Thursday, March 17, 2016

Allowances for Idiotic Decisions:


On TVTropes, I found myself at first disliking the "What An Idiot" page because it seemed to be highly nitpicky. Then I started creating pages of them for animated shows, like Gravity Falls and Miraculous Ladybug, to point out the character moments of weakness that lead to the plot occurring.  When I moved on to Undertale, however, the response was quite different. One troper deleted two of the entries, without talking to me directly. When I asked why, a moderator gave me the gist of this response:

"Contrived stupidity is not okay. Human nature and reactions to stress are okay in fiction."

Image source: http://orig15.deviantart.net/385a/f/2016/038/c/d/__undertale__hearts___by_xxlynn_nanakoxx-d9qxcyi.png

I am mildly curious as to how to pursue this discussion. Eventually the entire page got deleted, to my chagrin, and once more I wasn't contacted about why. There were discussions about the page, but again I wasn't consulted or easily able to find them. I let it go, though I'm still astonished that the person simply didn't talk to me about why my entries were wrong. Below I've copy-pasted the page because I do want to spark a discussion around the idea if human (or monster) nature is enough to allow for cases of idiocy, as well as plot holes in the backstory.

If you haven't played Undertale, or plan do, do note these entries have spoilers. The game is about a human child that falls into an underground realm of monsters, with the player deciding whether or not to be a pacifist, a serial murderer, or something in between. They also have to contend with nearly every monster trying to kill them, and the power of resets.  Spoilers are unmarked, so BEWARE!

Image source: https://i.ytimg.com/vi/ctgAvgwivKA/maxresdefault.jpg

General
There was a war between monsters and humans. It's implied that the war started because most
monsters are not aware that their bullet patterns can hurt humans, even when they are trying to be helpful or friendly, while a human with enough murderous intent can kill a monster with ease.

You'd Expect: For some monsters and humans to try and find a way around this problem, like protective Temmie Armor for the humans or some sort of hazard suit. Having these precautions might have prevented a war, even if one assumes that humans imprisoned the monsters in a case of prejudice. Surely a little bit of kindness would go a long way.
Instead: This never happens. You can acquire Temmie Armor in the game with enough farming for gold, but humans above-ground know nothing about how to defend against monsters.

This is kind of important, given that monsters can easily kill a human if they're not careful, while humans have to deliberately want to hurt a monster to kill them. Hazard suits or armor would do well in preventing a great war, or at least allowing monsters and humans to mingle.

Image source: https://i.ytimg.com/vi/21F8rjZgRd0/hqdefault.jpg

The humans won, forcing the monsters underground into Mount Ebott and sealing them in with a barrier. There happens to be a giant hole in this mountain that doesn't block humans from coming in, and quite a few do.
You'd Expect: For the humans to either cover the hole with something sturdy like a wooden cover, or a net, so that no one falls. What's more, someone ought to add a lot of caution tape about the hole or figure out why children keep going there.
You'd Also Expect: For humans to remember the monsters, the good and the bad. They may come back one day, if they get enough souls to break the barrier.
Instead: The humans do none of this. The hole is a literal tourist trap for at least seven children, and these children have no idea how to handle monsters. Most of these children die as a result.

I actually am scratching my head about this because in the game's prologue one can see the size of the hole relative to that of a human child. It is a rather large hole somewhere on Mount Ebbott, and at least seven children have found it. The big question is why, and how this was allowed.

Backstory

The first Child that fell, whom the player names at the beginning of the game, becomes Asgore and Toriel's adopted child, along with their son Asriel. The Fallen Child and Asriel become best friends, and with the best of intentions they make their dad a pie with buttercups instead of cups of butter. This makes Asgore very ill, but while Asriel and Toriel fret, the Fallen laughs.
You'd Expect: That after this incident Toriel would have an antidote for buttercups on hand, and take note of the Child's behavior. It's especially troubling in that Asriel feels weak in that he wasn't able to laugh like the Fallen.
Instead: For some reason, despite her fire magic and healing abilities, Toriel does not have an antidote for buttercup poisoning, so that when the Fallen dies by deliberately eating buttercups, she does not realize and can't do anything about it. Asgore has an excuse in that he's not a healer, as far as gameplay reveals.

This I felt was an oversight on Toriel's part, given she heals you quite easily in the game. Why would buttercup poisoning end up beyond her powers? What part of the story did we miss here?

The Fallen Child, coated in monster dust.
Image source: http://orig12.deviantart.net/8888/f/2016/038/7/8/__18_left__undertale__by_crimsonian_leviosa-d9quzbl.jpg

On that note, the Fallen ate the buttercups to enact a deadly plan, ostensibly to break the barrier. They would die, allowing Asriel to merge with their soul, cross the barrier, and retrieve the souls needed for the procedure.
You'd think: Asriel would point out all the flaws in this plan, namely that if the Fallen dies, Asgore and Toriel will be heartbroken, and humans can kill monsters quite easily. Also if the Fallen isn't convinced, then tell Toriel and Asgore to put a stop to this nonsense.
Instead: Despite his reservations, Asriel goes along with the plan and doesn't tell Asgore or Toriel about it. Somewhat justified in that he's an eight-year old child and his parents would have not allowed this plan to happen, but still.

