Deltarune is sort of the sequel to Undertale, so I played the first chapter not long after. It was so disappointing that I didn't go back through to explore other choices.
I'm going to go through the whole plot below, but first I'll do a short spoiler-free review.
The combat system is a little more sophisticated. You control up to three characters with different abilities; the main character still has ACTs, but the other two have Magic abilities which consume "TP". The Defend ability is added, which gains TP, and you also get some TP from narrowly avoiding enemy attacks. Other than that, it's the same mechanics.
It's a dumpster fire.
It's still a silent protagonist game and is all about sparing again, but this time has an absurdly strong pacifist slant. In Undertale, the best ending involved never killing, but it was for legitimate reasons, not because the game portrays it as wrong to hurt someone who knows fully well you're inncoent, tries to kill you repeatedly, and has no redeeming qualities, and will completely break the believability of other characters to support it. Deltarune's story is real pacifist bullshit, and you don't even get a choice in it.
The character who serves as antagonist for most of the game is intolerably incompetent and unserious. He's like Papyrus except with everything that make Papyrus work removed.
The OST is still good. The main battle track is a nice development from the Undertale ones.
The dynamic puzzle dialogue is really well done. If you get stuck at most puzzles, a companion gives you hints. It makes it feel like the puzzles are in-universe and solved by the characters, rather than just a gameplay gimmick. I can barely think of any other games that've done this (the boost pad puzzle in Undertale if you call Papyrus was like this except that Papyrus doesn't actually give a hint).
Random encounters are also visible on the overworld now, which is nice.
I guess I would still play Deltarune chapter 2 if it ever came out, but only on the hopes it'd be better than this. From Undertale to Deltarune is a Spy Kids 1 to Spy Kids 2 level downgrade.
Full retrospective (spoilers)¶
It opens with a meta sequence very reminiscent of the DDLC mod The Good Ending's Act 1 intro. It turns out to all be a joke and none of your choices affect anything. While I'd sympathize with thinking that's bad, I liked it.
The story mirrors Undertale very closely, with a mythology that replaces humans and monsters with light and dark and a protagonist in much the same situation. The in-universe opening is set in a surface-world village of monsters like what we can believe they established after the Pacifist ending of Undertale. It follows a boy named Kris, who seems to be Toriel's son. Dialogue mentions that he has a brother named Asriel. On their drive to school, they go past cop Undyne, and Alphys is the professor. Kris and another student named Susie are sent out to get chalk. He finds out Susie has been eating the chalk, after which she pins him to the wall and contemplates how if she's going to get expelled, she might as well get expelled for "some real carnage", and makes what sounds like a murder threat before deciding to put him down and they'll go get the new chalk.
This is where the story starts to fall apart. Why can't Kris go back in the classroom? Why does he have to follow and obey her as she goes to get the chalk?
They end up going into a hallway closet, the door shuts on them, and they fall into the new underground.
The first enemy we're introduced to goes by Lancer and is intolerably incompetent and unserious. I guess he's kind of the equivalent of Papyrus... but he's not funny, doesn't have a glimmer of a motive, and doesn't come with a Sans. Sans was important there - he overshadowed Papyrus, making the game self-aware about him not being threatening. Lancer is supposed to singlehandedly carry the plot for two hours. And worse, he has this absurdly smug sprite that looks it belongs on an overpowered trickster character.
They pick up Ralsei, a Darkner (as opposed to a Lightner) who tells them about the mythology and how it will take a human, a monster, and a Darkner to restore the balance between light and dark by closing a dark fountain. Susie departs, not caring about saving the world, although she rejoins before long after realizing she can't get home without Kris and Ralsei's help.
I think it's horrible that the game is about sparing again. That format shouldn't have been reused. Especially now that the combat system is more intricate, we're told the good ending still requires not using the attack system? Worse, this time a character spells out for us that we have to spare everyone to get a good ending - especially strange since this is supposed to be for people who already played Undertale. And no other aspects of it have improved: the monsters are still impersonal, their ad-hoc conversation puzzles are still capricious, etc. At least this time we don't have to wait as long to get our first hint that they're in a similar situation as the Undertale monsters.
There are several encounters with Lancer, after each of which he escapes... or more accurately, Kris, Ralsei and Susie wordlessly decide to let him go. Even though he's presumably trying to kill them, there's never even a choice about this. It smacks of What Measure Is A Mook, a trope in which the standards of mercy applied to major villains are much more generous than those applied to mooks.
