An Examination of Leitmotifs and Their Use to Shape Narrative in UNDERTALE – Part 2 of 2

This article is the 2nd half of a 2-part article on leitmotifs in UNDERTALE and how they inform the narrative. The first half was published on March 31 and can be found here. If you haven’t read Part 1 yet, it is highly recommended that you do so before reading this article.


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Leitmotif to Represent Characters, Their Development, and Their Relationships to Each Other

characters

And now, we come to perhaps the most common use of leitmotif—the representation of characters. Nearly every major character in the game has an associated leitmotif, often spanning multiple tracks in the soundtrack, with each variation of the leitmotif revealing something new about the character.

Undyne

030. Undyne

Though most people think of Undyne’s battle music as her theme, her leitmotif actually is established much earlier, during your first interaction with her in the high grass in Waterfall. This iteration of the theme is the most rhythmically simple, which makes it easy to pick out variations on this theme in other tracks.

032. Run!

Appropriately, the theme returns during Undyne’s pursuit sequence—this time in a frantic, off-balance version of the Theme, using groupings of 6+6+4 sixteenth notes in 4/4 (separated in red). There’s a “compressing” effect of having of groups of 6 notes turn into a group of 4 at the end of each bar, which drives the feeling of increasing tension and urgency.*

045. NGAHHH!! / 046. Spear of Justice

Finally, Undyne’s battle theme—which, as I mentioned before, is a combination of not only her leitmotif, but of melodies and ideas from other parts of the game.

The track starts out with several strong statements of Undyne’s leitmotif. Then, at 0:36, we get the return of the melody from Waterfall/Ruins:

045. NGAHHH!! / 046. Spear of Justice

You may be thinking the material at 0:47 is new. But let’s take a look specifically at the melody that’s played by the horns there:

Waterfall Horns

Now listen to this passage in 031. Waterfall starting at 1:07—and listen especially to what the strings are doing at 1:12 and 1:17:

031. Waterfall

In fact, this little melodic figure actually goes all the way back to 005. Ruins:

005. Ruins

098. Battle Against a True Hero

In the Genocide Route, we hear 098. Battle Against a True Hero. To me, this track (and the accompanying battle) represent an Undyne that has been maxed out, stretched to her limits. Structurally, the track is actually the same as 046. Spear of Justice in terms of the order in which we hear the Undyne, Ruins, and Waterfall motifs. But the difference lies in largely how much more decorated and expanded these melodies become, to the point where it can be difficult to trace to its source.

The opening melody, while quite different from the original Undyne motif, retains some key distinctive features—namely the initial drop in the melody of a 4th followed by another drop of a 3rd (in red). At 0:45, we hear a simplified but still very recognizable Ruins melody. Then, at 1:35, we get this beautiful piano interlude, which hides inside it a reference back to the strings melody in Waterfall.

Taken piece by piece, there is actually not a single idea in Undyne’s battle themes that are new—the tracks are simply a combination of her leitmotif and a slightly altered version of Waterfall, sped up. But it’s perfect: wonderfully representative of the track’s meaning and situation within the context of the game, and different and altered enough to be its own outstanding track.

Alphys

048. Alphys

Certainly one of the most straightforward themes in the game—but I love it because to me it represents Alphys’ personality so well. The first melodic phrase is just a simple and happy “do-re-mi-fa-so”, but the second phrase, almost as if in an attempt to outdo the first, jumps to a higher key halfway into the melody—which is actually an amazing musical representation of Alphys’ overeager personality. That’s all that there seems to be to her character, until you find the True Lab…

083. Here We Are

Here, Alphys’ happy melody has been transfigured and corrupted into something quite scary sounding. By simply adding Major thirds above each note of the original melody (in red), we get a haunting, unsettling version of Alphys’ Theme that perfectly complements the terror that is the True Lab.

