Deltrarune: Chapter 1 Review
Undertale’s successor recaptures the original game’s magic while boldly forging a new path
The first (and only currently-released) chapter of Toby Fox’s new game, Deltarune, is available as a free download for PC and Mac at deltarune.com. It takes about three to four hours to play through to completion. Like Undertale, Deltarune is best experienced without any expectations or forewarning, so we recommend playing Chapter 1 before reading this review.
Alternate light source
Deltarune is a rearrangement of Undertale in more ways than just being an anagram. Fans of the first game will visit similar locations, meet returning characters, and hear familiar audio cues that certainly imply a connection to Undertale, but everything is just a little bit off. Here, Toriel isn’t a motherly figure who takes you in; she is your actual mother. The worlds in Undertale are divided between the land of humans and the land of monsters, but the two worlds in Deltarune both have humans and monsters and are instead divided between the light and the dark. Asriel seems to be represented in Ralsei, a Darkner version (one who lives in the Dark World) of his Undertale self. All of these elements and more add up to Deltarune feeling like a Bizarro World-like take on Undertale’s base elements.
In response to being asked if the game is a sequel to Undertale, Toby Fox describes Deltarune as “a game you can play after you complete UNDERTALE, if you want to.” I personally think it’s actually a prequel, but Fox’s definition is much more practical. Deltarune takes place in a different world to Undertale’s with characters who, despite having the same identities, have different histories and roles. Whether or not future episodes tie the two games closer together, Deltarune stands singularly with its own tone and sense of purpose.
Deltarune’s greatest departure from the original game is that it does not care how violently the player character acts. While Undertale’s strengths lie in its ability to reflect upon the pacifist or genocidal tactics used to clear the game, Deltarune is much more focused on telling a linear story with a sequence of immutable events. What it loses in player agency, however, it gains back in focused story telling.
While the balance between pacifism and violence is still one of the game’s major motifs, it’s expressed through the characters of Susie and Ralsei rather than the actions of the player. Susie is an angry teenage dragon girl who will tear through her enemies without any sense of remorse just so she can get back home. Ralsei is the self-proclaimed Prince from the Dark who would rather accomplish his goals through peaceful negotiation than fighting. Together, with Kris, the blank-slate player character, these characters make up the main party.
While gameplay takes a backseat to story, music, and tone, like it does in Undertale, Deltarune’s party-based combat system feels like a complete improvement over the first game’s. Because there are always two or three members of the team, the player is usually using at least one of them to do something important every turn. The battles themselves seem to have been fine-tuned to require less waiting and more active participation. Despite Susie being part of the party for the majority of the game, she usually acts on her own without restraint. If you want to play through the game without fighting, Kris must spend a turn warning the enemy that an attack is coming from Susie’s direction. Correctly maneuvering through your options and thinking out your strategy is key to winning battles without wasting too many health items.
In contrast to Undertale’s monochromatic battle sprites, everything in Deltarune is presented in full color. This not only breathes a bit more life into the world, it also serves as a great way to easily distinguish the game’s characters at a glance. Each main character and common enemy type has a primary color that distinguishes them from others. There aren’t too many enemy varieties or characters in general and there are hardly ever more than a handful on screen at the same time, but every bit of clarity helps each figure feel more iconic and memorable.
Even more iconic than the characters, however, is the music. Fans of the first game won’t be surprised to find that Toby Fox is still really good at composing soundtracks. Upon beginning a second playthrough of the game, I was immediately struck by how many quick leitmotifs were being set-up that I recognized from more powerful moments later in the game. I’m excited to see how these melodies develop and change throughout the rest of the game.
If there’s any area to knock the first chapter of Deltarune, it’s that I’m not sure I understand what it’s trying to say. It’s probably unfair to compare it to Undertale because this is just the first chapter of a larger story, but Undertale had a lot to say about lost, violence, compassion, and forgiveness. It was a game that dramatically impacted the way I view video games and what they can do. If Deltarune has any outward-facing meaning along the lines of what was presented in the first game, I’ve missed it and the experience has a lesser feeling of purpose because of it. Undertale’s thick sense of meaning is undoubtably a key factor in what made it so popular, so it’s a bit strange to see Deltarune not really go for the same punch. That said, anything can happen in later chapters, so take this criticism with a grain of salt.
Speaking of later chapters, Fox estimates that they won’t be done any time soon. He’s looking to create a team of developers to help finish the game in a reasonable amount of time because it would take too long by himself. I’m optimistic that he’ll find the right folks for the job. After Detarune’s slam dunk first chapter, I’m sure Fox won’t be hurting for volunteers to finish it up.