I don’t think there will one day be such a thing as a new Undertale.
That theory’s not literal, of course. Deltarune’s first chapter launched a few years ago and is, by most definitions, the sequel to Undertale. That original 2015 indie RPG was too much of a perfect storm to ever be completely replicated, however. No follow-up to the game will ever have that same level of out-of-nowhere surprise and, arguably, will never really be able to influence a generation of games the way Undertale did six years ago. Any attempt at trying to make those same factors line up again would feel like a pale imitation of what Toby Fox accomplished before and numerous other developers have failed at since.
I think, having finished Deltarune’s second of two available chapters, this is the exact reason why the successor to Undertale actually works. Rather than trying to compensate for the situational weaknesses a sequel would have to battle through, Deltarune leans into the things that shouldn’t work to make for something more interesting in the end.
It must first be acknowledged that Deltarune Chapter 2 exists within a context over which the developers had no control. It is the first piece of content in Fox’s larger Undertale universe that comes after the woeful beginnings of a pandemic, a reason he alludes to for why the second chapter is being released without a price tag. Whether or not it’s intentional, and I largely assume it’s not, Deltarune hits a little differently in 2021 than it did when the first chapter released in 2018. The game’s relentless optimism feels slightly qualified now, landing in a world where hope and determination are nice to have but could easily come off as overly cornpone.
If Undertale is a story about being the person that makes your friends believe in good people, then Deltarune Chapter 2 is about trying to be worth the praise your support network gives you, whether or not you feel like you deserve it.
Though the game’s silent protagonist is the story’s vehicle, it’s the multiple other characters that have you looking through different lenses this time around. Chapter 1 introduced a new set of friends to have an adventure with, but the second chapter wants you to explore their relationships, their pathos, their frustrations and hopes and dreams. Perhaps annoyingly, but certainly for a net good, all of these moments of completely-bared souls are couched within Toby Fox’s comedic writing where nothing is too heavy or taken too seriously until or unless the player wishes to drill down to it.
It all kind of coalesces to put Deltarune into this strange place — a first chapter necessitates a second, so it was inevitable that we would get more of the game and the diminished surprise along with it. Rather than fighting against that, Chapter 2 seems to revel in it, letting players establish their own comfort levels and leave jarred. It works, far better than I expected it to, and is an interesting expression of Fox’s own stated need for a development team to help him carry out his vision of Deltarune. Sometimes, it turns out, you do need other people.
There will never be another Undertale, in much the same way that throwing another rock into the lake is not going to cause the exact same kind of impact. But the world we inhabit is different than it was six years ago and Deltarune, at least through its second chapter, is competently walking its own path. I’m fascinated to keep following it.