SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS
In case you couldn’t guess from the title, this blog post contains spoilers for both Undertale and Deltarune. If you haven’t played those games yet, you should because they are really really good. Undertale can be found here (~15$), and Deltarune can be found here (FREE). Once you’ve played them both (or if you don’t care about spoilers), I welcome you to read on. All good? Okay.
SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS
If you’ve played Undertale before (and I’m assuming that you have), you’ll know that one of its defining features is player choice. It’s a game that allows you to kill literally everyone you meet (genocide run), befriend everyone you meet (pacifist run), or do something in the middle. Each of these playstyles results in significant meaningful changes to the gameplay and story. So naturally, when you start playing Deltarune, you would expect to be able to make the same range of choices.
But here’s the thing about Deltarune. Your choices don’t matter.
At the very beginning of the game you’re presented with a character creation screen, and you go through the whole process of creating whatever avatar you want. But as soon as you’re finished creating your character, it is discarded and you’re forced to play as Kris. Later on, you get to customize the blueprint for an evil machine that you expect to fight. But when you find the machine it is immediately destroyed without you interacting with it in any meaningful way. It doesn’t matter what you choose, the game is going to be the same.
But what about killing and sparing characters? That must be like the previous game, right? Nope. In this game, a genocide run is impossible. All characters run away from you before you can kill them, so you cannot actually kill anyone in the game. So then are you supposed to be a pacifist? Nope again. At the very end of the game it’s revealed that your character Kris is actually Chara from Undertale (or that Kris is possessed by Chara? It’s kinda unclear), implying that your character is going to murder people anyways. Despite your best efforts to prevent harm, you still ultimately fail.
Why does this matter?
Deltarune is not the first game to have a linear story. In fact, there are many games where players have even less agency than they do in Deltarune. But the reason Deltarune’s lack of choice is so important is because choice mattered so much in Undertale. Since most people playing Deltarune have already played Undertale, we all assumed it was going to be a similar game. We were primed to think that our choices would matter. We expected to be able to play as a pacifist or a genocidal manic. We thought that we could influence how the story would end. However, by stripping the player of their agency, Deltarune creates this looming sense of helplessness that I haven’t felt since Spec Ops: The Line or the ending of The Last of Us. But this feeling only exists because Undertale showed us what meaningful choices are supposed to be.