Aside from these two obvious appearances of Alphys in the soundtrack, there a few others:

035. Bird That Carries You Over A Disproportionately Small Gap

Considering how enthusiastic Alphys is to help you throughout the game, I’m not too surprised to find her theme here as well. I call the bird “Alphys’ Bird” now.

082. She's Playing Piano

The “she” referred to in the title of this track is Undyne, as this track plays when you visit her house with Papyrus for your “playdate.” It’s a cute little foreshadowing of the nature of her relationship with Alphys—the song she’s playing is none other than the bridge of 048. Alphys!

048. Alphys

Mettaton

Alphys puts it best: “Originally, I built him to be an entertainment robot…And, um…Now he’s an unstoppable killing machine with a thirst for human blood?”

Mettaton’s two driving forces to entertain and to maim and kill each get their own little theme, each of which come in at its appropriate time in the narrative.

049. It's Showtime!

In a great impression of old-timey game show themes, we get Mettaton’s first theme, which we’ll call “Mettaton Showtime” theme. Then, of course, he tries to kill you…

050. Metal Crusher

Keeping with the spirit of the game show vibe, 050. Metal Crusher gives us a mischievous, almost comical version of the previous track. The melody here is strewn with accidentals (all the Sharps, or #s in the score) which gives the feeling of the melody twisting and contorting.

057. Live Report & 058. Death Report

Next, we get a primetime news jingle version of the Showtime theme here, which gets a sped-up, frantic version during the bomb mini-game.

And finally, the Mettaton fight. After a short intro, which introduces the Mettaton EX motif, we get 068. Death by Glamour. Like the Undyne fight, we get a mashup of various themes we’ve heard leading up to the battle, as well as all of Mettaton’s personal motifs.

067. Oh My...

068. Death by Glamour

The track starts off with a piano riff that combines the rhythmic profile of the Core Ostinato and the notes from the Mettaton EX motif (from 067. Oh My…) to create the backdrop for the song. At 0:14, the strings melody comes straight from 051. Another Medium (we went over this in the Overworld section). Together, these two sections make up what is really a long introduction section for the main melody to come in at 1:04–which is of course the immediately recognizable Crusher Motif, though with a more richly orchestrated instrumentation than before. Finally, at 1:30, we get the Showtime Motif on saxophone. This variation of the motif is particularly special because while its melody is unchanged, the harmony is more fleshed out than it has ever been before, which gives the motif a whole new dimension and richness it didn’t have before—much like what Mettaton’s new body has given him!

Flowey

003. Your Best Friend

Everyone remembers their first encounter with Flowey. The accompanying motif is happy, but in a juvenile (and subsequently creepy) sort of way—perfectly matching the interaction with Flowey. After this first encounter, we don’t see him again until…

078. You Idiot

The times we see Flowey show up are few, but so memorable. This time, it’s all horror and evil. This track in particular is a slowed down, twisted version of the “Evil” Flowey Motif.

Of course, you don’t just write two motifs for one character and not put them together. These two motifs come together in the fight vs Flowey and interact in a wonderful way that informs what’s happening in the battle.

079. Your Best Nightmare

The music for the Flowey battle is actually a fun little Theme and Variations based on the two motifs above. When we are directly engaging with Flowey X (aka Omega Flowey aka Photoshop Flowey) we hear the “Evil” motif. As the souls of the 6 humans come to help us, we hear each time a different variation of the “Happy” motif.

Every time the “Evil” motif returns, it grows more and more frantic, eventually playing in double time (2:29), mirroring Flowey’s increasing impatience and desperation as the fight continues.

Toriel and Asgore

014. Heartache

The relationship between Toriel and Asgore is one that surprised many players in their first playthrough. The way their relationship is gradually revealed to the player, starting with the arrival at New Home, to seeing Asgore, and finally noticing the covered throne, is an exciting and rewarding journey that is further corroborated and tied together by each character’s respective theme.

One thing that’s immediately noticeable is the similarity in instrumentation–saw and sine synths (“chiptunes”), strings, and tambourine. But of course there’s more than just that. Above I’ve notated what I’ve called the Royal Ostinato, the low repeating figure that starts off the track 014. Heartache.

