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LONG BLOG

Undertale, Deltarune, and the Inescapable Curse of Expectations.

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When Toby Fox initially released Undertale, I had every console of the generation, but my computer was a piece of junk that was mostly used to write college essays and manage the music on my Iphone. As such, the fact that I decided to download Undertale is, in retrospect, kind of weird. Sure there were good reviews, but there were countless little indie computer games that got good buzz, and unless they got ported to consoles, I never bothered with them.  Other than the fact that the game looked shitty enough to be able to run on my computer, I really can’t fathom what made me pick it up.

I am currently working on my graduate degree in English so that I can become a professor, I have an incredibly healthy and loving relationship with my girlfriend of 8 years, and I currently work as a tutor at my college’s writing center. I say all this to make it clear that there is, and has always been, a lot going on my life. So when I say that Undertale was “life changing,” I do not come across as some anti-social, lonely, troubled, basement dweller who’s love of a piece of media comes from having nothing else.  If this sounds defensive, it's because it is. It is no secret how the undertale fandom is viewed(in some cases fairly), and therefore this preamble feels necessary.

So yes, Undertale is my favorite piece of media I have ever consumed. I will spare you much of the details why, as i’m sure that by now you know exactly how you feel about Undertale, and you’ve heard it all before. It is neat that you can talk to every enemy instead of fighting them if you want,the characters are wonderful, the use of the medium is exciting and novel, the music is beautiful, haunting, charming, silly, and every other positive  word that could describe a feeling attached to music.Most importantly, the choices you make in this game matter in meaningful ways that go far beyond the effects your choices have in other games. Yes yes, you've heard it all before. The game is wonderful, and if you feel differently, I weep for you, but I understand, as nothing on this earth is going to appeal to everyone.

 (Pictured here: a summary of the entire Undertale experience.)

Fans like me, who were enamored with the world Toby Fox Created, were understandably eager to try and extract everything they could from this seemingly magical game. In that regard it did not disappoint, as there were constant mysteries to uncover. There were so many variables that could be manipulated to create different responses, both minor and severe. The fact that the game criticizes this desire, going so far as to condemn those unable to let go of the game, made it all the more powerful. By becoming obsessed with the game and uncovering it’s mysteries, gamers were made complicit in destroying what they had loved so much, both within the game world (see: genocide route), and outside of the game (see: how much the fandom is hated).  If you get the best ending, and try to restart the game a character from the game, Flowey, interrupts you. He states that everyone got the happy ending they wanted. The only danger left to fear is that you will restart everything and erase their happiness. This is one of many instances that make one of its most prominent themes clear. The point,was always for you to eventually move on. You were meant to accept that some mysteries would never be solved, and you were kindly asked to move forward with your life.

This leads to a dilemma however. Ultimately, whatever the game made you feel, it was still a product meant to be consumed, and even if part of the point of the game was to condemn those who are unable to move on, and those who were obsessed with finding out more, it was still a game. That is to say, there were no material reasons that the world could not be expanded on by a sequel or a spin-off of some sort. In the interest of self disclosure, I was always conflicted by this idea for several reasons.

  1. If the point of the game was for it’s players to eventually move on, and accept that they would never know everything they wanted to know, wouldn’t a sequel completely betray that notion?
  2. Toby Fox himself seemed pretty damned tired of all the exposure, and clearly was not ready for a large segment of people to basically worship and cling to his every word.
  3. Most importantly, there was the issue of the fandom. Myself included. Even if you subtract all the toxicity of the fanbase itself, there was still the matter that my feeling that “Undertale is my favorite piece of media I have ever consumed,” was not an uncommon sentiment among fans. How could Toby Fox ever live up to that. How could anything ever live up to that. It seemed to me, that, at best, any sort of sequel would be greeted with statements like  “Cool but unnecessary.” and at worst, it would be greeted by comments like “IT RUINED EVERYTHING WE EVER LOVED,” and “LET’S GET TOGETHER, BURN TOBY FOX'S HOUSE TO THE GROUND, AND BURN HIM ALIVE IN THE CENTER OF TOWN.”

