are worth mentioning. A miniboss encounter against two royal guardsmen can be resolved peacefully by managing to get one of them to confess his feelings to the other and they’re later seen dating together. A lion man wishes he could get the confidence to try and pull off wearing a beautiful dress and is seen doing so if you go back to see him after beating the final boss where everybody is liberated and happy. And there is also the cyborg Mettaton, who is coded gay and whose backstory could be read as him being a trans man.

In other media with a different writing style, those portrayals may have easily come off as somewhat insensitive, but at least for me, they seem like cute, positive portrayals based on the context of the main story’s framing of gender and sexuality. The game doesn’t seem to have put these characters in just to mock them, but rather to genuinely try and have varied personalities and people to make you feel for this world and want to save the characters in it.

This focus on varied characters has the pleasant side effect of also making it very easy to make headcanons for a lot of them due to just how many different relatable characters are in this game. Some characters can be easily read as mentally ill, while others are possible to read as being LGBTQIA+ people, and others can just seem to have a certain trait or personality quirk that resonates with you. The inclusive nature of the story and its main characters help reinforce those personal readings as being right, instead of having to feel like grasping at straws for something to relate to like with a lot of other things, at least to me.

So all in all, Undertale is a very diverse game with all sorts of lovable and relatable characters, and while not perfect (nothing ever is), I still think it’s a good step forward to see a game with a good bunch of prominent representation be hailed as an instant classic by critics and players alike. I absolutely adored this game and its mix of deep character building, bizarre humor, satire of games as a medium, and really fun gameplay. I hope if you decide to try the game out you will enjoy it too!

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