If you drop a rattlesnake into a room full of unsuspecting people, you'll get an idea of how the internet reacted when Undertale creator Toby Fox suddenly launched Deltarune on Wednesday. Deltarune is the follow-up to 2015's immensely popular RPG Undertale, so its sudden arrival inspired a good deal of flailing and chaos.
That chaos only ramped up when people completed the short adventure, which is just chapter one in a planned series. Deltarune's short introduction left a lot of questions and confusion in its wake, but one thing's certain: Toby Fox hasn't lost his touch for crafting a great story. Deltarune kicks off by feeding you small mysteries, and those mysteries just keep piling on and growing bigger until you witness the game's climax—which plays out in chapter one's final few seconds. Whew.
Fox successfully hooked his fanbase once again. We're a rapt audience, and we'll sit here and stare until he releases the final version of Deltarune. It might take a while, but the quality of the storytelling in chapter one indicates it'll be worth the wait.
(Spoilers for Deltarune's story and ending follow!)
Just Ignore the Evidence Under Your Nose
Deltarune opens with a crude character creator and a chance to name your avatar. When you're done, everything you make is discarded with a cryptic message about how there aren't any real choices in life, and you're informed your name is "Kris." Cute.
Deltarune immediately disarms you by quickly taking control of Kris out of your hands as your mom—Toriel, the beloved "Goat Mom" from Undertale—drives you to school. You're allowed to see a quick pan of the town where you live, and everyone seems productive and happy; it looks very much like the best ending for Undertale, where monsters integrate happily into human society, and Toriel gets to teach school like she always dreamed. I was even fooled into initially believing Deltarune is a direct sequel to Undertale.
My naivety is my own fault. Even Kris' trip to school and subsequent lesson with the nervous anime-loving lizard-girl Alphys peppers you with signs Deltarune isn't a direct follow-up to Undertale. For one thing, Frisk, the protagonist of Undertale, went to live with Toriel at the end of that game, but they're nowhere to be seen in Deltarune.
"Well, maybe Frisk left home and Toriel adopted Kris at some point," I said. But then Toriel mentions Kris' "brother," Asriel, and says he'll be visiting from university soon. Thing is, Asriel dies at the end of Undertale—a poignant and poetic death, no less.
"Maybe he was brought back somehow," I said, starting to feel a little uncomfortable (and ignoring the fact Fox is unlikely to bestow a cheap resurrection on a character who met a meaningful end).
Oh, the Heart Beats in its Cage
Your immediate questions about the monsters and the town they live in are shuffled to the back of your thoughts when Kris is pulled into the meat of Deltarune's adventure. While there are seeming links to Undertale that make you turn your head (I got a small chill when I tried to use my "cell phone" item in the underground and was met with the warped sound effect associated with Undertale's Dr Gaster), but most of the time you're engaged in the budding struggle between forces of Dark and Light—and wondering how Susie the troublemaker fits in as one of Deltarune's supposed Heroes of Light.
When the immediate threat to the world is quelled, you're allowed to wander around the town you're rushed through at the start of the adventure. If you're still holding onto the belief that Deltarune is a direct follow-up to Undertale, your trip around town should cause that belief to dissolve like monster remnants exposed to Determination. The characters you talk to don't have any of the bonds they forged with you and each other in Undertale. For example, when you meet the fish-warrior Undyne (who's a traffic cop in Deltarune, and still prone to declaring "NYGGGAAA!"), she has no idea who Alphys is. In Undertale, cementing the relationship between Undyne and Alphys is a major part of the story.
What's more, when you complete Undertale's best ending, you (as Frisk) are well-loved and well-known for your kindness and compassion. In Deltarune, the monsters you talk to are polite, but some are surprised you're talking to them at all. Dialogue with a few of the adult monsters suggests you're usually cold—and kind of creepy. Even Toriel is delighted when she learns you made friends with Susie.
Returning to Toriel at the end of the day is what cements the realization something is very, very different about Deltarune. When you go to sleep for the night, the game's final cinema plays. Kris wakes up, shuffles to the middle of their room, and literally rips their heart / soul out of their own body. They throw their soul into a bent-up birdcage in the corner of the room, glare over their shoulder at the player, and brandish a knife. Cue credit roll.
It's been a while since we've seen the "Wow, that escalated quickly" image macro apply so perfectly to an event in a video game, but here we are. And after you exclaim "What the hell?" into the empty air, you start to wonder why you willfully ignored all the signs that Deltarune is not Undertale. The first sign is also one of the last: Kris' half of the bedroom they share with Asriel is dirty, dingy, and unorganized compared to Asriel's perfectly-made bed and shelves full of trophies and awards.
Kris' shelves are empty. There's a stain (PROBABLY BLOOD??) on their carpet near the birdcage they throw their heart / soul into. Kris has seemingly killed and is primed and ready to kill again.
It's an Anagram for a Reason
You can theoretically still connect Deltarune to Undertale by assuming Kris is related to Chara—the red-eyed demon who praises your actions (and then guts you) if you kill every living thing in Undertale. It's doubtful the explanation for Kris' actions is that straight-forward, though. Yesterday, Toby Fox confirmed Undertale and Deltarune don't take place in the same world.
"DELTARUNE's world is a different one. With different characters, that have lived different lives," he says. "A whole new story will happen...I don't know what you call this kind of game. It's just a game you can play after you complete UNDERTALE, if you want to. That's all."
Fox promises we'll get our answers about Deltarune's mysteries and Kris when the rest of the game comes out, but that might take some time. He intends to assemble a team for the project, but he ultimately has "no idea" when we'll see the final product. Chapter one of Deltarune doubles as a demo.
Chapter one of Deltarune also prodded the snoozing Undertale fandom back to life and gifted us with a soundtrack worthy of Undertale's legacy. Even though Kris' sudden and violent arrival into my life threw a wrench (or a knife) into my plans for the week, the resulting flurry of happy activity is good balm for a troubled world. I dearly hope we'll get to see the Lightners and Darkners finish their struggle.