Spend five minutes talking to me about video games, and I’ll inevitably start talking about Undertale. Though I was late to the Undertale party, only playing it last year, something about it… changed me. Maybe it’s because the novel I wrote during NaNo last year, right after playing and heavily inspired by it, was how I got my agent; or maybe it’s because Papyrus and Sans speak to me on a spiritual level. Regardless, when Sidequest writer Elvie shared Undertale’s Halloween tweet, linking over to the new Deltarune website, I immediately downloaded the game.
Please note: this review contains spoilers for Deltarune and Undertale.
Deltarune: Chapter 1
October 31, 2018
In typical Toby Fox fashion, Deltarune constantly thwarts your expectations, even from the beginning of the game. When you first load up the game, it seems that you have more autonomy, but that illusion is quickly shattered. I’ll let the specifics remain a mystery, but after the jig was up, I was highly amused—and also reassured that Toby Fox hasn’t changed.
You play as Kris, the human son of Toriel and sibling to Asriel. (In Undertale, Asriel’s human brother was called Chara; in Deltarune, Kris is only referred to by name or as “you,” and never by pronouns.) As Toriel takes you to school, you learn that Asriel (called “Azzy”) is in college, and piece together that something has happened to your family in recent history.
You arrive to class late, where Alphys is the teacher. A bunch of monsters, some of whom you’d recognize as Undertale enemies, are your classmates, including… Susie. Cue sad electric guitar solo, because Susie is a big purple bully that everyone is afraid of. Alphys, responsible teacher she is, sends Susie to get chalk from the supply room—and asks you to follow her. But the room is actually Narnia, stretching further and further… until you fall into a new world.
Eventually, you and Susie meet up again, and you meet Rasiel, a prince of the dark, who tells you that you, as Lightners, have come to bring balance to the Force and restore his kingdom!… or something. And the way to do that is to traverse through the realm and close the foundation of darkness, which will return you home. Thus your mission is to do just that, while Lancer, the son of the king whose tyranny rules their land, tries to thwart you.
The battle style has changed, now resembling a JPRG, with all three characters on the screen at the same time, each with different abilities. As in Undertale, the player is encouraged not to fight the monsters; Rasiel insists on kindness, which causes some ~story events~ to happen. And the three-person team is especially effective with the game’s playful additions to the “act” function. Of course, the system isn’t perfect, but the battles are super easy and not at all frustrating (despite the difficult bullet hell patterns that are also in this game).
The story took about three hours to play, as it’s only the first chapter in an eventual full game. Unsurprisingly, I loved every moment of it. There is the same loving attention to detail in this game as there was in Fox’s first, from character design to background art, and the music is just as rich and dynamic. The characters are charming and exhibit a lot of growth in this first chapter alone. One of my favorite parts was exploring the town, where you see some more familiar faces and learn more about your family.
At first, when I saw characters like Toriel, I assumed this was going to be an Undertale prequel—and although the similarities are unquestionable (it doesn’t take much to realize that Deltarune and Ralsei are both anagrams), the differences set the game apart. They’re meant to be separate games in different worlds, and while the fanservice is great, new players can come to Deltarune without particularly missing anything. On the other hand, the Deltarune website says the game is meant for people who’ve finished Undertale, so take that as you will.
It was sprung onto us as a surprise, but Toby Fox gave us a hint that Deltarune was coming. Fans who’ve dug really deep into the differences between the versions of Undertale—and I happen to know this because I’m writing a conference paper on the game, and had to look up the differences between versions—might realize that Clam Girl’s dialogue has pointed to Deltarune for almost two months, with reference to her neighbor “Suzy.”
I don’t want to spoil the ending for anyone, but I do need to say that this first chapter felt more like complete game rather than a demo until it happened. I’m not sure what to make of the end, and I’m sure the internet will lead me down lots of rabbit holes. Toby Fox has said that it might take him years to finish Deltarune, so let’s hope he manages to hire a team so we don’t have to wait that long.
For anyone who loved Undertale, Deltarune is a must. For those who haven’t, I think it’s absolutely accessible and understandable—and since it’s free, there’s no reason not to try it. And for everyone who’s played it, please tell me your interpretation of the ending!
Sidequest’s former managing editor Naseem Jamnia used to do sciencey things, but they now slam their keyboard and call it art. By night, they play a lot of video games. And regardless of the time, they spend way too much of it on Twitter, @jamsternazzy. Also, their debut novella, THE BRUISING OF QILWA, comes out in August 2022!