There's even a point where Susie gets fed up with Kris and Ralsei being goodguys and sparing monsters and decides to switch to Lancer's team because she prefers being evil. This is even more jarring than anything else up to the point. If there was anything redeemable in that character (in either the moral or storytelling sense), it's gone now. And Ralsei is still on about how the solution is to be kinder to them both.
Susie reminds me of Stefan from The Magnificant Twelve: a caricature of a school bully who's openly infatuated with the idea of being a villain. Stefan was the way more interesting character.
In terms of the reasonability of the game asking us to show them mercy, Susie and Lancer are halfway between random encounters and Omega Flowey. They're strawman chaotic evil, and worse, this is never optional.
At the worst of it, you come across Susie and Lancer lazing in chairs while they've apparently enslaved two monsters to fan them. If you talk to the monsters, they tell you how they're being forced and don't want to do it. There's still no option to do anything. Because a pacifist would nevuhr throw the first punch... not even if it isn't the first of act of violence in the actual context. That's what pacifism is, kids. Refusal to free slaves.
Next encounter, Susie and Lancer attack and Susie promises to switch back to your team if you win. Thank god it's a fight where you can attack without ruining the pacifist ending. Lancer also ends up joining. The writer vaguely tries to make him sympathetic by referencing how he never knew what friendship felt like and is so happy to be following you. It doesn't work.
It's not long after that that the game deploys the "forced RPG capture and cardboard prison" trope when Lancer, the prince (I don't even remember if that was said earlier), calls in the guard to attack and capture you. Susie breaks out, finds Lancer, and he openly admits it was him who ordered the guards to capture them, and that he planned to imprison them for "eternity"... because he didn't want them to kill his dad. And Susie of all people doesn't even attack at first. She has some lines like "No... I get it. Why would anyone wanna be my friend anyway?" Yes, the strawman chaotic evil person responds to being betrayed and imprisoned by her friend - the least tolerable character we all want to see butchered by now - by not blaming him.
This is F- level storytelling. For any other game, I'd be out by now. I honestly would've guessed this was a fan-made sequel to Undertale by the kind of the person who makes DDLC mods like Spark of Hope.
She tells Lancer to get out of his way so she can proceed without fighting him, and when he doesn't, she finally, reluctantly, attacks. He refuses to kill her after the first couple rounds with an exact copy of Toriel's non-attack. This was excellent gamified storytelling when Toriel did it, but it only works once.
And then Susie actually decides to spare him and promises, apparently sincerely, to not kill his dad.
So we all get out and get to the king. As this king has imprisoned countless innocents including on such grounds as occupational licensing violations (I explored the prison during my escape), I'm completely resolved to not spare him. Guess what happens?
We find Lancer talking to the king and trying to explain that he didn't kill the other characters. The king, furious with Lancer, takes him hostage and says he'll kill him if Kris and the others don't surrender. And there's no choice to not surrender. Forced to sacrifice ourselves for Lancer. Luckily Lancer breaks out and flees and the three of us do get to fight the king.
I was pleasantly surprised that the fight actually offered some resistance. In fact, this was the only fight in the game where I had to use any healing items. I still got it on my first try.
The king eventually yields, and to nobody's surprise I'm forced by cutscene to spare him. Ralsei heals him, and he actually betrays us and attacks. The characters manage to best him again without gameplay... and then I still don't get a choice to kill him.
That's about it. Kris and Susie are able to leave the underground and get back to the school. It's evening.
Toriel calls Kris. Naturally, Kris tells her nothing. This conversation takes a dark turn when Toriel says she "will have to punish" Kris for being late and that he "will have to go to bed early". I know we can't really make this situation work because Kris doesn't tell her what happened, but why would Toby turn Toriel into a vengeful parent who will respond to behavior she knows she doesn't know the story of and has no reason to think was malicious by sentencing someone to imprisonment?
I looked around for familiar characters before heading home and found Undyne, Asgore, and Sans. Undyne was the only person I found that I could discuss the underground with, and she doesn't believe Kris.
Undyne also says that Kris is "Asgore's kid", which is odd because it seems like Toriel and Asgore never got back together - they don't live together, and when I delivered flowers from Asgore (who's a gardener) to Toriel, she was unhappy to find out they were from him.
So that's the legacy Deltarune leaves. It's been almost two years since chapter 1 was out and chapter 2 isn't out, so it might be canceled, and if that's the case, I'm secretly glad.