Deltarune – a lively, charming demo from Toby Fox

Deltarune unexpectedly came out a month ago, and having really really enjoyed it, I wanted to give my thoughts. Deltarune is the first chapter of the successor to Undertale (although not technically a sequel nor prequel), an indie game that blew up in 2015. I’d highly recommend playing both (Deltarune is free!) and not reading the rest of this post if you haven’t, as even knowing a little bit about these games drastically harms the experience. They are incredibly strong narrative-focused games that have a surprising amount of depth and an immaculate attention to detail. Mild spoilers ahead duh.

Image result for deltarune
https://www.deltarune.com/ Link to install

 

If Undertale wasn’t evidence enough, Deltarune pretty much confirms my conviction that yeah, Toby Fox is a genius. It’s really incredible how talented Fox is in so many different aspects – the narratives of his games are excellently written, Undertale with a strong focus on the themes of resolve, pacifism, and choice, or in Deltarune’s case, the opposite; the characters are charming, each flawed in some significant manner, but are all likable and sympathetic; the soundtracks are top-notch, stupidly catchy and add a ton to the atmosphere; the humor is consistently quirky and interesting, and really helps in making the characters in the world feel like more than just 2-dimensional cardboard cutouts. All of it oozes with personality. And that’s really what seems to set these games apart – Deltarune in particular is a colorful, concise, and emotive experience that immediately draws the player in to caring about this crafted fantasy world and its characters. From the instant you step foot in the Fields of the Dark World, the vibrancy of its lavender grass and the flushed, scarlet trees, the small, humorous details littered all across the area, coupled with an absolute banger of a soundtrack, evokes this very strong feeling of going on some wondrous, childlike adventure – it’s kind of like the feeling of being whisked away in Disney World, where you just can’t help but smile as the costumes and the bright lights and attractions all take you back to simpler days.

 

 

I might as well take the time here to talk about the soundtrack. It’s superb. Better than Undertale’s. “Fields of Hopes and Dreams” is a delightfully upbeat track that sounds exactly like its title – a glittery piano melody joyfully dances away into an innocent sounding higher register passage that encapsulates the feelings of having so many great hopes and dreams for the future; an infectious optimism that communicates a lot of love for being alive. The next section sees a more sultry, saxophone-like synth take hold of the melody, and just adds a lot of smoothness to our already bubbly, playful song. This was my favorite new track. A very close second of mine is “Scarlet Forest,” which is a bit more mature, and doesn’t have that ring of 8-bit video game sound that Undertale was known for. IMO, Toby Fox should do even more like “Scarlet Forest” – the strings and flute are a welcome addition to the instrumental cast of the game and build a very lively atmosphere to the Forest setting.

I’ve heard Deltarune called “the most Tumblr thing they’ve ever played,” while which is perhaps an accurate observation (and is considered a pretty awful pejorative), takes a bit of concerted cynicism towards the game’s writing and design that I think is unreasonably pessimistic; it’s easy to call out the narrative as cheesily progressive à la Tumblr, but in doing so, you might neglect a lot of the genuine fun and personality that Toby Fox packs into the experience. Undertale and Deltarune (and art as a whole) should be enjoyed without having a pretext for disliking them due to the rabid fanbase or because of the negative echo chamber that comes from anything that generates too much hype, and I just think it’s a terrible shame to let these externalities influence the public perception of what’s on its own an incredibly earnest story of compassion for others.

According to Toby Fox, it might be quite a few years before the rest of Deltarune comes out, which is disappointing, but given how long he’s been working on this project and just how quality it is, it’s some time I’m willing to wait. I thought that Deltarune was a pretty strict upgrade from Undertale, with better music, an improved battle system (graze to generate TP is a great idea taken from the Touhou Project), and more likable characters (which I had wanted to dedicate a paragraph to, but this post is already waaay too long). Playing the demo, I found myself often smiling and laughing at just how fun the whole game is, and I really hope that as many people who enjoyed Undertale will enjoy Deltarune. Toby Fox deserves it.

Looking at the “Tears in rain monologue” of Blade Runner (1982)

I recently watched Blade Runner (1982) with a few friends over the weekend, and I thought it was excellent. They did an incredible job with the movie’s visuals – the atmosphere is moody and oppressive, claustrophobic with swarms of civilians bustling about an obviously overpopulated metropolis. The entire film is tinted a somber ocean blue and shimmers in artificial neon light to create a dystopian and gloomy backdrop for the movie’s introspection in consciousness – it all works very cohesively. It’s crazy how they managed to pull off such an impressive visual scale of its city and tech without the use of CGI, in 1982! (As a side note, the setting of the movie is in 2019, so it looks like we’re just one year away from flying cars, killer androids, and eternal rain. I look forward to it!) If you haven’t seen the movie, obviously give it a shot, and spoilers ahead.

One scene in particular stands out to pretty much everyone who’s seen it, and the main actor in that scene is said still to get comments about it 30 years later. Of course, I’m talking about Roy Batty’s final few lines, or the “Tears in rain monologue.” (This one-minute scene is apparently famous enough to warrant its own Wikipedia page!) Here’s the transcript:

“I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die.”

