Thursday, November 1, 2018

Deltarune Chapter 1

Three years ago, Toby Fox released the critically-acclaimed Undertale, a friendly RPG where no one has to die. Early this year, we reviewed the PS4 release of the game and felt that, while not perfect, it was indeed a great game and worth at least one playthrough. Now, on October 31, 2018, Toby Fox has released a mysterious game called Deltarune Chapter 1 for PC and Mac, though it must be downloaded from its own dedicated website and comes with the stipulation that no one talk about it publicly for the first 24 hours. While this embargo will be lifted by the time this review is posted, I will still try to respect his wishes and not spoil anything about the game so that whoever is reading this can go in as blindly as possible. With that said, here are my thoughts on the experience.

A human named Kris arrives late to a class populated by monsters. With no remaining partners for a project, Kris is paired up with a delinquent monster named Susie. The two are sent to fetch new chalk from the school’s supply closet, but when they enter, they are dropped into an abyss. When they awake, they find themselves in a mysterious world already in conflict. Their search for an exit takes on an adventure where they discover more about themselves and how their actions can influence the world around them.

Without spoiling too much, Deltarune’s story seems to draw heavily from Undertale. Certain characters seem to fill much of the same roles and the general plotline occasionally echoes certain story beats. While the witty dialogue and the clever and emotional writing capture much of the same spirit as Undertale, and some allusions to that game are hard to ignore, the execution of the story is enough to give Deltarune its own identity and I personally got very invested in the world and characters. Talking about anything more specific beyond this point, including the ending, falls into spoiler territory.

The gameplay of Deltarune is also very similar to Undertale, but with a number of improvements that show that Toby Fox isn’t yet out of ideas. Some are minor, like a dedicated run button with an option to automate the action, while others are more major, such as introducing environmental hazards that can potentially drain your HP while out of combat.

The biggest difference is the change to the turn-based combat system. The player can now control a party and fights in third-person, which opens up new opportunities for interactions and allows for more visually interesting encounters. During combat, the player can choose between the same FIGHT, ACT and ITEM commands, but MERCY is now SPARE and there is now a dedicated DEFEND option. Actions during combat, such as using DEFEND and getting close to enemy attacks, can now build up TP, Tensions Points, that can be spent on new options from another party member’s MAGIC command.

With the Party system, the player chooses options that each party member will perform during their turn. However, it’s also possible for Kris to use ACT commands to direct his teammates to perform certain actions, including peaceful moves that affect every enemy at once. These new complications mean that it’s possible for the player to potentially end several conflicts peacefully within the same turn, but failure to plan ahead can mean a wasted turn and another round on the defensive.

During the enemy’s turn, a square Bullet Box appears in the center of the field with the player’s SOUL, represented with a red heart, in the middle of that. At this point, the player must dodge projectiles in a Bullet Hell-style minigame, made more chaotic by the fact that each enemy has their own unique bullet pattern, with projectiles and formations of varying shapes and sizes. Some fights also play with the confines of the Bullet Box itself, which can make dodging projectiles more complicated.

Also notable is the inclusion of 38 new compositions by Toby Fox, all of which perfectly contribute to the atmosphere of each area, particularly the new combat music. Some might say that Toby Fox has surpassed his already amazing compositions from Undertale, a sentiment I’m inclined to agree with.

Ultimately, Deltarune Chapter 1 is a very worthy successor to Undertale. The story is very emotionally engaging with memorable characters and improved music, plus the new combat system demonstrates Toby Fox’s ability to take something that’s already iconic and breathe new life into it by exploring its previously untapped potential. I would recommend you give Deltarune a try, though I will advise that you might get more enjoyment out of it if you've already completed Undertale.

You can download Deltarune Chapter 1 for free here:

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