At 9a.m. on Halloween, the Twitter account for the hit indie game Undertale posted a mysterious link on Twitter. It led to DELTARUNE.COM with no explanation other than some cryptic tweets from the day before.
The website, which has since been changed, provided no further context. “WELCOME,” it read. “PLEASE READ THESE FINAL WARNINGS. THEN, TAKE IT IN YOUR HANDS.” There was also a similar message in Japanese. Then, below all that, in English and Japanese: “YOU ACCEPT EVERYTHING THAT WILL HAPPEN FROM NOW ON.” And finally, the download button.
The file triggered Windows Defender, my computer’s built-in anti-malware system, and I was a little hesitant to give this mysterious website any permissions. Not only that, but the website forbade players from discussing the specifics of the program for 24 hours, so I didn’t even know that the program was a free game that would take me over three hours to complete. However, emboldened by the buzz the mystery had created on Twitter, I downloaded it. The installer warned again, “YOU ACCEPT EVERYTHING THAT WILL HAPPEN TO YOU.” I was not reassured.
If you’d like to experience Deltarune’s first chapter completely blind, go do so! It’s a good game. If you’re undecided and still need some very small details about its mechanics and theme, read on.
I loved Deltarune. The new characters are up to par with those introduced in the first game, with compelling story arcs, designs and abilities. Deltarune is somewhere between a sequel and a spin-off, with plenty of call-backs to the original. The visuals and soundtrack are still stellar. The game plays to the strengths of Undertale: the battle system isn’t a break from the story, but an extension of it. It still uses a quasi-bullet-hell mechanic and offers the player an option to ACT and SPARE just like the original. However, the player can now defend, give orders and use magic due to a key difference: in this game, you travel and fight in a party (almost) like a traditional JRPG. (Like with Undertale, the influence of games like Earthbound is apparent). Sometimes this complicates things in unexpected ways as the game tries to subvert its players’ expectations of what a JRPG and an Undertale game should be.
For example, the game starts with the same voice that “wrote” the warnings on the website and the earlier tweets. In the creepiest way possible, the game asks you to create a character, picking body parts and answering some odd questions. It claims that it will take all of your honest answers into consideration… Not. The game already has a protagonist. You don’t even get to pick their name.
When the original game came out in 2015, it was already highly anticipated in certain online communities. For one, it was created by Toby Fox, the composer of a large portion of the soundtrack for Homestuck, a massively popular webcomic that ran from 2009 to 2016. Undertale also marketed itself on Steam as a game where nobody has to die — a peaceful RPG where you can spare and befriend your enemies. Once the game came out, its popularity skyrocketed as people discovered that this mechanic went even deeper: every choice matters, even those made during the tutorial of the game. Depending on your playstyle, you might end up with the “Genocide” or “Pacifist” endings. If you end up somewhere in the middle, your ending depends even more on your specific choices both in and out of battle.
Deltarune (an anagram of Undertale) knows that its players have come to expect this type of game by now. It knows that you expect your choices to carry weight, for everything you say and do to trigger a unique event. However, like the character creator psych-out from earlier, the game reminds the player again and again how little agency they have. One character confronts the player in the beginning of the game, saying, “If you haven’t gotten it by now… Your choices don’t matter.” Deltarune will only have one ending.
Toby Fox has confirmed on Twitter that Deltarune is only a demo of a full game. The rest of the chapters will be released all at once as a purchasable game, but he has no release date or other details at the moment. Due to the complexity of the new graphics and battle systems, he plans on hiring a team and spending a long time in development. He also had this to say to fans of the original game: “If you played Undertale, I don’t think I can make anything that makes you feel ‘that way’ again. However, it’s possible I can make something else.”
Olivia Bono is junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected]