If it’s not obvious from my review, I’ve joined the cult of Undertale. This isn’t just about having a reddit group, tons of hits on Twitter, or some Tumblr images. You’ve got loads of DeviantArt pictures, mash-ups on SoundCloud, and a Steam page that’s got almost as many theories as the game’s Wikia page. League of Legend’s Lulu’s voice actress, Faye Mata, even did some unofficial VO work for Undertale during one of her gaming sessions. Heck, the official unofficial Earthbound site even gave the game it’s own forum. That’s game cultists praising a game based on their cult favorite. Maybe this is normal for a AAA game, but this is for an Indie Kickstarter retro-style JRPG made in the west. This is weird, but good.
Really, if you haven’t tried the free demo by now, do it. If you haven’t finished the game yet, skip this article. Yes, skip it! This is a game very sensitive to spoilers, and this post is full of them! The Undertale wikia mentions a lot of ideas behind the possible sources for names, and more importantly, notes how different names being used as the player name result in different easter eggs, showing that Toby Fox really put some thought into the naming process. There’s five names in particular that I want to explore though.
So, we all know the power of Undertale. Even kids get it. But for those who dig deeper, there’s some strong literary references. Theories on W.D. Gaster and his name are a good start, but we can dig a bit deeper.
Papyrus: You’re thinking, “Yeah, he’s named after the font. I got it.” However, look at the description of the font. On the one hand, it’s supposed to be traditionally beautiful, but still rough, which seems very much like our skeleton friend. However, “papyrus” also refers to both the paper and the plant, the latter of which may be important in that Papyrus can get a job involving plants based on a certain ending. Also, the plant is aquatic, so it makes sense he’s friends with Undyne.
Sans: Again, this one seems obvious, but let’s dig a little deeper than the font again and look at the description. It was meant to look “childish.” Using a childish font for Sans makes sense in a few ways. Remember, this game was partially inspired by Earthbound, whose creator used his daughter’s handwriting as the basis for the Mister Saturn characters’ speech. Like Sans, the Mister Saturns are both comic relief and the guardians of awesome powers, particularly related to time and space travel.
“Sans” also means “without.” I may be reaching a bit, but this may work in that Sans is incomplete. Though capable of great power, he lacks motivation to truly use it. For all his power, his inability to truly act only kicks in when it’s too late for, well, almost everyone.
Undyne: Now we’re getting to something a bit more challenging. In mythology, an “undine” is a kind of water spirit or nymph. Kind of like a mermaid. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that both Undertale’s Undyne and a certain Disney fish-girl both have red hair. Her home is also by the waterfall, fitting in with the legends. Legends also say that undine lack an immortal soul and must marry a human to get one. Like other monsters, Undyne also lacks a soul, but rather than marry a man, she’s looking to capture one (I’ll let you readers make the marriage joke here!).
What’s really cool about Undyne is that her appearance and personality inverse the usual legend. Not only is Undyne far from traditionally being beautiful, but she’s strong and powerful on her own. I mean, she’s Undyne, dyne being a unit of force whose origins may stem from a Greek word meaning “power.”
Also, Undyne doesn’t seem to care about her soul and doesn’t need a man. In fact, she seems to prefer a certain female character! The combination of her new spelling (which also calls to mind the word “Undying,” which is fitting since many monsters seem to think she’s unbeatable) and image compared to the traditional presentation is a really interesting touch.
The word “tutor” comes from an old French word that meant “guardian” or “private tutor.” Toriel guards the ruins and always wanted to be a teacher. The French word comes from an old Latin word that meant “watcher,” which is exactly what Toriel does: guards the ruins by watching for human children who she wants to protect and mentor. It’s really the perfect name for her and, personally, makes me love the character even more, especially when you consider her son’s name.
The True Player Name: For those of you who haven’t heeded my spoiler warnings, this is me giving you your last chance to run away. Now, for those who know the word, let me explain it. In the past, the word has meant to skip, to act restlessly, to pat down to search someone, and has been adapted to be used to reference both intercourse and masturbation.
The first three make sense, as it’s a game that can be both very fun (skip) or very dark (restless), and the game searches the player (pat down), searching them for cruelty, almost creating a mirror so they can really understand how their actions matter.
The latter two though make some sense, in that the player’s actions can really help create something, populating a new world… or selfishly use that power for their own gratitude.
That’s just the names that really stuck out to me. “Asriel” tends to be the name of an angel of death and is also a combination of Asgore and Toriel, but I can’t think of any deeper meaning, especially since Asgore’s name only seems similar to Asgard, the home of the Norse gods which doesn’t make sense to me if it’s related to Undertale. Mettaton‘s name might have a reference but there’s no clear connection, and Alphys has me totally stumped. I’m sure there’s more though! If any readers have any ideas or links to theories, leave them in the comments section!
Update: As reddit user SirUnoGuy notes, “Asriel Dreamurr” is an anagram for “serial murder.” Very fitting for an angel of death. What this says about the rest of his family is anyone’s guess!