Now, let’s listen to Asgore’s fight theme:

077. ASGORE

The reappearance of the Royal Ostinato is obvious—which made me appreciate it not coming in immediately, which would have “given away” the musical relationship too quickly. The differences between the two Ostinatos is interesting because it comes almost entirely from the 6/8 vs 4/4 time signatures. For me, the use of the same Ostinato pattern in a different time signature really highlighted the rhythmic difference between the two tracks.

There are some other neat things about 077. ASGORE that are worth pointing out:

076. Bergentrückung

The melody that starts off 077. ASGORE is of course based off the theme in preceding track 076. Bergentrückung (which, by the way, means “King of the Mountain” in German). It also has the exact same rhythmic profile as the Undertale Theme, which is a cool callback to the beginning of the game from the very end.

077. ASGORE

Because it’s at the end of the track, it’s easily overlooked, but there’s an appearance of Undyne’s Theme—perhaps highlighting the student-teacher relationship?

But perhaps the coolest thing is what happens during the piano interlude in 077. ASGORE:

077. ASGORE

Where have we heard this before? Does this sound familiar?

011. Determination

That’s right—it’s the track that plays when you get the Game Over screen. But this isn’t just a random callback or reference—it’s deliberate. Because if you hadn’t realized it yet, the voice that tells you not to give up at the Game Over screen is none other than Asgore himself!

While there are certainly other character leitmotifs that we could look at, at this point the remaining character-motifs are relatively self-contained or an obvious “remix” of an existing track. I want to list them nevertheless, but I will go into less detail for these:

Sans

015. sans.

063. It's Raining Somewhere Else

063. It’s Raining Somewhere Else takes the mischievous, blues-y Sans Motif and transforms it into a melancholy ballad. Though the actual note intervals are quite different, the similarities in contour and rhythm are unmistakably Sans.

Papyrus

016. Nyeh Heh Heh! / 024. Bonetrousle

Like Alphys, Papyrus’ Theme perfectly represents his character. The exaggerated ups and downs of the motif (the highest and lowest notes of the melody are almost 2 octaves apart!) are a great musical analogue of Papyrus’ over-the-top personality.

The two brothers’ themes can both be found in the track that never actually gets any playtime in the game: 072. Song That Might Play When You Fight Sans:

072. Song That Might Play When You Fight Sans

The Miniboss Trio (Napstablook, Dummy, Muffet)

010. Ghost Fight

036. Dummy!

059. Spider Dance

While the Napstablook and Dummy fight themes are almost identical, the Muffet battle theme can get overlooked since it’s not exactly the same melody—nevertheless, the big, recognizable features are all here (highlighted in red).

The Battle Theme, Dogsong, and Temmies

009. Enemy Approaching

A boss fight where the boss is a cute puppy? Why not just take the Battle Theme and change everything to a major key relationship?

021. Dogsong / 044. Tem Shop

043. Temmie Village

 

Last fun thing to note—did you notice that all the female characters have some sort of triple meter for their motifs (Toriel, Alphys, and Undyne are all in 3/4 or 6/8), while all the male characters are in common time (4/4)?

The Endgame: Tying Up All the Motifs

endgame

The Endgame (which I’m defining as everything after the Long Elevator) takes all the different motifs you’ve heard throughout the game and wraps them all together in various ways, using their recognition as ways to get the player to recall certain memories or emotions associated with those leitmotifs, or to imbue additional meaning to a moment or situation.

New Home and Compassion

071. Undertale

Easily one of the most memorable moments of Undertale is walking into what you think is Asgore’s scary final boss castle, and finding yourself in New Home. Considering Home and New Home are the only areas of the game that feature the yellow color palette and the guitar instrumented background track, the callback to Home is unmistakable. However, there is one difference, which, depending on your past activities in the game, may or may not be apparent.

