For all of its meme status, Undertale was a genuinely good game. Made almost entirely by one person, the game was a love letter to the RPGs of old. However, it also had a wonderful cast of characters, an intriguing plot, fun mechanics, and a unique storytelling style that mesmerizes players to this day. This can all be said about its follow-up Deltarune, but in much different ways. Deltarune Chapter 2 was released on Nintendo Switch for free last week and packaged in with Chapter 1 to make a hefty free demo, so let’s review how it’s doing so far.
What is Deltarune?
On one hand, Deltarune is an indie tribute to SNES-era JRPGs. You control a team of characters as they make their way through the Dark World in an effort to restore balance to the world. Your party members can attack, cast spells, use items, and block. They can also ACT, which allows them to charm enemies and end fights without harming them. During the enemies’ turns, a box pops up with a heart inside, representing the player, who has to dodge attacks.
On the other hand, I have no idea what Deltarune is, and neither does anyone else (except its creator). Like its predecessor, the mechanics are simple enough to explain, but there are enough mysteries happening behind the scenes that the story is still a subject of debate. It even retroactively throws many aspects of Undertale into question. It’s not a sequel, but certainly part of the same series. At the moment, we only have the first two chapters to go on with as many as five more to come.
A legend of hope. A legend of dreams.
Deltarune Chapter 1 takes place in what appears to be modern times and introduces the main character Kris, who is a social outcast. They are late to school one day and have to team up with Susie, the class bully for a group project. They’re sent to retrieve chalk from the supply closet but are drawn into the Dark World, a place of fantasy. Here they meet the prince Ralsei, who fills them (and the audience) in on an ancient prophecy. Along the way, they explore a world that borrows aesthetics from playing cards, meet and befriend enemies, and ultimately seal the darkness and return to the Light World.
Deltarune Chapter 2 happens during the next day and introduces a few new story beats and mechanics. The Dark World is based on the library’s computer lab rather than children’s games. Classmates Noelle and Berdly also find themselves on Kris’s adventure. Enemies you spare go to live in Ralsei’s castle town. Other teammates can ACT and talk to enemies, expanding the strategy of battles. However, unlike Chapter 1 where your choices don’t matter at all over the course of the story, Chapter 2 has a number of sometimes major changes depending on your actions (including ones from the previous chapter). It even has its own version of Undertale‘s Genocide Route.
Go to your rune
Deltarune takes everything Undertale did before it and kicks it up several notches. The music is incredible as always. I’ve been listening to it since the game launched and have it on as I’m writing this. Toby Fox makes excellent use of leitmotifs to draw attention to connections that tease at unrevealed details, and the square wave instruments recall classics on the Super Nintendo. In fact, there are loads of references to games like EarthBound, Final Fantasy, Chrono Trigger, Illusion of Gaia, Secret of Evermore, and so many more. These go beyond the standard indie flavor text and take the extra step to recall moments from those games through set pieces, cutscenes, and dialogue. Sometimes, however, the commitment to retro style means we have to remember outdated things like limited inventory and Microsoft Paint-quality art.
The series’s greatest strength is in its characters and their relationships. Deltarune shows off a massive cast of folks from Undertale in its first few minutes and then relegates them to the Light World segments. Instead, we get to hang out with the Darkners for the bulk of the experience. While Lancer, Rouxls, and Queen are chaotic and hilarious, and Ralsei is adorable and mysterious, I found myself not getting as attached to most of them as I did the monsters from the original game. The story breezes by them at times, and I hope to get to know them more in upcoming installments.
Deltarune is clearly giving us a much longer saga than Undertale, though the two share experimental storytelling in common. Deltarune, like Undertale before it, makes a distinction between the player and the main character, and it appears to be setting up some future story complications. I personally love this kind of atmospheric experience, as well as the exploration of the themes of freedom, control, hopes and dreams, and the nature of friendship. However, I can see why many people might find it unpleasant. After all, in a certain light, these aren’t fantasy titles — they’re horror games.
Despite everything, it’s still you.
Deltarune is a successor that stands on its own feet so far with Chapter 1 & 2 on Switch. It does what Undertale did but executes it in different ways. It’s clear that Toby Fox and the rest of the 8-4 team are pouring their heart and soul into this game, and while I want to experience the rest of it and see the ending, this staggered release of chapters has allowed discussion and theories to sprout up and bloom anew. The music, writing, storytelling, and humor are all incredible. Seeing as how the first two chapters are available as a free download, it’s definitely worth checking out.