 

With all this in mind, it seemed highly unlikely that Toby Fox would ever do anything else related to the Undertale Universe. Not only that, but as I stated before, it didn’t seem like something I should even want.

And yet, back in early October, I had finally convinced my boyfriend (yeah, I got one of those too) to play through Undertale. Despite literal years of resistance, when he finally played it he fell in love with it. Watching him play made my Undertale fever reignite. Hell, it was burning brighter than it ever had now that there was someone to talk to about it with. On top of this, there had also been some rumblings that the switch port was hinting at some sort of continuation, but at this point I felt like “Fox is just fucking with us.” Despite this feeling, I now knew that I desperately wanted more from this universe, despite all the logical and practical reasons why that would be a terrible idea, and why It would likely never happen.

Cut to October 30th. Toby Fox sets the internet on fire, and teases that something is going to happen on Halloween. I wake up, and before I  get ready to go to work, I check the subreddits and everyone is already trying to decipher what “Deltarune” is, and what it isn’t. Work goes by slower than it ever has, and I eagerly await when I will get to go home and experience what for me, was the equivalent of what Christ’s return would be for the spiritually devoted.

I was as excited as I was anxious, as I knew that I was setting myself up for disappointment (see: Christs return comparison).

But, surprisingly, I was not disappointed in the least. The game managed to not only exceed my expectations, but it managed to create dozens of new mysteries to decipher, while at the same time doing nothing to damage my love for the previous game.  

In many ways, Delta Rune seemed designed to be a better version of Undertale in every way. The sprite work was much better and more complex, without losing the charm. The combat was more engaging, and gave more options. The writing was as strong as ever, if not stronger. Most impressively, it managed to subvert my expectations, without feeling artificial or forced.

 

One of the most notable changes was the fact that now the player character was now part of a “Party.” The bullet hell elements of the first game were so unique, that they made it hard to notice a strange design choice Fox had made. You see, Undertale was a game largely about friendships and relationships. In fact, befriending all the characters was one of the main selling points of the game, and yet, the journey you took, was always a solo one. This party system fixed a critical flaw that nobody had even noticed. Now the friendships players made, actually helped them in their quest.

These friendships were illustrated by and directly connected to the gameplay itself. Susie doesn’t like you, and doesn’t want to play nice, so this is reflected in the gameplay. She is going to try and kill, regardless of what you want. Later when you have bonded with her, this is no longer an issue.  Ralsei is not only a friendly NPC who charms his way in to your heart through dialogue, he also serves an important function as a healer. Admittedly this is in no way groundbreaking, as most RPG’s have some sort of party system, but when combined with Toby Fox’s uncanny ability to make people care about his characters, these mechanics go a long way in reinforcing the relationships players have with these characters. Further cementing this, is the fact that each of the characters are capable of interacting with enemy characters, so that they can be spared instead of slaughtered. This was also present in the first game, but now the flavor text helps give depth to characters in your party.

 (Susie makes a new friend during a fight, showing the synergy between gameplay and story.)

Unfortunately, due to choices not mattering much in this game, there are very few tangible rewards for this system, other than a few slight differences in outcomes, and the flavor text itself.  That is to say, there are no radically different paths for the story to take, and there are no significant alternate endings. This decision to make the players choices mostly insignificant deserves its own article, but will briefly state that I like this change, as it

  1. Subverts players expectations, and constantly makes them question if Toby Fox is serious or not (something we can’t truly know until the rest of the game comes out.)

And 2. The game seems to be directly dealing with themes of agency in interesting ways.

 (Who needs alternate endings? The mercy flavor text is a reward in and of itself.)

So fantastic game, gets fantastic sequel and everybody is happy. End of story right? Well. . . not really. For those not in the know, Delta Rune is actually Act 1 of a much larger game. Act 1 introduced the central characters, had them go on a quest, and though it created many more mysteries to ponder over, the quest was ultimately completed. So in that sense It does tell a fairly complete story, but thanks to the ending, we know that story was simply a preamble to a much larger story.

