On January 6th, 2022, the Rony Roller Circus performed a rendition of Robert “Radiation” Fox’s “Megalovania” from the hit indie title Undertale. Their audience? Pope Francis. This marks not the first, but second time Mr. Fox’s work has been presented to the foremost religious figure in the world. Thank you, MatPat, for setting us on the darkest timeline.
Now that that’s over with, let’s move to the actual review.
Chapter 2 is, in the words of Fox himself, a “silly chapter” that takes place in the Cyber World, another Dark World created in the Librarby’s computer room which took Kris and Susie’s classmates Noelle and Berdly. Its ruler, the robotic Queen, kidnaps a classmate of Kris and Susie, Noelle, aiming to make her create Dark Worlds. Berdly allies with Queen, to her dismay. As such, Kris, Susie, and Ralsei must rescue Noelle, defeat Queen, seal the fountain, and figure out what the hell to do with Berdly.
Almost universally, Deltarune Chapter 2 is an improvement on Chapter 1. The first aspect is the combat system, which now has a SPARE percentage bar. This makes battles more tactful, aided by Susie and Ralsei learning their own ACTs, and eliminates guesswork. The ACTs themselves have seen further care, with more sprites, animations, and even minigames. These changes culminate in the final bossfight, a “Punch-Out!!”-style tussle with GIGA Queen in self-aware Power Rangers-esque “power of friendship” flourish. Additionally, there is a recruitment system that brings SPAREd enemies to the Castle Town, a hub world, which rewards peaceful playstyles and prompts players to seek out encounters.
The humor on a whole is a step up as well, particularly Queen, who is written terrifyingly well to elicit laughter on even the simplest dialogue. She, and the nature of her Dark World being computer-/internet-based, manages to tiptoe the line of internet humor, crafting comedy that is suited to a Gen Z/Millennial audience while refraining from indulging in contemporary memes or trends that would immediately date the game. Still, Fox makes sure to throw in subtle, “ageless” references and mannerisms specific to his life such as “wavedashing” from Super Smash Bros Melee, .jpg explosions reminiscent of tumblr humor circa the late 2000s, and several Homestuck references. Thus, oxymoronically, the game is timeless and period-specific, a stroke of writing genius I have never before seen so deftly pulled off in mainstream media. Hollywood execs must be seething that they’ll never reach the same level of “relatable for the kids” writing.
Even aside from the uniquely funny internet humor the comedy has seen an upgrade: there is an easter egg involving the Annoying Dog (Toby Fox’s self-insert), the first time he’s seen on-screen since Undertale, vehicular-manslaughtering you via kiddie cart. Sans Undertale the Humorous Skeletal Lad has more lines, and Asgore’s only major appearance begins with this interjection to an exchange of egg puns between Sans and Toriel: “And don’t forget me, you’re eggs-husband!” I admire Toby Fox’s commitment to making Asgore the most divorced man alive.
I enjoyed the story and writing more as well. Recurring characters have more room to shine, Susie in particular, who is given room to open up and leads to a wealth of entertaining and endearing moments. Of the new main cast, Noelle is a stand-out. She’s adorable and oftentimes hilarious, but incredibly timid and concerningly vulnerable with the mysterious fate of her sister and the uncertain health of her father, so her climactic moments of confidence are gratifying. Berdly is both a hilariously accurate GamerTM stereotype and a sympathetic antagonist. The original Starwalker has more screentime. Entirely new characters are all welcome additions. My man Nubert is here. Also, Noelle and Susie’s budding relationship is delightful, cute, and hilarious with how they’re both absolutely clueless lesbians in completely different ways.
The art direction has seen another layer of polish. The character animations are more dynamic and creative, and setting far more lively and vibrant. I think the computerized cityscape allows Fox and co. to take greater advantage of the environmental limitations of the game, as the linear progression and tight pathways better fit their respective settings (an elevated walkway, city streets, a maze-like mansion) than the oddly restrictive nature of Chapter 1’s forests and fields that left something to be desired. Queen’s Mansion is a massive step up from the Card Castle as a final level, being playful, hilarious, entertaining, and amusing to look at.
