Things are never what they seem to be with Toby Fox. The developer of Subtitle and Deltarune never hesitated to shoot a rapid on his audience and if Deltarune Chapter 2 is an indication, it doesn’t stop now.
The release last Friday of Deltarune Chapter 2 was a surprise to many. A few days later SubtitleIt’s sixth anniversary, the second chapter of Fox’s latest project has dropped to the delight of fans. While this isn’t a sequel or prequel – which we know of anyway – Deltarune introduces characters, gameplay mechanics, and concepts familiar to fans of the original.
While Fox is vague on the relationship between the two games, Deltarune is the spiritual successor of Subtitle and thus collect comparisons. Subtitle drew fans in with its charming characters, a stellar soundtrack, and clever subversion of typical RPG tropes. In both chapters of Fox Deltarune since then, the game has been built on Subtitle’It’s foundation masterfully, from more detailed sprite work to the evolution of the bullet-hell turn-based combat system.
And yet, having finished Deltarune Chapter 2 me now, it’s not the music or the jokes or the visuals that struck me the most. It’s something… much more complicated than that.
Note: Spoilers ahead for Deltarune Chapter 2.
A little like Subtitle before that, Deltarune Chapter 2 offers an alternative route based on the choices you make. Although that doesn’t change the ending like Subtitle‘s “merciless” road – where you kill all the characters you fight with – DeltaruneEqually devastating is the alternate route… with a much lower body count.
The alternate route – now unofficially dubbed the “Snow Tombs Route” – was found by fans of the game and spread via Twitter while others have started to find this path on their own. In Deltarune, you, the player, control protagonist Kris and his friends in battle to act, use magic, heal, converse with, or spare your enemy, most often in a non-violent way to end the encounter.
The Snowgrave Route leads this gameplay loop to horrific ends. He sees Kris manipulating and forcing the new group member Noelle to freeze all enemies in your path, leading her to kill her common classmate Berdly by locking them into a fatal ice attack called Snowgrave. Given DeltaruneThe previous lack of a murder-filled ending, the Snowgrave Route came as a complete shock to many as you subject these characters to sheer horror at your own hand.
undertale no mercy made me feel horrified and weird. deltarune snowgrave made me feel despicable and completely at fault
– wisteria | 40 days (@wiisterian) September 19, 2021
Putting aside the implications of the intrigue of this route – which are many! – for me the scariest and most upsetting part of the Snowgrave Route is what the text says about we as video game players.
Subtitle is full of commentary on the video game’s completion, even going so far as to appeal to fans who wanted to experience the road without mercy without playing it themselves and without getting their hands dirty. The game also presents itself as a player’s choice, where you decide how to shape the world and your relationship with the characters.
Meanwhile, right from the start, Deltarune tells us that our choices don’t matter and our path is futile. It is easy to believe at first glance that Deltarune speaks to us, the audience, but I think it goes beyond that.
Or Subtitle commented on our relationship to completionism in video games, Deltarune comments on our relationships with the video game characters themselves. Many fans of RPG video games – unconsciously or not – insert themselves into the lives and adventures of the protagonists of the games. This is why the silent protagonist trope works so well for auto-inserts, because you can create a character from a blank slate and let your imagination do the rest.
Deltarune Chapter 1 even opens with a character creator, leaning fully into the trope before throwing in our creations and introducing us to Kris. As a silent protagonist, Kris is easy to insert, but it’s clear from the descriptions of the game and the interactions between the characters that they have an established personality and a life before joining the action.
As such, it’s hard not to feel like we, the player, are just playing Kris’ puppets as we guide them through Deltarune. In the Snowgrave Route, after Noelle leaves the party after freezing Berdly, Kris’s friends notice that they seem confused by the events that had taken place. It’s not something you would typically see from someone who emotionally manipulated their friend to the point of murder, is it?
The events of the Snowgrave Route pursue an idea that Deltarune seems to have progressed over the course of its first two chapters, that we, the players, perform our own acts of unintentional manipulation on its characters simply by… playing the game. In the closing moments of both chapters, Kris tears their souls apart (metaphorically speaking) in a move that on the surface seems grim, but under the idea that we, the players, can be the real bad guys here, it takes a new light of their winning back their real selves away from our influence.
Deltarune Also features many references to freedom and liberation from its proverbial strings. It further highlights the fact that while our intentions in playing this game may be just for fun or to see characters we love again, we are puppet characters with a life of their own.
This, in turn, also puts the Snowgrave Road in a whole new light. Kris, the character, most likely didn’t want to emotionally manipulate his childhood friend into murdering a classmate, but we, the player, made them do it just for our own amusement.
This idea of player agency versus character agency is a very fascinating concept for a video game, a concept that has since made me question my own relationship to the games I play in the future. When I put myself in the shoes of a video game protagonist, do I venture on a journey with them or am I just puppering a reluctant participant?