Are children allowed to make these sort of mistakes? It is hard to say. Seven human souls in total are needed to cross the barrier, and a monster can only obtain them Underground from the children that fall.

Asriel and the Fallen are merged with the goat-boy's body, and the Fallen compels Asriel to carry their human body to their village to rest on a field of golden flowers. It's there that, when Asriel is seen by the villagers, that Asriel realizes that his adoptive sibling is homicidal and wants to kill all the humans.  
You'd Expect: For Asriel to at least put up some self-defense, run for his life, or that if he and the Fallen have gone this far to at least obtain the souls. In that way, at least this journey won't be fruitless. Likewise, you'd expect that the Fallen would stop wrestling for control and allow Asriel to flee, or at least have them form a temporary alliance.
Instead: Asriel doesn't allow the Fallen to fight back against the angry humans and returns to the Underground mortally wounded. Asgore and Toriel are devastated when they see their son dissolve into dust on their throne room, and don't even know of the plan.

The trope is called "Do Wrong Right" since morality is relative, and sometimes it may be better to do the wrong thing for the right reasons instead of dying due to humans being righteously furious.
Asgore when he fights you. He can't even meet your eyes.

Image source: https://i.ytimg.com/vi/WPNjhApacY4/maxresdefault.jpg


Another entry not here is that Asgore in a fit of grief declared that any human who entered the Underground would die, and their souls used to crush the barrier. This I feel was a stupid move on his part since it costs him his marriage with Toriel, Asgore doesn't actually want to kill anyone, and the monsters are invigorated with hope. People who disagreed with me pointed out that Asgore had just lost two children in one night; I feel that as the king he ought to have made a more responsible decision and not been rash.  
After Toriel has left, and faced with the prospect of killing seven humans, Asgore hires Royal Scientist Alphys to see if artificial souls can be made to break the barrier instead, and if the comatose monsters that lose hope can be revived. The artificial souls are a disaster, and injecting determination into the monsters ends up causing their bodies to melt and turn into the Amalgamates. Most cannot even remember who they are and are potentially dangerous.
You'd expect: Alphys to realize that it's not her fault that the Amalgamates formed. Scientific experiments go wrong all the time, and the test subjects' families knew the risks. In addition, it's dangerous for her to handle it alone.
Instead: Alphys internalizes the guilt, nearly commits suicide, and refuses to answer any calls. She believes herself no better than trash for failing with the experiments.

As someone who studied biology in undergrad, I believe that you have to be prepared for experiments to go wrong. Alphys did the best that she could under the circumstances.

This was the only one that I agreed on deleting due to the ambiguity of the situation. Alphys during her experiments creates Flowey by taking the largest golden flower from Asgore's throne room. Flowey in the Genocide Run recounts that he woke up and called for his parents.
'You'd Expect: For Alphys to have communicated with Flowey as soon as the flower woke up, and to monitor it. Once she realized that Flowey was a reincarnation of a soulless Asriel, she'd notify Asgore immediately.
Instead: For some reason, Alphys wasn't there, and though Flowey called, "nobody came". Flowey left, as the journal entries in the True Lab note, tried to adapt his SAVE file and rescue everyone, and soon realized that he lacked empathy and was unable to return to his true form without a soul. This turned him into the game's main villain, and becomes even more heartbreaking since Asgore during his fight with you says he wants to see his son again.

Some sort of plot hole happened here. Why didn't Alphys and Flowey team up? Why couldn't Alphys help?

Image source: http://img11.deviantart.net/a02c/i/2016/038/a/4/smiling_flowey_by_animalover1502-d9qut0i.jpg

Gameplay

Flowey introduces you to the game play. He was also hoping to obtain the six souls from Asgore, but couldn't because he's not strong enough.
You'd Expect: That he would form an alliance with the player character, or deceive you into bypassing Toriel, getting out of the ruins and going to Asgore. This would be much more efficient having you alive rather than dead.
Instead: He succumbs to his murderous nature, tries to kill you with "friendliness pellets" due to wanting your soul for himself, and Toriel knocks him away with a fireball.

This is egregious on Flowey's part, since he immediately tries to go for your soul and Toriel saves you without breaking a sweat. He's not stupid due to the number of resets he's done; thus he ought to know that she's patrolling the Ruins. In AU fics and fan-comics where Flowey is good, he does help the player character bypass Toriel to the best of his ability.

Toriel after rescuing you wants to keep you in the Ruins, for your safety. If you express a desire to go home, and the game cannot progress unless you do, she plans to destroy the one-way exit and warns you three times to not stop her.
You'd think: That the player character would explain that much as they would like to stay if they so desire, that if you try to go back to bed after her final warning that a strange voice tells you to wake up and calls you by the Fallen Child's Name. Then at least Toriel would realize that you are haunted by her dead child and will switch her tactics since someone is obviously manipulating you into leaving and breaking her heart.
Instead: The player character doesn't have that option, even when talking to Toriel in battle. As a matter of fact, "You cannot think of anything to say." This leads to tragedy whether or not Toriel lives or dies.

