Justice Playthrough #85: SOULS & STRIPES

A bit too difficult for my liking, but very deeply heartfelt. This is a work that needs to be treated with respect.

Page 19, Game 22: SOULS & STRIPES by feralphoenix

The way I’m approaching the entries in the bundle likely did this particular comic a disservice. I’ve been largely hitting these blind, diving straight in based only on the short description and image used in the bundle entry. Unless I’m baffled by something and struggling to figure out how to proceed, I haven’t been visiting the entry’s main page until I’m wrapping the write-up and need something to link to.

This usually turns out fine; I feel like a given work ought to stand on its own two feet, and I want to let it impress me (or not) on its own terms. However, coming in through the main page would represent a more typical user experience. In this case, it would have informed me that I was about to read a piece of fanfic spanning two video games, only one of which I was familiar with.

I eventually figured out that I was reading Undertale fanfic, but since I haven’t played Deltarune, I didn’t know that was also a key ingredient until just now. (Hell, I hadn’t even heard of Deltarune. But given that it’s by the same dev as Undertale and given that Undertale is awesome, it clearly needs to be on my radar.) Because I didn’t have that knowledge, it took me a hot minute to get on this book’s wavelength.

So, this is a Fanfic comic centered around Undertale and Deltarune, translated into English from Japanese. (Luckily, I figured out I needed to read from right to left pretty quickly.) A quick Googling suggests that all the characters are canonical and not author inserts. It’s seventeen stories, most of them focused on themes of identity and acceptance.

I kept swinging wildly between being deeply confused and deeply moved. The confusing bits come from the assumption that the reader already knows good and goddamn well they’re reading fanfic based on a pair of video games. I sometimes struggled to tell the characters apart, and felt blindsided by weirdness like digressions on being controlled by The Player. I cannot imagine the book’s intended audience having either problem.

There’s also the issue that these stories are just a compilation of work done by the author, and weren’t necessarily intended to be part of a larger whole. Little surprise that it comes off a bit disjointed, with big reveals being dropped and never mentioned again.

Where the book truly sings is when it explores its characters’ gender identities. I have no idea if these stories of pain and rejection represent logical extrapolations of the characters’ canonical backgrounds or if they represent the author using these characters to process their own experiences, but either way, they pack a fucking wallop. The Chara and Frisk of these stories went through terrible pain figuring out who they are, and still carry that pain with them.

The artwork is excellent, clear and evocative. I also understand it’s presented real-time chronologically, meaning you can see the author’s skill increasing as the comics move forward.

This is not for everybody, and even knowing that it’s fanfic, there are still some parts that I find impenetrable because I’m only familiar with 50% of the source material. (What’s it mean when Chara is see-thru?) Nevertheless, if you approach this comic on its own terms and accept it for what it is, there’s some tremendously moving storytelling here. This is not something I would have downloaded had the RNG not demanded it, but I’m glad that I read it. If you’re curious at all, I can definitely recommend it.

That was intense. What’s next?

Page 7, Game 29: The Away Team by Underflow Studios

“In this interactive sci-fi adventure novel, you are the AI pilot of Earth’s last interstellar ship.”

I’ve found interactive fiction to be pretty hit or miss … but then again, isn’t everything? Let’s see what this one has to offer.