Undertale: Mercy vs. Judgment on the Path to Genocide
Posted on January 24th, 2016
Warning: Undertale spoilers below!
About a week ago, I tried to play through Undertale’s Genocide route, a common name for killing EVERYTHING. Toriel wasn’t too bad, even though I liked her. It might be because she handled things like I expected: shock, betrayal, even a bit of bitterness. Killing the Dogi… was not fun. Mowing down a loving couple isn’t exactly my idea of a good time, especially when one is so heartbroken over losing his partner that he loses the will to fight back. The rest of the battles ranged from “Meh” to “This sucks, but I can do it. I must stay DETERMINED.” I wanted to see for myself what story secrets this path revealed; I wanted to fight that crazy-hard battle at the end of it, just to see if I could. And all I had to do to get there was keep going.
Then, I ran into a roadblock I wasn’t expecting: Papyrus.
I knew all along that it would come to this, that I’d have to kill him eventually. I even knew exactly what would happen if I did, and I was prepared for it being a very hard choice. After all, Papyrus is one of my favorite characters, so much that I want to be more like him in real life. But when it came time to actually do it… to actually end him when he tried to show me mercy… I sat there and stalled for ages. I flipped through items. I checked the Mercy screen. I chose Act and Checked him, which might have been my worst mistake.
I kept staring at that text that said “Forgettable.” That one word was the worst gut-punch of anything I’d dealt with in the Genocide route so far. What made it so awful was that it was so untrue. I’d already played the game “properly” (i.e. a True Pacifist run) and I had so many memories of this stupidly likable character who still believed, even in the face of death, that I/Chara could turn things around if he just showed me some compassion.
I remembered the silly fun of Papyrus’ puzzles in the Pacifist route, which was quite a contrast to the cold disappointment I felt this time when my character refused to play along.
I remembered the date from the Pacifist route and how excited Papyrus was, even if he had to let Frisk down gently in the end. I remembered how much fun I had “fighting” him beforehand and his catchy battle theme.
I remembered the very end of the game and how the little mouse found a way to heat up Papyrus’ spaghetti. (Of course, the mouse actually eating it was another story.)
I remembered him, in other words, as a friend who I had shared lots of good times with. And he was standing there right then, trusting in my good nature to lead me to do the right thing. I literally had no reason to kill him other than to satisfy my curiosity. Fictional or not, I just didn’t have the heart.
So I wound up aborting my Genocide run, at least for the time being. The fight with Papyrus was just too hard–and he never had to launch an attack.
All this got me thinking about that Boss Fight from Hell you get if you make it to the end of that route. Sans, unlike his trusting, kindhearted and goofy brother, is hiding a ruthless, cold-blooded killer beneath his slacker facade. Seriously, look at this:
Sans is out to freaking DESTROY you. But he will offer to spare you once you’ve survived him long enough. (Then, unlike Papyrus, he’ll proceed to one-hit kill you if you’re foolish enough to accept.)
Notably, Sans only gets like this if you’re clearly beyond redemption. First, you must deliberately seek out and kill every single monster from the Ruins to Snowden. Every single one, however long it takes. Next, you have to kill Papyrus, who never lifts a finger against you and believes that if he only shows you the way, you can still be a good person. After that, I figure killing doesn’t hurt as much–until you reach Sans, who not only wants to stop you, but wants to make you suffer for everything you’ve done.
To me, this looks like deliberate and very clever book-ending. The first real boss, Papyrus, never even fights you. Instead, he tries to defeat you with mercy, to turn you away from the path of destruction by appealing to your conscience. For a lot of people, this “attack” is strong enough. But if that doesn’t do it… if you’re DETERMINED to be evil… his dear brother Sans will judge you. And instead of using kindness (since you’ve shown it means nothing to you), he opts to grind you into the pavement. And he’ll do it again… and again… AND AGAIN–until you either kill him or give up.
(If you’re wondering where Undyne fits in, I think she’s a bridge between the two approaches. Her fight is apparently challenging, but nowhere near Sans’ level, and while you probably won’t feel terrific doing in “The heroine who NEVER gives up”, she’s not an innocent like Papyrus, either. I’d also like to note that no, I don’t think less of anyone for completing the Genocide route. At the end of the day, it’s still just a game, albeit one that people can have strong reactions to.)