Toby Fox sure knows how to create a hype. Since his critically acclaimed, cult-classic RPG Undertale was published in 2015, he was constantly under the spotlight as one of the most talented, intriguing and promising indie developers in the gaming business. Gamers and critics alike had been anxiously awaiting the release of his next project, but all was quiet…suspiciously quiet, I might add. And then, suddenly, without even the slightest warning, on October 30, Fox addressed fandom on the official Undertale Twitter page, teasing them with hints about his new game – which, by the way, he described as being “far from complete”. Then he finished by asking fans to return on his page in 24 hours, and he’ll give them a series of questions, presumably using replies in the creation of his next title. When they returned on the day of Halloween, a brand new game awaited them, or, at least, its first chapter.
Now, you’d expect that by this point Fox would finish with his shenanigans, but no – we were greeted with even more of his trademark weirdness, including cryptic warnings that you’ll need to bypass SmartScreen protection in order to play the game. This naturally lead some of the fans to rightly wonder is this just some clever ploy to get access to our personal data or, at least, infect our computers with malware?
Of course, this entire shady, mysterious, even slightly dark web kind of performance was just another way to additionally involve you into Toby Fox’s next adventure. On the first glance, Deltarune is a spin-off of Fox’s previous game, but soon you’ll realize that the connections between the two games run much deeper than it might seem at first, which is also subtly intimated by the fact that the name Deltarune is actually an anagram of the word Undertale. Just as his previous creation, Deltarune is a brilliantly nebulous game which will force you to constantly search for deeper meanings, reassess everything and wonder about the relations with Undertale (despite, of course, the obvious ones, i.e. that some of the familiar characters from Undertale also appear in Deltarune in slightly changed roles). The prevailing sensation you’ll constantly experience is that of utter confusion, as you’re constantly put into various situations that aren’t just bizarre in their own right but are seemingly downright impossible in relation to Fox’s previous game.
In case you haven’t yet played Undertale (and it’s extremely advisable to do so – in fact the author clearly states on the that the game should play only those who have finished Undertale), its basic premise is that there’s an underground area separated from our world by a magic barrier. This underground realm is populated by all manners of demonic creatures. Monsters ruled the earth side by side with humans until the war broke out between them. After the monsters found themselves on the losing side, they’ve been exiled underground and sealed off by powerful magic. The protagonist of the Undertale, a human child, finds a passage into the underground kingdom through mount Ebott and starts with its exceptionally strange journey.
The Deltarune starts with a completely different approach: instead of placing a normal protagonist in an unusual context, it does U-turn and transports monsters into our world. This totally unexpected transposition and displacing some of the bizarre demonic denizens you’ve met in the previous game in the prosaic, everyday context of mundane American suburbia is just the first of many shocking things you’ll encounter in Deltarune. This reversal alone will naturally breed a bunch of questions, without giving you proper answers, at least in this first chapter. However, pretty soon Kris, the kid protagonist of the game, and Susie, a punk monster girl with an unsettling taste for violence and the first of your companions, will finally make their way into the underground where things will become even stranger. Without spoiling anything, this first chapter constantly vacillates between reality and fantasy, making you wonder if your visit to the underground is real or not, forcing you to reexamine the potential connections between the two games, and interpret many playfully hidden clues and allusions to Undertale, that Toby Fox cleverly planted into its spin-off/sequel.
The gameplay mostly reminds on the one from Undertale. Just like in the previous game, there are several approaches you can take when dealing with the hostile monsters – the pacifistic and violent way out of every situation. And, just like in Undertale the choice will no doubt drastically influence the final outcome of the game. As one of the characters remarked, how you treat people makes all the difference, and if you give way to your violent urges, “you may not find the result favorable”. The visual presentation is also similar to the one from Undertale – it boasts gorgeous retro-styled graphics whose deceptive simplicity is capable of conveying a wide range of emotional and expressive nuances while managing to be utterly strange and irresistibly cute at the same time. The same can be said for music, which lovingly recalls soundtracks from the 16-bit era and plays a major part in the overall atmosphere and quality of the game. Undoubtedly, things will become clearer with the future chapters of Deltarune. In the meantime, prepare yourself for even more shocks and surprises – if we know anything about him, Toby Fox still hasn’t finished with his creative mischiefs.