I’ve been playing video games since I was four, and I’ve been writing since I was six (I started with Archie fanfics. Do not judge me).
All ‘dem games, all that writing, and I still can’t express how much Toby Fox’s RPG, Undertale, has come to mean to me over the past month.
Best I can hope to do is go outside, fall on my knees, and scream into a pillow.
One reason Undertale is a hard game to talk about is because it’s very easy to spoil, and if there’s one game you ought to approach as unspoiled as a unicorn out of Eden, it’s this one.
That said, I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say Undertale’s soundtrack can only be expressed through delicate words like “WHOA” and “HOLY SHIT.”
I want to highlight the titular Undertale track because:
– It’s gorgeous.
– Hearing it still makes me weep softly for story-related reasons I cannot articulate because, again, spoilers.
– I believe it pays tribute to a specific track from Illusion of Gaia that’s considered one of the prettiest songs in the SNES’s extensive RPG library.
Fox makes no secret of his inspirations for Undertale. Earthbound and Mother 3 make up the heart and soul of the game. I’ve already gone over why Earthbound gives me a case of the raging feels.
There are less obvious references, however, including Wild ARMs, The Legend of Zelda, Mega Man X / Mega Man Zero, and the aforementioned Illusion of Gaia. Specifically, one of the first characters you meet, Toriel (aka Goat Mom aka Your New Furry Waifu), talks about snail pie — the signature dish of Will’s grandmother in IoG.
But there’s a bit more boiling under the surface, here. Like Undertale, Illusion of Gaia is sugary on top, but it deals with some pretty dark themes, like child slavery.
We’re talking actual slavery. Enix doesn’t wimp out by substituting the kids with metaphorical koala bears or anything. These are kids who are sold from poverty-stricken countries to be worked to death in diamond mines.
And in order to complete the game 100%, you have to rat out one of the slaves in hiding.
Great Scott. Heavy.
The kinship between Undertale and Illusion of Gaia goes beyond its themes, though. The games’ souls are also bound by their music.
Illusion of Gaia’s soundtrack is stellar, and one track in particular is a real standout: In the Earthen Womb, a beautiful but melancholy song that plays during some of the game’s more introspective moments.
The song makes a particularly noteworthy appearance when Will is about to face off against the game’s final boss, and he meets the souls of friends and family who’ve died during the course of his adventure. It’s not a happy reunion, but neither is it necessarily sad. The souls have understandably seen a lot since their death, and they’ve become predictably contemplative. They take a moment to share what they’ve learned with Will, and not everything they have to say is warm and fuzzy.
Within the Earthen Womb makes gorgeous use of a background instrument I can only refer to as “echoing sleigh bells,” because what little proficiency I have in music is limited to the clarinet and screaming Great Big Sea lyrics in the shower. It’s the track’s trademark, an effect I’ve never heard repeated in any game, anywhere.
The effect comes in at 2:11:
Much like Illusion of Gaia, Undertale reserves this track for a poignant part of the game that’s bittersweet.
Please play Undertale.
Aren’t you excited?
Aren’t you happy?
You’re about to be free.