For those who figured out to shelter the statue in Waterfall with the umbrella, and took the time to figure out the tune to play on the piano puzzle, the guitar melody should immediately jump out to you:

034. Memory

For me, the act of sheltering another with an umbrella is the quintessential act of compassion—so let’s call this the Compassion Theme.

It’s the recognition of the Compassion Theme that makes walking through New Home such a rich experience. I love that the game makes a point to get this particular melody in your head, have it disappear for pretty much the rest of the game, before it finally comes back at this pivotal moment. At 0:37 in 071. Undertale, it all becomes clear—the Compassion Theme and the Undertale Theme were always meant to sing together, and that this is the final, truly complete version of the Undertale Theme—with Compassion. It’s a perfect accompaniment to the moment in the game itself: our first exposure to the Undertale Theme at the game opening gave us a simple, black and white story about the conflict of Humans and Monsters. Here, in New Home, we finally hear the true story. It’s an incredibly powerful sequence, mirrored perfectly by the set up of musical themes and associations that came before it.

Regret and Redemption

081. An Ending

This track plays during the epilogue of the Neutral Ending. It’s immediately recognizable as a simply slowed down version of the Ruins theme. To me, this seems to be encouraging players to go back–to revisit the Ruins for a second go (to get the Pacifist Ending). The way the rest of the track plays out at 1:01, using a variation of the Ruins motif (above), sounds almost melodramatic, reinforcing the fact that you did not get the “right” ending and encouraging the player to try again. Let’s call this the Regret Theme.

086. Don't Give Up

The theme presented above in 081. An Ending appears again here, but this time during the Pacifist Ending, when all the monsters are being trapped by Flowey. This time, the tempo is driving forward, giving a feeling that even though the situation looks bad, there is indeed hope this time around. For someone who has gotten the Neutral Ending first and recognizes this melody, it’s a reminder of what they’ve avoided this time around, and an encouragement to continue forward.

The Final Boss

087. Hopes and Dreams

The first phase of the Asriel battle takes the Undertale Theme and gives it its grandest treatment yet—with full strings, electric guitar, and drums backing. The Undertale Theme makes up most of the song, but we are reminded of who we’re fighting at 1:19 as the “Happy” Flowey Motif comes in. What’s surprising is what happens at 2:15—we get the Cheerful Theme, a theme we’ve only heard reserved for friendly encounters. It’s foreshadowing how this encounter ends!

088. Burn in Despair!

Then comes the 2nd phase of the battle—Asriel reveals his “full” power, and as he toys with us, we get the “Evil” Flowey Motif, again with the full heavy-rock instrumentation.

089. SAVE the World

The final phase of the battle starts when you begin saving the Lost Souls—and we get this track, which thematically is a mirror of the 1st phase, just accelerated in terms of how quickly we hear each motif. (If you don’t pay attention, the “Happy” Flowey Motif will just slip by at 0:04.)

The inclusion of the Cheerful Theme Bridge is not JUST for foreshadowing either—I think that looking at these three motifs and their order in particular actually represents the whole 3-part structure of the entire Asriel battle.

090. His Theme

The Compassion Theme returns in this track, once you’ve defeated Asriel. In this scene, through a series of stills, we finally see him coming to terms with his feelings. In this final conversation with Asriel he actually says, “However, with everyone’s souls inside me…I not only have my own compassion back…But I can feel every other monster’s as well.”

091. Final Power

Asriel releases the souls of all the Monsters and sets them free, undoing all the evil he’s done—and the track we hear is the last bit of 089. SAVE the World, literally played in reverse.

Everything Comes Together

095. Bring It In, Guys!

It’s the home stretch! Thanks for reading, I hope you delighted in listening through all these tracks and linking all the motifs as much as I did. The credits track pulls no punches—we get pretty much every motif in here. Since I’m sure by now you’re an expert at recognizing them, I’m sure you’ll have no trouble catching them all!

