Toby Fox, best known as the creator of Undertale, is certainly a man who knows how to play to his audience. On October 30th he began tweeting mysterious messages as a character trying to make contact from another world, talking about creating a new future together. The Undertale community began listening intently. For three years we’ve been hoping for – though not really expecting – some kind of followup to Undertale. Might our dreams finally be coming true?
Warning - This article contains major spoilers for Deltarune: Chapter 1!
On Halloween, with no further explanation, he posted a link to Deltarune.com. Delta Rune is a phrase that would make any Undertale fan’s ears perk up; aside from being a well-known anagram of Undertale, it was the symbol of the Dreemurr family, the rulers of the Underground. On Deltarune.com I found a link to download… something. The only condition I had to agree to was that I would accept anything and everything that happens after downloading.
So... this isn't a virus, right?
What Exactly Is This?
After spending a few minutes wondering whether this was some kind of Halloween prank that would infest my computer with jumpscares, I decided “what the heck” and downloaded it onto my cruddy travel laptop. All that was in the download was a readme file reiterating that I accept whatever happens next, and an .exe innocuously named SURVEY_PROGRAM. Okay, cool. I ran the program, not quite knowing whether I was expecting an actual survey or a game demo.
It asked me to create a character (or a “vessel,” in the game’s words), asked me to name the vessel, then asked for my own name. It definitely seemed like I was getting an actual game demo. Was this the Undertale sequel we’d been dreaming of? Deltarune asked me a few questions like what sort of food my character likes (salty) and what kind of gift he has. I chose Kindness.
Goat Mom! It IS Undertale! Except...
It then threw all of that away, and told me that my choices don’t matter. What?
That was a theme that would be hammered home more than once. It’s a complete 180 from Undertale, which was all about the choices you make. And it’s true, at least within this chapter; while you can change some of the details within the run, the ending is always the same.
Then there’s the fact that it has a lot of the same characters as Undertale, but things are deeply and fundamentally different. Someone who was very much gone for good is dropping by for a visit next week. Characters who should be very close don’t even know each others’ names. The monsters live aboveground, but there don’t seem to be any humans there except for the protagonist. The main portion of the game takes place deep underground in a kingdom of strange creatures, but it’s called The Dark and is inhabited by the darkners, who are a lot like monsters but not the same thing.
Of course I will, but does it actually matter?
It’s a bit unsettling, actually. The world is so familiar, but not quite right. Much like the letters in its name, the elements of Undertale have been scrambled around to create something brand new in Deltarune. I spent a while trying to figure out whether this a sequel to Undertale, or a prequel - Kris does look a whole lot like the first Fallen Human - or an AU (alternate universe). I was leaning very heavily toward AU, since things didn’t quite add up for either a sequel or a prequel. Eventually, though, I decided to live up to the agreement I’d made and simply accept what was happening.
The next day Toby posted some thoughts about Deltarune, which included this.
The AU theory is seemingly confirmed by word of god.
Building On The Old Formula
While the core concept of Deltarune seems to be completely the opposite of Undertale (and much more in line with standard games with only one ending), the gameplay feels like a true sequel. Before you ever get into your first real battle, you’ll run into a new-ish type of encounter. It’s not a exactly a battle, you just need to avoid obstacles and attacks to get where you’re going. It’s an evolution of the section in Undertale where you need to run from Undyne while avoiding her spears, and it’s used much more often.
So familiar, and yet not the same.
The actual battles are also an offshoot of Undertale’s turn-based bullet hell setup. Many of the same mechanics are used: FIGHT, ACT, ITEM, and MERCY all make their return, along with a new command: MAGIC. It’s something that humans can’t use, but monsters can, and this time you’ve got a party made up of both.
Undertale’s combat system really doesn’t seem to lend itself to more traditional RPG party battles, but Toby went ahead and did it anyway. It works well for the most part. Having to work with - and sometimes against - your party members opens up all new options in battle. You can have Kris set up an enemy and Ralsei spare or kill it, or use a combo ability to affect the whole party at once. Susie’s role in all this is actually really interesting: A party member you can’t control who does nothing but attack. It's one thing when it's Umaro in Final Fantasy VI, when your only goal is to kill your enemies. In Deltarune, it gives you another decision to make. Do you spend a turn to warn the enemies about her, or do you just go for the win?
