It’s been over a year and a half since Undertale was released in September 2015, but a persistent fan presence remains in its wake. Voted “Best Game of All Time” by Gamefaqs in 2016 it’s a unique success for an Kickstarted indie game by a man who’d never made an original game before.
It’s rare to see a nonbinary character in popular media. Rarer still is it to see a human nonbinary character- usually, nonbinary identities must be “explained” and justified within the narrative by making them aliens or robots or fictional species, it’s rare to see a human character allowed to simply exist as nonbinary.
It’s hard to understate what a powerful gesture it is to make the protagonist of a game that’s taken the gaming community by storm, nonbinary. The game begins by giving you control of your nameless generic protagonist child, only to (spoiler alert!) surprise you at the end by revealing that you aren’t controlling a generic protagonist, but a character with a name and an identity independent from you entirely. The reveal of Frisk’s name and character is such a powerful one that still get people emotional when you mention it.
It’s hard not to get attached to your player character over the course of the game with all their struggles. Undertale is at its core, a story about kindness and ending cycles of violence. When you’re approached by characters often they want to hurt you, and you have to find ways to talk them down or force them to stop. You learn their justifiable motivations and befriend them and in doing so, you make the world you exist in a better place to be. The most powerful part of Undertale is the reality of choices- unlike many games that force you to make decisions and then chastise you for them (cough cough Soma), Undertale has an entire arc for what happens if you kill every single person in the game. It has different endings for how much violence you choose to engage in and you are completely entirely able to follow through on them. Being kind and getting a true ending is a choice you actively have to make and work for, it isn’t given to you, or to Frisk.
Frisk is characterized by their well of unending kindness and patience, as well as unrepentant flirting with everyone. Chara, the mirror of Frisk and secret secondary protagonist to the game, is perhaps even more engaging, a character whose entire story is hidden and unraveled through secondhand accounts. Chara and their adoptive brother Asriel chose to try to free Monsterkind from imprisonment by killing six human beings and using their souls to break a magical barrier keeping them all underground, but to leave, Chara would have to die and Asriel would have to use their soul to leave. You initially learn that Chara became sick and died, only to learn in the true ending that Chara decided to team up with Asriel to free monsterkind, and poisoned themselves on purpose with Buttercups from their father’s garden. The plan was ultimately a failure because Asriel realized at the last minute he couldn’t bring himself to kill a human being, and both of them ended up dying tragically. Because of this initial tragedy, the Underground has been flung into chaos and despair, and all the characters who attempt to harm Frisk over the course of the game have Motivations that can be traced back to the cycle of violence that began with that tragedy.
Frisk choosing kindness every time, even before knowing why these people would want to hurt them, was a powerfully emotional experience, especially at the very end, facing the final boss and his well of hatred and fury, and repeatedly forgiving him and refusing to allow his hatred to taint you.
For me, personally, I think the best moment of Frisk’s character arc for me was at the very end. If you speak to Asriel in the post game before leaving the Underground, he reveals to you that Chara had climbed the mountain knowing that people who climbed the mountain never returned, and that they were a truly troubled child that hated humans for a reason he never understood. He then asks Frisk why they would climb a mountain that no one ever returned alive from, implying that Frisk may have depression or suffer from suicidal ideation. This is a character whose main driving force over the course of the narrative has been determination, determination, determination, and overwhelming kindness. To reveal a character driven by determination and kindness struggles with this very taboo issue was a powerful moment to me as a person that struggles with depression myself- it was a moment that blew me away and cemented Undertale as my favourite game forever.
Frisk and Chara both are fantastic nonbinary characters from a fantastic game that includes several other nonbinary characters like Napstablook or Monster Kid, as well as several other LGBT characters like Alphys and Undyne! With a game with so much wonderful humour and compelling character narratives, it’s hard to pick favourites, but for me, it’s always going to be Frisk and Chara on top.