Battle Motif at 0:14:
Battle Theme

Papyrus Motif at 0:35:
Papyrus

Cheerful Theme at 0:54:
Snowdin Town Theme

Cheerful Theme Bridge at 1:17:
Snowdin Town Theme Part 2

Undyne’s Theme at 1:30:
Undyne Theme Var 2 (Battle)

Ruins Motif at 1:48:
 Ruins Theme 3 (An Ending)

Mettaton Ostinato at 2:15:
Mettaton Ostinato

Hotland Melody 2 at 2:44:
Ruins Theme 3 (Another Medium) Transformed

Hotland Melody 1A at 3:08:
Hotland Melody 1A

ASGORE Theme at 3:27:
ASGORE Theme

Undertale Theme at 3:47:
Main Theme

I hope you enjoyed this in-depth look at the soundtrack of UNDERTALE. Again, if you have questions, comments, things you loved, things you disagreed with, or future topics…please let me know in the comments below—I do read them!

 

*Thank you to @fontiago and “Ellie” for pointing out that I had erroneously notated “Run!” in 5/4 with triplets. This is now fixed.


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53 thoughts on “An Examination of Leitmotifs and Their Use to Shape Narrative in UNDERTALE – Part 2 of 2

  1. I was eagerly anticipating part 2! I did make some of these connections in my playthroughs, but I didn’t think everything was quite this intertwined. Thank you for your thorough analysis, it really made me appreciate this game even more!

  2. That was a very interesting read, rather fascinating to see how much thought went into the soundtrack. I missed a lot of these connections when playing the game.

    On a side note, why didn’t you examine any of the tracks from the merciless route? Was there just nothing interesting enough for you? In my opinion at the very least Megalovania, Power of NEO and Battle Against a True Hero are worth mentioning in the respective sections.

    • Simply a joy to read. I have spent a long time pondering this soundtrack and you’ve still managed to open my eyes to all sorts of new aspects and highlight how constrained my thinking had become on certain subjects.

      You put a smile on my face, when mentioning how the voice urging you to continue at Game Over is Asgore’s (even though we don’t know that for most of the game!). The question of whether or not the so-called Determination theme is actually Asgore’s true theme has bothered me for quite awhile, and that is one of the primary bits of evidence (the other being the unused track kingdescription.ogg found in the game directory).

      However, your analysis reminds me that because of all the cross-pollination of motifs, it becomes necessary to go beyond the basic “Theme X is for Character X” “Theme Y is for Place Y” and actually analyze some circumstantial and emotional meanings. “Theme X is for Character X, but only until Y happens, and then it appears in Setting Z and this all means XYZ”. I can’t name many game soundtracks with this level of detail.

    • Thanks 🙂

      To answer your question—there were a couple of reasons. One, since these two articles were about leitmotifs specifically, I didn’t talk about tracks that didn’t have relation to others. This is why I don’t mention Fallen Down even though that’s one of my favorites, Megalovania, Thundersnail, etc. I really like the theory that Megalovania is not Sans’ theme, but rather the player’s—but again, there’s nothing about Megalovania that’s recurring anywhere else in the game so I don’t mention it. Second, I didn’t have the heart to play through the Genocide run…so I was also just more likely to miss something and would not be able to speak from experience in the way I did for the article.

      • Understandable – It’s a shame that because of where it’s situated, I will never hear my favourite song on the soundtrack (Megalovania) in context, but there you go.

      • There is one possible callback in “Megalovania” that actually fits your theory quite well: Take the “Undertale” theme and play it in D minor, then shift the chromatic grace notes from between the sixth and the seventh to the fourth and the fifth, blues style. Notice anything interesting?

        I would normally call it a coincidence, but seeing as it mirrors both the completion of the full “Undertale” theme (“Once Upon a Time” plus “Memory”) in terms of sequence and forms the thematic antithesis to its most extravagant variations (“Hopes and Dreams” et al), I wouldn’t be surprised if there was some intentional parallel being drawn—specifically, of the player having corrupted the world that they were meant to heal, and rather than becoming that world’s last champion, having to face that world’s last champion. Nor would I be surprised if the game’s main theme began as a variation on that very old melody: Toby Fox has talked about how he spent more time thinking over the “Undertale” theme than any of the others, and there’s something very appealingly circular there.