Batty’s speech is a recognition of his own humanity, an acceptance of his mortality, and by extension, our own. Batty is a combat replicant, genetically engineered for the sole purpose of war. He is literally designed to be emotionless, and yet, this supposedly expendable, programmatic husk of a “non-human” being comments on the beauty of his experiences, even those in the violent landscape of war. The monologue’s fictional imagery is somehow easy to picture; gargantuan structures blaze in silence, as a crumbling ship and its passengers become the dust in cosmic wind; a vivid mosaic of bright color stretch through the black void of space, massive in scale to Batty’s small form. It’s these experiences that Batty, who can be considered no more alive than the code in a program, has remembered and described as “things you people wouldn’t believe,” or the things that Batty sees immense wonder in – these deeply impactful memories that his “meaningless, programmed” life was truly lived out with great purpose, if not solely for the reason that he had lived and experienced the beauty of his universe at all. Here is Blade Runner’s acknowledgement of Batty’s humanity: his ability to view the universe with conscious, wondrous eyes.

The second half of the monologue is Batty’s acceptance of his inherently ephemeral nature. Replicants are designed only to live for four years before automatically shutting down, and it’s in a previous scene that Batty actually “meets his maker,” only to angrily kill him when he is told that there’s no possible way to extend his lifespan. Here, in the final moments before his death is when Batty has fully accepted the fate he fought to avoid, he realizes that while all those previously described memories will be “lost in time, like tears in rain,” noting the insignificance of his existence in the context of a greater universe, he did not live in vain. The “questionable things” that Batty has conducted over his lifespan is contrasted by the empathy expressed in his saving of Deckard, a man dispatched to kill off him and his rogue replicant friends. Thus, he is perfectly content to die, joyous and appreciative of having had the chance to affirm his humanity.

Blade Runner’s messages are incredibly thoughtful, and I’m honestly very unequipped to analyze the nuance of the film. Nonetheless, the “Tears in rain monologue” stuck by me and I wanted to share my thoughts. The sentiment of the scene is similar to other existential works like The Stranger and Waiting for Godot, but the fantastic visual acting, gorgeous background track, and wholly poetic delivery make “Tears in rain” quite special.

A post on Orc, by Thee Oh Sees

Orc is a 10-track, 50-minute psych rock album from American rock band Thee Oh Sees (or Oh Sees or OCS or The Oh Sees or The Ohsees or… any other of its many monikers). It was released mid-2017 and has become a record I consistently return to for the aggressive, driving momentum of its roaring, energetic guitars, as well as the funky earworm melodies and the serene moments of respite that the tracklist offers. The album is concise, with rarely wasted track time, but is also sonically creative and diverse all throughout its length. It’s ultimately the consistent dynamism, and the varying moments of  full-blown noise versus more laid-back composure that keeps Orc from ever becoming stale, and makes it a very fun, listenable album from start to finish.

An orc, in fantasy genres, is usually depicted as brutish and ugly – a malevolent, chaotic force gripping tight his bone club among thousands of others, exactly like him, on some medieval battleground, recklessly storming the castle while the protagonists of the film/game/book use their superior wit, combat training, and socioeconomic status to defeat the stupid horde of beasts, driving them back to their craggy, violent homeland. Life is tough for the orc, whose expendability is a defining feature of their battle-driven identity, and perhaps underneath his tough, bellicose exterior is an individual, responsive and aware of his simple existence. But probably not. Certainly, Orc doesn’t challenge the notion that orcs are inherently primal, evil creatures, but the perspective it explores – that of the viewpoint from the purple, bleeding beast of the cover – is fun in its aggression, and well-represented sonically, with brutal war anthems like “Animated Violence,” and also some of the minutiae of life in “Cooling Tower,” which I think is hilarious to imagine as our orc coming back from a bloody battle to destress in some medieval bath house.

The intro track, “The Static God,” immediately opens with these screaming guitars, a noisy, grating effect that’s thoroughly blood curling and adrenaline fueled. A groovy bassline introduces some high-pitched, beast-like vocals, squealing about “tuning in, addressing an urge…” like our orc is purely acting on his necessary impulse for violence. The breakneck beat of the drumming is the driving force throughout this track and many others, constantly providing an exciting and catchy rhythmic backbone for the guitars to wail away with. “Animated Violence” is perhaps the most raw and heavy track, where a ripping guitar floods the headphones, before breaking off into a calmer synth passage that sounds like we’ve left the frenzied chaos of the main battlefield and just entered the dank castle dungeons. “Keys to the Castle” is by far the most unique track, where the first two minutes start out exuberant and bright, before suddenly escaping our established sound and plunging headfirst into a six-minute passage where a viola replaces our guitars as the main melody. The strings are sultry and rich, and our soloist continues to paint a mystical, enigmatic scene. This track is great – I imagine that we started out in the typical forest-side castle siege, and are just unexpectedly thrown into the heat of the desert, experiencing dehydration and having its illusory effects begin to kick in. “Raw Optics” is another favorite of mine, where a breakaway drum solo characterizes the majority of the track, coming across as quieter and “sneakier,” a foil to our thunderous, spotlight-stealing guitar. I’m a big fan of how rhythmic the entire album is, and how punchy and energetic the performances are as a whole.

All-in-all, Orc is a very consistent and enjoyable work of psych rock. I’d strongly recommend it to those who can tolerate noise or are into the loudness and excitement of this kind of garage rock.

STAND OUT TRACKS: The Static God, Animated Violence, Keys to the Castle

PERSONAL FAVORITE: The Static God