Really, the battles are easy enough to get through even when one party member isn’t cooperating. As with Undertale, the appeal is in the characters and the story, not the challenge. On that note, though, it is sort of interesting that taking the slightly harder approach of not killing anybody doesn’t have much of an impact on the game itself; it means that you’re avoiding killing just because you want to, or because it’s the right thing to do, and not because you’re expecting a reward. It's about who you want to be, not about getting the "good" ending.
Your special moves are fueled by TP (Tension Points), which you can build by guarding or by narrowly dodging attacks.
My one complaint with the party battles is that you still only get the one soul to dodge enemy attacks with, and you never know which character the enemies are going after. It’s a small thing, but it did break my immersion just a little bit while I was playing.
Other than that one nitpick, I’m thrilled with what I’ve seen of Deltarune’s gameplay. It really feels like a proper sequel, like a Mega Man X to Undertale’s Mega Man. It doesn’t just provide more of the same (which I would have been 100% satisfied with), it goes a step further and builds upon it with new tactics and types of encounters.
But Let’s Go Back To That Ending
The ending of Chapter 1 is disturbing, to say the least. Kris, who looks and dresses like Chara, suddenly tears out his own soul(!) and produces a knife. His eyes glow red and he gives a feral smile. What just happened? Is the world going to be destroyed like the world of Undertale after a Genocide run?!
Well, probably not - this is only Chapter 1, after all - but it was still a heck of a shock. Presumably the rest of the game will have something to do with either helping Kris or stopping him; if it’s anything like Undertale, probably both.
And also, that end credits song! I have nothing to add to that, it’s just beautiful.
What I Hope To See
After watching the ending of Chapter 1, my greatest hope for Deltarune is that we’ll finally get to play as a monster who’s absorbed a human soul. With Kris’s soul sitting in a cage in Toriel’s house, the obvious choice would be for her to take it and try to save or stop her child - Undertale’s Toriel certainly showed a ruthless streak, so I could see her doing that. If not Toriel, then Susie might be able to take it, since she’s also a monster and already in your party. At any rate, I would love to see what a monster with a human soul can do, without getting into the abstract reality-altering territory of Flowey with six or seven of them.
The other thing I’m interested in is seeing some connections to the world of Undertale. While Toby has specifically said that this is a different world and has no impact on Undertale’s story, I’m specifically interested in learning more about Sans, since I’m now buying heavily into the theory that he’s actually a darkner from the world of Deltarune.
Who, me? That's kind of a shot in the dark.
Sans was the one character in Undertale who was aware of alternate realities - in fact, he was studying them. He always knew more than he should, and played by totally different rules than any other monster. He could dodge attacks, which no monster could do, but the darkners in Deltarune can. He could teleport around the Underground, which is an ability that the recurring enemy Lancer seems to share. He and his brother just appeared in the Underground one day and nobody knew where they had come from, so they clearly didn’t arrive by whatever process usually makes new monsters (I’ll leave that to your imagination and Incognito Mode). Finally, he bleeds when he’s cut, which monsters usually don’t. Some players believe that it was really ketchup and not blood; however, darkners actually do bleed (or at least know what blood is), as evidenced by Lancer’s threat to turn your party into blood.
Also, to go meta for a moment, Toby Fox said that his original concept for Undertale was much closer to what Deltarune is. So, in a very literal sense, Sans could be from that first idea of Deltarune.
So, while the two games may not be directly connected, they have at least one possible link. I’d love the chance to learn more about Undertale’s most mysterious character.
And, of course, I’m equally looking forward to exploring this new world and learning more about the darkners. Their stated role is to support the lightners (humans and monsters). What does it mean that an entire race apparently exists to serve another? How did that happen, and is it really supposed to be that way? Is the rather uncomfortable racial connotation intentional?
Also, why was this a thing?
I Really Like Deltarune, Okay?
Well, at this point I’ve written 1700 words about a two hour gameplay demo, so I should probably wrap this up.
What did I like about Deltarune’s first chapter? Darned near all of it. It sure felt like my first time playing Undertale, yet it left me with just enough uncertainty about the world to keep things interesting.
I'm with you in The Dark...
What am I hoping for in future installments? More of everything, basically. More about Deltarune, more about Undertale, and the chance to finally see a monster with a human soul. Most of all, though, I just want to see how this story plays out. And if I get to hug fluffy goat monsters again, well, that's just a bonus.