What a wonderful preview of things to come. When the credits rolled, and I saw the words “Act 1.”  I was consumed with all the possibilities. Somehow Toby Fox had not only done the impossible by following up Undertale with another great little game, but he was promising more to come.  

My boyfriend and I were speculating when the next act would come out , and we were pretty confident that it would be out on Christmas. After all, act 1 came out on halloween, and there were references to christmas all over Act 1. We were hungry for more, and we knew we would not have to wait long.

 

And then the unthinkable happened. Toby Fox released a statement about DeltaRune. What should have been cause for celebration, was in actuality some devastating news. The rest of the game was not completed, or even near completion.  

"When will the next chapter come out? This is a difficult question.

 

When I made the demo of UNDERTALE, I made it to prove to myself that it was possible to make a whole game alone (with some help with the art).

Because I was able to make it in a few months, I felt that I had proved that it was possible.

However, making the demo of DELTARUNE… took a few years.

So, given the length of the rest of the game, and how long I'd be willing to spend on a project (7 years maximum) I think the answer is that it's actually impossible to make this game.”

 

Fox went on to describe why game development was taking so long, and he even posed a solution. He would have to gather a team, so that the development time would be more manageable, but he also admitted that he had not even started to gather a team, and he still had no idea how long it would take to make.

 

I want to step back for a minute, and get personal again. At the beginning of last year I lost someone to suicide. She was one of the three most important people in my life, and it was nothing short of earth shattering. Though the long term struggle, hardships, and void that her death created in me is in no way comparable to something as trivial as the potential cancellation or years long delay of a videogame, I have to shamefully, but honestly admit that while I was reading Fox’s statement, in that moment, I did feel a true sense of loss and devastation.  Despite the original game’s message of being able to move on after a journey ends. I simply did not want this journey to end so soon. I was sad, but mostly I was furious.

 

Despite my distancing of myself from the toxic elements of the Undertale fandom, I can not deny that in that at the time, I was one step away from comments like “LET’S GET TOGETHER, BURN TOBY FOX'S HOUSE TO THE GROUND, AND BURN HIM ALIVE IN THE CENTER OF TOWN.”

 (Pictured here: the target of my rage.)

I was convinced that life would have been better had Delta Rune never came out. In fact I specifically remember stating to my boyfriend that Toby Fox was “Cruel” for releasing  a taste of something he had no intention of completing anytime soon. After all, for years I had accepted that there would never be a sequel to Undertale, and most of the time I was convinced it was a bad idea anyway, so for Toby Fox to do just enough work to prove he could deliver on every fan’s dream, only to a week later state “Yeah but who knows if I ever will,” seemed downright sadistic to me.  This was the man who tried desperately to convey the idea that “it is not healthy or productive to try and endlessly relive past glories, you eventually need to move on,” and in the moment, I was basically saying “No. Fuck you. I want everything, or I want nothing,” which went against everything this franchise I claimed to love stood for.

 

After a couple days however, I settled down and realized how ridiculous I was being. I mean, I got a new story in the Undertale universe (Multiverse to be more accurate.). Not only that, but it exceeded expectations, so what was I complaining about? Sure, the game ended on a cliffhanger, and it called itself Act 1, but it’s not like Toby Fox had promised the rest would come out sometime soon. Those were my own expectations, and my anger was a result of those expectations not being met, and had nothing to do with the quality of what I had just played. That’s the point here. No matter how logical, or rational you are, in certain situations it is going to be impossible to avoid imposing expectations on to a piece of art, or even other people.  The key though, is trying your best to move on from those expectations after they are proven to be false. Toby Fox, the nobody game developer who thought he was just making a dumb little game that only a few people would play, knows this better than anyone.

“By the way, I was really worried at first about making this...

The expectations for my next work would be really high, so high that I knew that no matter what I did, I felt like people would be underwhelmed.

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.

It's just something simple but maybe you'll like it.

See you in ?? years... OK?

Don't forget.”

Don’t worry. I won't.

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About Deltafan4343one of us since 8:55 PM on 09.10.2011

My name is Mark, and I am working on my Masters in literature. Watch, as I waste that knowledge discussing pop culture.