      • I missed it too at first. I think mostly due to my first interpretation of the rhythm pattern of Pathetic House. The connection was made when I heard a remix of Pathetic House rendered using a Tales of Symphonia soundfont, with other instruments and percussion to complement the melody and giving a rhythmical reference.

        Very good analysis though!!! The analysis definitely showed me more hidden motifs in the OST, and makes me want to go back and find more!

  3. Really interesting analysis, dude. I’ve always been interested in music theory and composing, but I don’t know anything about music or where to even start (I guess with learning an instrument, haha). People never talk about the music in games in this much detail besides “the soundtrack was good”.

    • That’s my goal! I’m never satisfied with “this was good,” the fun of experiencing and talking about art is trying to get at “this is good BECAUSE xyz.”

  4. Hey, great article! I’m commenting to ask why “Finale” wasn’t discussed on here? It only has 2 themes in it from what I can tell, the first being Flowey’s happy theme, but I can’t identify the horn part in the middle. Maybe the Ruins theme, since it’s another callback to the beginning of the game. Thanks for all this work anyhow, it’s nice to see an in depth analysis of all these related tunes.

    • Ah, another track I left out 🙁

      You’re right that the main thing going on in Finale is Flowey’s Happy Theme. And I think you are also right about the horn line in the middle—to me that sounds like a callback to Ruins!

      • Another thing in Finale is the fact that at 0:40 you can hear the “Compassion” Theme in the background with the higher pitched bell-like instrument – although I’d be more inclined to call the compassion theme Asriel’s theme, but whatever.

        • Yea, the “compassion” theme only appears in songs with some connection to Flowey/Asriel (placing an umbrella on a very Toriel-like/Asgore-like statue for “Memory,” hearing about the lives and deaths of Asriel and his adopted human sibling in “Undertale,” sneaky foreshadowing of the future Asriel-is-Flowey twist in 0:40 of “Finale,” and then finally the very bluntly named “His Theme.”) It doesn’t show up in any songs I know of that *aren’t* related to him.

  5. I thought this was really interesting, but the only thing I didn’t like is how none of the Genocide route songs are in here. Besides Megalovania, both Battle against a true hero and Power of NEO share a leitmotif. I don’t know if it pops back up anywhere else.

    • I got this feedback a fair amount 🙂 so I made an addition to the Undyne section to talk about Battle Against a True Hero, which I wrongly left out—didn’t give it a hard enough listen.

      Megalovania is definitely its own standalone track though—no leitmotifs in that that I can hear. (I like the prevailing theory that Megalovania is not sans’ theme, but your own.)

  6. Fantastic read! As a fellow composer who has a background in classical music and has also fallen in love with this soundtrack, I was thinking about doing a similar write-up on my own. I’m glad you beat me to it, though, since yours is excellent.

    I’d love to see what other games you are interested in, and how you interpret their soundtracks. For me, Journey is another shining example of a distinct but cohesive musical experience with little wasted melody. I also enjoy the recent Fire Emblem games for their use of motifs, especially for different characters and nations.

    Again, thank you for taking the time to put this together!

    • Glad you enjoyed!

      Journey is one of those games I’ve heard a lot about but never got a chance to play (don’t own any non-Nintendo consoles, unfortunately). I’ll have to check it out sometime.

      I am actually in the middle of playing Fire Emblem Fates (Conquest) right now, so cool that you mention that. I have to say the music didn’t stand out to me as much (I do really like Field Battle) although I have to admit that’s also partly because I often play late at night with no sound 🙁

      • Sadly, I can’t yet comment on the music in Fates, as my girlfriend won’t let me play it until she’s done with all her shipping! But the music in Awakening was easily my favorite part of the game.

