Toby Fox’s surprise Undertale follow-up carries over many themes, with the new turn-based battles continuing to focus on forgiveness, compassion and understanding to win over the hearts and minds of adversaries. There’s just one monster-sized hurdle to overcome – the protagonist has been paired with a secondary character that fails to understand the value of kindness.
Being a story driven affair, with characters pausing for a chinwag after every climatic battle or upon entering a new location, it’s hard to go into DELTARUNE in detail without fear of spoiling something.
We can at least detail the outline of the plot. It begins with the silent lead character, a human, running late for school. Their tardiness results in them being paired up for a project with the school bully – a purple monster known as Susie. After being sent to the supply closet for more chalk, they’re somehow teleported into a mystical realm on the brink of destruction. If this doesn’t make it clear DELTARUNE prides itself of being silly, nothing will.
There’s a slight air of ‘Nelson Muntz’ to Susie’s character design, and not just because of the shaggy hairstyle. She’s quick to mock others, and more than happy to let her fists do the talking, but it’s nothing more than a ‘tough front’ linked to an inherent fear of being judged. The same is also true for the self-proclaimed villain of the piece – a mischievous chap known as Lancer – and as a mutual understanding between the two blossoms, the storyline starts to form twists.
For the most part, DELTARUNE reuses Undertale’s winning formula – it’s a role-player with a Nintendo-esque vibe, frequent battles, a cast of oddball characters, and a handful of simple yet pleasing to solve puzzles. The battle system is deeper and more complex, however, resembling the turn-based battles found in early Final Fantasy games.
It’s still action-orientated – in the sense that each battle has a mini-game involving avoiding various objects, with different patterns and obstacles for each enemy – but there’s now a party system with all the usual RPG trimmings.
This includes a ‘support’ character – Ralsei, a mild-mannered native to the mystical world, who is introduced early on. They bring our heroes up to speed, firmly believing they hold the power to end the ongoing tussle between the light and the dark.
Ralsei also educates our heroes on how to end conflicts peacefully. This entails using unique actions from the ACT menu, before choosing to spare the enemy’s lives or using Ralsei’s own pacify spell.
Our hero is willing to use kindness to succeed by blocking enemy attacks and refusing to retaliate (although fighting back is still an option), whereas Susie believes violence is the only way to end conflicts. Her actions must be countered beforehand, and enemies forewarned, which puts a subtle spin on the combat system before it even has a chance to become stale.
DELTARUNE’s somewhat slim cast of characters are brought together by a central theme, being a curiously loveable bunch of misfits. They each have distinct, instantly likeable, personalities and we dare say Toby Fox’s pixel art skills have improved since Undertale. The music also appears to have higher production values, with more than a couple of BGM’s standing out.
A smooth level of difficulty makes it clear Toby Fox intended DELTARUNE to be a frustration-free experience. Even RPG novices shouldn’t find it much of a struggle, bar a few small bumps. One boss battle required backtracking to an item shop to stock up on health-bestowing cookies, and there were a few instances when we breathed a sigh of relief as a save point appeared; par for the course.
This chapter doesn’t quite feel like a self-contained story, but it’s mighty close – when the ending credits rolled, we had the same level of satisfaction as from playing something ten times longer.
Character arcs go beyond merely unfolding, coming into full fruition, and although the ending is open to interpretation it’s still far removed from the usual cliff-hangers found in episodic adventures. To say it had the same impact as Undertale would be slightly off the mark – this is Toby Fox’s difficult second album, after all – but it’s a story told in a manner no less whimsical, effortlessly casting foundations for something truly magical.