The music is incredible, as per usual, but I found myself enjoying it even more than Chapter 1’s, so much so that Toby Fox shot up to my third most-listened artist of 2021 through the last three months of it alone. The new themes accompanying their respective characters fit their personalities perfectly, and are all unique from Toby Fox’s existing repertoire. I love every song to do with Queen and Berdly, and Noelle’s sections add a nice warmth and somberness to an otherwise energetic album. Plus, it’s great to see collaboration with Lena Raine (Celeste, Minecraft), another break-out indie composer. My only complaint is, much like the characters themselves, I don’t love the music for Sweet Cap’N Cakes, a disc-jockeying trio of freedom fighters, which is unfortunate as it is one repeated ad nauseam.
Finally, I adored Chapter 2’s puppet-like hidden boss, “EV3RY BUDDY ‘S FAVORITE [[Number 1 Rated Salesman1997]]” Spamton G. Spamton. With Spamton, Fox strikes a fine line of tragedy and comedy; his spiraling insanity as he claws at fleeting fame to become a “[BIG SHOT]” are remarkable dissections of class struggle and desperation, while the character himself is a gremlin with a shit-eating grin. Unlike his equivalent in Chapter 1, he receives significantly more time to characterize him as a miniboss and shopkeep, which takes advantage of his… eccentricities. His climactic bossfight’s Pacifist conclusion is also far more emotional, as his ecstatic declarations of flying high and finally living for himself and his friend(s) is abruptly cut short as his NEO form falls to the ground, lifeless, and he realizes the futility of his grasp for freedom. This sad fate reflects Kris’ apparent desire to be free from the player’s control but inability to live without it; a puppet without its puppeteer is lifeless, after all.
There were a few minor things I thought regressed, however. The main example was the hidden bossfight itself.
I didn’t dislike the Spamton NEO fight but I didn’t like it as much as Jevil. Spamton NEO is a departure from the Deltarune formula as it is a side-facing shoot ‘em up using a yellow, right-pointing SOUL. Although the callback to Metatton EX from Undertale is neat, I was frustrated by having to suddenly add firing mechanics to the already-complex combat system. The second time I beat him I had much more fun, having had time to adjust, but was disappointed by how simple his attacks were compared to Jevil’s chaotic dance. It’s fairer than Jevil’s fight, but less challenging, less fun.
I can’t complain to much, however, as Spamton NEO offers another bop in “BIG SHOT”, another song that’s been living rent-free in my head that I’d argue is even better than Jevil’s “THE WORLD REVOLVING” by virtue of its unique voice lines and extensive integration of leitmotif (“THE WORLD REVOLVING” to represent his shared theme of freedom with Jevil, “The Power of NEO” from Undertale as a callback to Mettaton NEO, and “Dummy!” from Undertale as an analogue to the Mad Dummy and reflect Spamton’s madness and puppet-like qualities).
But here’s where my review reaches an impasse: the debut of Deltarune’s “Snowgrave Route,” named after the fatal spell you force Noelle to use on Berdly after systematically forcing her to freeze the entire population of the Cyber World, forcing on her a ring others describe as a “torture device”, gaslighting her into believing that these were logical actions to “get stronger”, and overall being a jackass.
The insidiousness of the Snowgrave Route is one rarely seen in non-Undertale properties, and is arguably a step up. In Undertale, it was you committing the various acts of murder, desecration, and world-annihilation. In Deltarune Chapter 2, you use Kris as a proxy to emotionally abuse Noelle, a vulnerable and insecure childhood friend, until she submits to your commands of violence. It’s horrible, terrifying, and depraved, made worse by how persistent you have to be, the game giving you seemingly unlimited chances to abort the run until you murder Berdly. It takes Chapter 1’s moral ambiguity, and throws it out the window: Snowgrave directly states that you are wrong, you are killing characters that you could have befriended and permanently scarring an already-scarred friend. And short of being an actual psychopath, you aren’t even doing it for enjoyment, but curiosity. That was certainly the case for me, and was such a dissociative and thus disturbing experience considering how immersed I was on the “Normal” Route. And the game makes sure you feel like an asshole for your actions; Queen’s disappointment on being the only Cyber World citizen in the Castle Town, and one final scene with Noelle in the hospital really drive this point home.
The existence of this route goes entirely contrary to the established message of “your choices don’t matter.” Normally this divergence would indicate a change of intent and direction, but Toby Fox has said that he’s been planning this game for possibly as long as a decade, quite literally gone sleepless when unable to work on a project incepted in a dream while deathly ill. He must have a direction. I can only wonder how this direction will translate into the full game. And so, I sit and wait to see how the story progresses.
Congratulations Toby Fox, you’ve officially hooked me.