  7. You have no idea how badly I’ve been wanting someone to write basically exactly this post. 😀 😀 It IMMEDIATELY struck me that there was a TON to unpack in the score once I played the game and I spent a lot of time awkwardly trying to write down motifs and compare and go “OH MY GOSH YOU GUYS AND ARE THEMATICALLY LINKED IN THE SOUNDTRACK” to lots of blank stares and shaking heads. 😀 It was great fun, but not as much fun as reading this really fantastic analysis of everything. 😀 Thanks for writing this~

  8. A few trivial notes:
    -Listen to the bells in “Finale” at around 0:40 for a fun surprise. I would never have caught it had someone not pointed it out to me.
    -There are several places in the soundtrack where the tracks used are slowed-down versions of familiar melodies. “But Nobody Came” (which plays during the Genocide run after “clearing” an area of monsters) is a very stretched version of Flowey’s happy theme. Similarly, the music that plays during Sans’ judgment in the Neutral/Pacifist routes is a slowed version of the Undertale theme.
    -A friend of mine tells me that “But the Earth Refused to Die” is a variation of the Determination theme, but I can’t hear it.

    • ooo. Thank you for this. I missed the bells too!

      And yeah, I’m not sold on But The Earth Refused to Die either. I think it has some ties to Finale though…

      • Oh, I glad someone else noticed the bells. For some reason I thought they were in the Asriel boss battle, not in the Omega Flowey fight, and then I listened to Finale again and wanted to point that out.

        I like the idea of the theme from Memory/His Theme being a theme of compassion but I have always thought of it as being more fundamentally Asriel’s theme. I kind of thought the statue in Waterfall that plays this theme might have been built as a memorial to him – it looks like it could be of a goatlike monster.

        “But the Earth Refused to Die” might be a Ruins variation? Specifically I mean it’s somewhat similar to the Ruins variation used in Battle Against a True Hero. (Although it might be worth mentioning that the melody from the waterfall strings section of Battle Against a True Hero does form a lovely counterpoint against Determination if you stick the two together. So there’s arguably some stylistic similarity b/t Determination and the Battle Against a True Hero themes.)

        Also idk if you just didn’t mention it because it wasn’t relevant to the stuff you were discussing here, but “Confession” is the Cheerful Theme from Snowdin Town/Dating Start etc.

        Anyway I loved reading your analysis! You picked out a lot interesting things that I hadn’t totally put together!

      • Julius Frederik Vissing

        Actually, “But The Earth Refused To Die” sounds a little like the second part of Alphys’ theme to me. I’m not entirely sure though.

  9. Amazing article! I learned even more amazing things about the game because of this!

    I did want to note though, that part 1:01 of “An Ending” plays during the Undyne fight if you kill her =\.

    • Ah, I never knew that! (never did that in my playthroughs)

      Makes total sense–it’s the “sad” version of the Ruins theme. Thanks for the comment!

  10. Great articles!! I don’t know much about music (other than the fact that I like listening to it) but your explanations made everything understandable even for someone with no musical studies!

    You also made me realize so many subtle connections within the soundtrack and it’s amazing how those little musical references can make one feel an even bigger emotional connection with the game at that moment.

    And about Megalovania, perhaps the shared motif is not within the game but within Toby Fox’s other works!! 😛 It is a track he first composed for an Earthbound fan-made hack, that he then re-used in the soundtrack for the webcomic Homestuck, to finally use it again in his own creation, Undertale.

  11. This was fantastic. I’m just getting into composing/producing and wanted to analyze Undertale as a first lesson. This is a great “solution manual” of sorts for any analysis I do now.

    Very informative and a delightful read. Getting to identify the themes at the end solo was a nice touch and made me relive my Undertale playthrough all over again… I almost cried. Thanks!

  12. a tiny little critique in that “Here We Are” is in 5/4, not 3/4. but otherwise an incredible write-up, thank you for helping me appreciate this soundtrack even more!

