Oh, Undertale. If the wide world of Let’s Plays is an arts & crafts table, you are the glitter. You’re cute, you’re fun, you’ve gotten stuck to absolutely everything in the room, and even the people who didn’t play with you are still finding traces behind their ears. It’s becoming an unwritten rule that every LPer worth their salt has to play Undertale, so you can watch a hundred runs and never see the game in the exact same way. Despite all the buzz, there’s an entire route of the game that much of the fandom overlooks, even though it’s one of the most striking stories I’ve seen in a game. If you want to get the most emotional mileage out of making friends in a video, you’ve got to kill them all.
WARNING: Massive spoilers ahead.
For those of you who haven’t played/watched Undertale, the plot goes thusly. You play as a human child named Frisk, who falls underground into a land filled with monsters. The monsters can’t exit the Underground because of a magic barrier placed by the humans. The barrier can only be destroyed if a monster harnesses the power of seven human souls. The monsters’ king, Asgore Dreemurr, has collected six souls so far, and Frisk is targeted as lucky number seven.
This is where Undertale diverges into a few different paths. Much of the game’s charm is the novelty of being encouraged not to kill your opponents, so the most popular play style is the Pacifist Route. This involves Frisk befriending all their would-be enemies (including King Asgore) and helping to dismantle the barrier through sheer kindness, so all the monsters are free to live peacefully on the surface world. However, this ending is unattainable on the first try. First the player must go through the Neutral Route, where Frisk defeats Asgore in battle and returns alone to the world above. There are several ways to tweak the epilogue, depending on which monsters you killed. If you kill ALL of them, however, you’ve got the Genocide Route.
Understatement of the year.
The Genocide Run requires you to be so utterly heartless that many Undertale fans will accuse each other of sociopathy for daring to go through with it. The comments on Cryaotic’s first Undertale video alone play out like a battlefield between the overly sentimental and the unhinged shoulder devils, one of the more colorful notes being “Moralfags can SUCK IT.” Heck, in one of the most popular walkthroughs of a Genocide Run, the player even named their character “HITLER”. Because of how savage the Genocide Run is, though, it results in some deliciously warped storytelling for those who can stomach it.
The main story of Undertale remains the same in every route, so the Genocide Run results in heartbreaking echoes of formerly sweet moments. Frisk’s surrogate mother, the gentle Toriel, is the first boss. In every route she urges you to kill her, to prove that you’re strong enough to defeat Asgore. If you refuse to fight back on the Pacifist or Neutral Routes, Toriel’s hard shell breaks, and she tearfully admits that she must let you go do what you think is right. It’s a beautiful little moment between you and your goat mom, especially since you won’t see her until the end of the Pacifist Route, and on a Neutral Route you never hear from her again. So why on earth would you want to ruin the beautiful moment with a knife in the ribs? Character development, my dear boy.
Is this not how your family gatherings go?
Killing Toriel is always a dick move, but there’s varying levels of dickery to it. If you kill Toriel on the Neutral Route, she’s proud of how far you’ve already come. If you kill her on the Genocide Route, after you’ve killed all her neighbors in the Ruins, she senses something dark within you and curses you. The very worst way to kill Toriel is to give her false hope that you’ll be merciful, and THEN kill her. Tricking Toriel is one of the most despicable acts in the game, and yet her dying words are “You really are no different than them,” referring to her fellow monsters. The monsters you meet are mostly kind souls, pushed to extremes in the name of freedom, but Toriel sees their willingness to kill a human as a betrayal on par with the one that kills her. This makes it all the more moving when Toriel finally leaves the Ruins in the Pacifist ending. After years of disdaining these monsters, locking herself away, she walks among them once more because Frisk needs her. When she returns to New Home, she’s delighted to see how Frisk’s friendship has changed the monsters for the better. The Genocide Route alone shows how strongly she’s resents monster society, giving her more of a dynamic arc when she finds a reason to rejoin it.
When you push someone to the limit, you get a unique perspective on their character. As the classic Firefly quote goes, “Live with a man 40 years. Share his house, his meals. Speak on every subject. Then tie him up, and hold him over the volcano’s edge. And on that day, you will finally meet the man.” Using this in an Undertale context, meeting these characters means realizing just how selfless many of them are. If you kill Papyrus, he’s just as sweet as ever, cheerfully encouraging you to be better in the future. Undyne goes from tossing Monster Kid away by his head to taking a hit for him. She’s usually a showy sore loser, but as she’s dying, her only brag is that Asgore won’t go down as easily, and he’ll save the day. Even the self-absorbed Mettaton fights you in the name of saving monsters and humans alike. And to think, all it took was a murderous maniac for everyone to get along.
Far and wide, the most famous part of the Genocide Route is the battle with Sans. For the unaware, Sans is a goofy skeleton guard who follows you throughout the game to dispense advice, items, and an avalanche of puns. The Pacifist Route gives a glimpse of his darker interior, but the Genocide Route, well…get ready for the most ball-chafingly insane fight of the game. It’s nigh impossible to win unless you already know which attack is coming. In-between the flying bones and lasers, you get some flavor text about Sans’ powers. Turns out that Sans can load save files, just like the player, but only within the same timeline. He hints that his laziness is thanks to nihilism; if the player can rewrite everything in a heartbeat, nothing he does matters. He sadly appeals to “the memory of someone who once wanted to do the right thing,” referencing the Pacifist runs. His full awareness of the game medium is only clear on the Genocide Route, but it sets his other actions in a new light. He tails you on every route to make sure you stay on the straight and narrow. When Sans casts his final judgment on Neutral and Pacifist runs, he’s relieved to know that this timeline isn’t being ravaged by an undefeatable foe. Papyrus may scold Sans for laying around, but it does the heart good to see that the fate of the world no longer hinges on him doing more.
There’s no punchline here. Give the poor guy some rest.
An arguably heavier revelation in the Genocide Route involves what Flowey’s been up to in previous timelines. In the Pacifist Route, you learn that Flowey is actually Asriel, the prince of the Underground. He was killed by humans as a child, and after some morally suspect experiments, was resurrected as a flower. His soul couldn’t be replaced, and so now he’s a maniac bent on controlling the world. The Genocide Route details what led him down this megalomaniacal path. When Flowey was first resurrected, he tried to spend time with his grieving parents, but without his soul, he couldn’t feel compassion for them. Desolate, he tried to kill himself, but instantly regretted the decision and subconsciously learned to reset the game. On his next “run”, he befriended everyone in the Underground. Once his friends became predictable, he was dissatisfied, and so he wanted to see what would happen if he killed them all. Just like the player does in a Genocide run. When you reopen the game after the Pacifist ending, Flowey discusses how happy everyone is, and begs you not to reset the game. This, coming from the monster who reset the game hundreds of times or more, and many of those times ended in a bloodbath. And now he wants them to stay happy, because soulless or not, your mercy made him remember that he wants the best for everyone.
I know the Genocide Route is brutal. I know it’s hard watching your friends die, fictional or otherwise. I know being the one behind the knife is downright hideous. But it adds a clever sheen to the rest of the story. Since doing a Genocide run prevents you from ever completing a True Pacifist run, and it can be difficult scrubbing the file out unless you’re a software coder by trade, I’m not recommending that everyone play through this whole sordid story. It’s absolutely worth a watch online, though. Something about seeing how dark the game can be makes the happy parts all the more heartwarming.