Gameplay demands that you have to defy Toriel and leave the Ruins. You cannot bypass this, unless you decide to stop the game at staying with her and watch her read about snails. Yet you cannot tell her why you have to leave, especially that you have a bit of the Fallen haunting you. Being able to communicate would save a lot of pain.

Image source: https://i.ytimg.com/vi/6LVVrbnChyM/maxresdefault.jpg

During the game itself, at least two monsters, Papyrus and Undyne, want to capture the player or take their soul. Papyrus wants to be a member of the Royal Guard,
You'd Expect: That Papyrus and Undyne would immediately capture you and escort you, either willingly or forcibly, to the king and reap your soul in front of the barrier.
Instead: Papyrus due to his ego wastes his time making you do puzzles, and only locks you up in his garage three times if you lose to him. Undyne does hunt you down multiple times in Waterfall and the Dump, but she forces you to fight and doesn't think to simply sling you over her shoulder and carry you to New Home.

This refers to a Pacifist Run, where you as the player character pose no threat to the monsters and thus are vulnerable in most of the fights. In other runs like Genocide where you kill everyone, Papyrus spares you immediately, trusting in inherent goodness, and Undyne fights you to save the humans.
With that said, in any run Papyrus and Undyne are strong enough to sling you over their shoulders to encounter the king. Their fatal flaws undermine their attempts, however; Undyne likes to fight and wants to kill you in a Pacifist Run to give the monsters Freedom, and Papyrus wants to be your friend and join the Royal Guard at the same time.

Image source: https://i.ytimg.com/vi/fvRUQbhzzzI/maxresdefault.jpg

Sans tells the player on certain runs that Papyrus, if you spare the latter, has been talking to a flower. He believes that someone is playing a prank on Papyrus since you can record messages with an echo flower. The player immediately realizes that Papyrus has been talking to Flowey

You'd Expect: That Sans would realize that something is up with the flower, and if someone is pranking him, say that only he can pick on Papyrus, and put a stop to the nonsense. If not, then he'd find Flowey and tell him to stop. You'd also think that the player character would tell Sans since Flowey is a murderer and dangerous, since Sans is the older brother and protective of Papyrus.
Instead: Sans, due to his despondence at life and being aware of resets, does not put in the effort. The player character also cannot tell Sans about the flower, which would save a giant sneak attack at the end of the Pacifist Run.

Yeah. Sans's main priority is to make sure that you don't condemn all of the Underground with your actions, if you decide to fight or spare Monsters. He doesn't consider that a tiny flower could pose a threat, despite hinting that he remembers the resets.


So for those who play Undertale or know of the game, what are your thoughts? Are these reasonable moments of idiocy or a case of nitpicking?

2 comments:

Marj Rishel said...

I'm not sure your summary of the Monster/Human war is accurate. Here's how I interpreted it, based on the opening cut scene and the plaques at Waterfall:

In the ancient world, monsters and humans lived together in peace. Until humans discovered that the monsters had the power to absorb human souls. The monsters found the idea of soul-taking horrifying, but the humans were so afraid of this potential power that they banished all monsters underground.

It is implied that the monsters lived underground for over a thousand years. During that time, King Asgore declared war on the humans for imprisioning the monsters and for harming his son.

The gameplay part of the story begins in the modern world. Modern humans don't seem to have any knowledge that monsters even exist. Their only clue is that people who climb the mountain sometimes don't come back. Since the mountain seems to be a part of the wilderness, it is unlikely that anyone investigated and found the hole to the underground.

The monsters you encounter can control their powers and, yes, they are intentionally hurting the player. They do this because they are angry for being trapped underground and because Asgore told them that they are at war with the humans. However, most monsters have never seen a human before, so the player can change the way they feel about humans by doing good deeds instead of fighting.

Some of these questions do have explanations, but since the story is interactive, you need to search for quite a few of them.

Priya Sridhar said...

Marj! It's good to see you here.

I did remember that from Waterfall. One thing is that it's the monster's story of what happened, and while walking in Waterfall, it can be hard to reconcile that with the friendliness of some of the monsters that you encounter, like Temmie, as their bullet patterns nearly kill you. We seem to get two sides of the story, that to the humans it was necessary, while to the monsters it was bloodshed.

Santeana said "Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it." It'd be one thing if the monsters were just folklore, but a real war would go into the history books, or into an epic like The Ramayana for us Indians.

The big question is why children only seem to fall, and why eight children, including the Fallen and Frisk, were on the mountain in the first place if the hole was in the wilderness. College backpackers would make more sense, or people from nearby villages.

I don't know, some of the monsters don't seem to be able to muster cruelty or control their powers. Napstablook seems very apologetic about his tears, if that means anything. Shyren killed me three times while I was encouraging her to sing, since the best way to spare her is to hum until she does a rock concert; the problem is that her musical notes are bullet patterns, so you either have to survive or dodge really well. Temmie also loves humans, at least according to her dialogue, and she seems to silly to have intentional malice towards a Pacifist player.

Maybe I should keep playing then, to find more answers. Just need to end a battle peacefully with Mettaton, and figure out how much more of the world I can explore before Flowey returns.