  13. Loved this breakdown! I wonder if you had considered the affect that cultural coding had on his choice of synth for many of the tracks? In many places Toby has used the “toolboxes” developed for classic 16bit RPGs in similar tonal moments to piggyback on the shared experiences and emotions of players for whom these games were formative moments. For example, the use of drum and percussion synth elements from the final battle theme in Secret of Mana (the oracle) in Your Best Nightmare. Similarly the Amalgam theme borrows heavily from the synth library (and visual style!) of Final Battle in Earthbound, to the same creepy uneasy effect.

    This serves to create a platform to heighten the intensity of the experience by reminding the player of the emotional experience they had when hearing these synth elements the first time, and often nowhere else. I’m very familiar with these sound libraries, but for many players these choices are coding that effects them “below the radar”

    • Oooo I love the idea of “cultural coding.” I had not really thought about that though I definitely noticed various recognizable SNES soundfonts throughout the soundtrack. Agree that Amalgam is EXTREMELY Earthbound-esque.

      That’s a really cool topic, something perhaps worth exploring in more depth as that sort of thing, a “timbre language” that develops over time is probably traceable through decades of video game music. Thanks for the comment!

      • Thanks for the reply! I love that while many of these sound elements are embedded in the experience on a subconcious level, Toby did tip his hand by doing a direct parody of the Final Fantasy VI opera. This is one of the sound experiences that most players comment on, and it opens a doorway for those who otherwise might not explore this area to do some digging on their own.

        I look forward to any other game music essays you decide to write!

  14. Absolutely fascinating read. I don’t know much about music theory in specifics but I’ve always loved the use of leitmotifs in toby’s work and it’s really gratifying to get some insight as to the underlying process of that experience.

    Out of curiosity have you engaged with Homestuck, or at least specifically Toby’s musical work throughout it? I’ve seen lots of compendiums and databases for homestucks’ musical cross references but it would be really really interesting to me to see discussion on the level of what you’re doing regarding it.

  15. Sorry, but your transcription of “Run!” Is incorrect. There are no triplets in the ostinato based on Undyne’s leitmotif, and what made you think that they were triplets probably was because of the agrupation of notes. One may divide its time signature into 16/16 (or 4/4), but the 16th notes are 3+3+3+3+4.

  16. This, my good sir, is one of the best things I have ever read on the internet. And trust me, I have read A LOT! Props, I will be returning for your future analyses! Fantastic work!

  17. Such a fantastic deconstruction of one of the best games in a long time.

    I adore this game and its music and it had a really inspiring/meaningful impact on me. I was aware of some of the motifs but certainly not all of them, and I learned a lot from your write up.

    Thank you so much!

  18. Fantastic analysis. I never would have caught all the motifs in Undyne’s battle themes if it weren’t for this! The soundtrack in Undertale is phenomenal and easily demonstrates how powerful thematic music is. I was chocking up when I heard Save the World for the first time, hah.

    On a side note, I know you covered a ton on Alphys here, but you didn’t mention the parallels in what I thought was the most memorable part of her theme and the song in the true lab (0:31 and 0:47, respectively). Didn’t make the cut huh? 😛

  19. I think you missed another one of Mettaton’s motifs. Take a listen to that descending pattern from the very beginning of Metal Crusher (the part that doesn’t repeat), and then pay attention to Death By Glamour. Appropriately enough, it comes back in right before the main Metal Crusher theme. Considering those notes kick off our first encounter with the highly-memorable robot, I’d have expected you to assign some significance to them.

  20. Just… my sincerest thanks for this incredible write up. Don’t know I stumbled upon it all but reading through was a joy and probably one of the most interesting and fun reads I’ve had in a long time. Perfect way to wrap up my playthrough- I was so pleasantly surprised with how the music at the end of the true pacifist ending really engaged emotionally and having an explanation of just why this fantastic soundtrack was so powerful was just… delightful. Seriously- thanks for writing this!

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