A Second Look: Is the SOUL from Undertale the Biblical Soul?
In Toby Fox’s indie hit title Undertale, he presents some thought-provoking mechanics and moral questions to the player. The main question posited is around the standard RPG mechanic where the protagonist must eliminate the monsters to progress in the story. Undertale, on the other hand, asks the question, “What if nothing has to die?” This fairly innocuous query leads the player on a deep and expansive journey into gaming and philosophy and equal rights.
Toby is a game creator that enjoys playing with words a great deal - whether for the sake of a good pun or to defy someone’s expectations. For instance, we learn throughout the game that LV, which traditionally translates to Level in most role-playing games, instead translates to LOVE in this game. Even still, this LOVE is a further acronym that I won’t reveal here for potential spoilers—but let’s just say, it ain’t real LOVE-ly. (ba-dum-tss)
Another of the mechanics that gets presented in the UI is the idea of the SOUL. All caps S-O-U-L may very well be an acronym, but it isn’t one revealed to us during the game. Despite not revealing that mystery to the player, Toby does reveal a whole heck of a lot about the SOUL to the player. Most notably, and the impetus for this argument, the SOUL of the Human is dramatically stronger than the monsters’ SOULs and has the ability to persist after death. When the player character ‘dies’ in the game by losing all of their HP, the character literally comes back to life after dying at the last spot where they felt determined.
Okay, so it wouldn’t seem necessary to point this out, but HELLO! This idea of life after death and possibility of the SOUL being the conduit by which our physical body might die but the persona might persist? Come on, it’s such a religious idea that I could catch leprosy.
This whole idea of the intersection between the SOUL and the Christian Soul is one that needs to be explored. Is it possible that they are one in the same? Can we learn how to better understand the IRL human soul by understanding Toby Fox’s idea of the SOUL?
While the bounty of the Internet doesn’t seem to point towards any idea that Toby is a Christian, is it possible that he may have preached a sermon via one of his game mechanics?
In order to answer this, let’s first dive a bit deeper into the Undertale lore of the SOUL. We know that the SOUL of one human is about equally as strong as every single monster SOUL combined, so the difference between them is astronomical.
We also know that the SOUL of a human takes the form of an 8-bit cartoon heart and changes color depending on the monster it is fighting or the state of the confrontation, such as turning blue for Papyrus or green for Undyne. The monster SOUL on the other hand is white and takes the form of the same heart—upside down.
According to a bit of flavor-text from early in the game, monsters believe that the SOUL is made up of love, hope, and compassion—none of which are required for the human SOUL. Aside from being a sick burn on humanity, this does allude to a potential missing ingredient in the soul concoction—like Bubbles, Blossom and Buttercup without that special Chemical X. We don’t learn the truth behind this secret ingredient until much later in the game.
Once the player discovers the secret True Lab late in-game, we learn the truth about the SOUL from the lab notes on the wall. The True Lab scientist notes a series of findings at the bequest of the King—all with the intention of giving monsters the power of the SOUL that humans seem to naturally possess.
The most notable lab entry is the fifth one, which reads, “I've done it. Using the blueprints, I've extracted it from the human SOULs. I believe this is what gives their SOULs the strength to persist after death. The will to keep living. The resolve to change fate. Let's call this power... "Determination".”
If you’ve ever touched Undertale, you’ll know why this moment was so mind-blowing. Determination is a word that comes up quite often in the game; most importantly at every save point - which is also the source of our player character’s literal bodily resurrection.
The True Lab scientist discovers that this determination (or de-termination, if you will… remember I said Toby loves wordplay) is the difference between the human and monster SOULs. It is exactly that which the True Lab scientist is able to extract from the soul and try to repurpose for monsters.
What does this tell us about the SOUL exactly? A few major things:
First, the body is just a house for the human SOUL, this ‘determination’ is the actual source of life for the human.
Second, the SOUL doesn’t require any morality or prerequisite structuring—it isn’t confined to love, hope, or compassion as markers of good morals.
Knowing this, one can deduce the intersection between the SOUL of Toby Fox and the Biblical Soul without too much trouble.
In the original Greek, the word soul can be understood as this funny string of glyphs Ψυχή, which can be transliterated into a word that looks very familiar—psychē. This word, which has since been adapted to more often be an understanding of the consciousness as a whole, or the psyche, was more accurately a descriptor of the ‘breath of life.’
The term is used around 750 times in the Old Testament and 105 times in the New with quite a few of them being from Jesus himself. This concept of the ‘breath of life’ first shows up with it’s Hebrew cousin נֶפֶשׁ or nephesh right at the start of the Old Testament as God breathes into the nostrils of the original man and woman in the book of Genesis.
This seems like a pretty clear parallel - just like the Powerpuff Girls, humanity can be built with as much sugar, spice, and everything nice as desired - the real difference that sets humanity apart and makes them unique is the special extra ingredient. The creator God literally breathes it’s breath into the OG humans and it is that breath which animates and gives them the determination to get started.
Granted, Adam and Eve in the Old Testament do seem to mess things up pretty terribly, but that only helps this argument out even further. Instead of being bound by some kind of constraints of hope, love, and compassion, humanity can and does screw up all the time despite the breath of life dwelling within them.
Consider the scripture from the gospel of Matthew 22:37, where Jesus explains to early followers that they should “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” In order for that to be a command, it implies that there is a choice involved. Humanity doesn’t have to love God with the soul - the psychē—even though it is the very breath of God.
There’s another obvious scriptural instance of this psychē that seems to be the most helpful for the comparison posited here. In the gospel of Matthew, chapter 10, the writer tells of an instance in which Jesus is about to send out the twelve disciples to get some work done healing people and doing other dope disciple stuff.
In this Messiah-level pep-talk, Jesus doles instructions and warnings to the disciples about what to expect during this mission. He explains that some people won’t be receptive to the message at all. Some will attack them with their words and actions. But Jesus reassures them that they have nothing to actually be concerned about in the end. Even if they were to get killed physically on this mission, Jesus assures them in verse 28 that they “do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.”
Wait - seriously? Yeah, apparently Jesus is straight up talking about the same thing that Toby presents to us directly in Undertale. All throughout the game we run into character after character that are very capable (okay, some more than others) of killing our body—but no matter what, we can always try again because none of them can actually kill the SOUL.
While Jesus doesn’t use the term ‘determination,’ the parallel here should be obvious. It is the soul which remains even after the body has been destroyed. It is the soul that perseveres into whatever awaits it next after the body is gone. Humankind has the ability to kill the body, but it cannot possibly kill the soul.
Just as the True Lab scientist discovers about determination, it is the human soul that makes up the actual source of life for humanity.
What exactly can we make of this? If we kept taking this in one way, it would be possible to say that the Human SOUL from Undertale is exactly the same as the Biblical Soul that Jesus presents us with in the New Testament of the Bible. They each allow for perseverance after physical and bodily death and they aren’t confined to any kind of moral parameter.
In another vein, we might say that it is determination itself that is actually comparable to the Biblical Soul, since both monsters and humans technically have SOULs. Somehow, though, it would make more sense that Toby gave both monsters and humans SOULs for a reason - and it’s not actually about superiority at all. But that’s another question for another time.
All one can hope for at this point is having the answer to the question: are you determined to keep moving forward… or are you gonna get dunked on?
And remember, no matter who you are or where you’ve been, these three things remain true.
God loves you. We love you. You matter.
Until next time, be boldly blessed.