Is Kris in Control in Deltarune?
Watch this Nerdy Devotional Here:
You don’t need to be in a room with me for long to learn that I am *that* Undertale fan - I will rant and rave about the game to literally anyone who will listen (and most who won’t.) After dropping Deltarune Chapter 1 outta nowhere in 2018, game dev Toby Fox did it again with Deltarune Chapter 2 on September 15th.
In some ways, this entry into the Undertale universe is more warm and welcoming… but in other ways it’s even more haunting than the darkest moments of its predecessor.
With five chapters left coming who-knows-when, there is plenty of theorizing to be done… but what can we learn from the story being told here? In a story where no one is totally good or evil and control is given or taken regularly, who can we trust and who should we be wary of? Let’s talk about it.
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Romans 6:15-19 NRSV
"What then? Should we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God that you, having once been slaves of sin, have become obedient from the heart to the form of teaching to which you were entrusted, and that you, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. I am speaking in human terms because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to greater and greater iniquity, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness for sanctification."
Okay, so I talked a bit about Deltarune in the intro, but what is actually happening in this story?
When we were given Chapter 1 in 2018, the game started with a character creation model and let us name ourselves, but then we watch our hard work deteriorate as we are introduced to Kris, the protagonist we get to control for most of the game. Kris is awkward, quiet and looks JUST like Chara, the murderous character from the genocide route of Undertale. Kris is the child (maybe adopted? I’m gonna guess yes) of Toriel, just like in Undertale. Kris’ brother is Asriel, the antagonist from Undertale, but we don’t actually get to see Asriel because he has gone off to college.
We also meet Susie, the dinosaur alligator girl, who is misunderstood by her classmates and decides to present herself as a tough as nails delinquent. Susie and Kris are teleported to an alternate world known as the Dark World.
Once there, they meet the lovable Ralsei - an anagram for Kris’ brother Asriel - who also just so happens to look just like our displaced brother. Ralsei is the prince of the Dark World and informs them that he needs their help sealing the fountains so that peace can return to the Dark World and, by default, also help the Light World where Kris and Susie are from.
Thus, the first chapter has the MC taking control of the three-person team battling their way through the Dark World to save both worlds.
The mystery is: who is actually opening these fountains in the dark world and why do none of the overlapping cast from Undertale recall the events from the hit title? Undyne doesn’t have her eyepatch, Papyrus is nowhere to be seen, just what is going on?
At the end of chapter 1, the actual character Kris rips their heart out (which is US by the way, we are the heart in the game controlling Kris’ decisions when applicable). So, Kris rips out the heart, us, and then holds out a knife viciously and smiles at the camera as their eye twinkles red just like Chara’s
So, that’s Chapter 1, but what about Chapter 2? Spoilers from this point on btw.
Chapter 2 features another visit to the Dark World due to the opening of another fountain. Kris and Susie team up with Ralsei once again to save the day, but this time they are joined by two of their classmates, the adorable deer Noelle and the less-than-likable birdbrain Berdley.
After all is said and done - which, by the way, this game is free, so you should just play it. There’s like no excuse. We reach the end of the game where Toby chooses to give a bit more of the thread of what is going on here.
After saving the day once again, Susie walks home with Kris; Toriel insists on a sleepover. Kris slinks off to the bathroom while Toriel and Susie share an adorable moment. In the bathroom, Kris once again rips their heart, us, out of their chest and leaves out of the window for a while. Returning, Kris puts the heart back in and joins Toriel and Susie.
The night passes by and Susie and Toriel both end up snoozing in the living room. Kris then rips their heart out once again - in plain sight btw - and takes out the knife again. When I say I was screaming at my computer screen, let me tell you - it was intense.
Kris doesn’t, thank God, stab goat mom and dino friend, but instead stabs directly into the ground, opening up a wormhole from the dark world that looks an awful lot like, you guessed it, the fountains we’ve been sealing up.
That’s right, Kris is the one opening up the fountains that we, the player, are working so hard to seal back up to prevent the Roaring, which is Ralsei’s prophetic word of what will happen if the fountains should remain open.
So, this brings up some interesting questions - why does Kris want these fountains open so badly? Will the Roaring actually happen? Is any of this actually happening or is Kris regressing to playing pretend out of shock of their brother leaving for college?
Like I said earlier, we’re only two chapters into a seven chapter series here, so the true ending of the story is anyone’s guess. I personally lean towards the prequel theory, but that’s a convo we can have over on our Discord, if you’re down to clown.
For this video and for this scripture, I’m more interested in Toby Fox’s obsession with control. Undertale presented this thesis in some awesome ways. In the genocide route, we have control taken away from us by Chara and question if we were ever in control of the game at all.
Deltarune takes that model of storytelling and runs with it - the entire story so far isn’t actually about Ralsei, Susie, Noelle, the Light world or the Dark World… the whole shebang is about two people. Kris… and YOU. Or me. Or whoever is playing the game. Kris reacts to our decisions. Kris makes decisions available for us.
And, as we see in those ending scenes, Kris can take control and do what Kris chooses to do. If we were to put our motives into words, the game wants the player character to want the fountains closed. This is in direct conflict with Kris, who wants them very much open and is actively creating them.
Much like our jaunt into Twelve Minutes from a few weeks back, the truth behind Deltarune is that there are ultimately three narratives that get to be told.
Option 1 - we can play the purest route possible, making the good choices and saving the day. In Undertale, this option leaves us with a sunset and heartwarming conversation. Deltarune leaves us with uncertainty and discomfort as Kris takes control.
Option 2 - we can play the evilest route possible. I won’t spoil Snowgrave for anyone who wants to play the genocide route, but I can link to a video of it for any who just want to see the story. It’s really freaking dark. In Undertale, this culminates in Chara taking control of our save file and the game effectively ends.
Option 3 - we just don’t play the game anymore. It’s just a game, after all. The events never happen if they don’t happen at all, right? These are fictional worlds, after all. This was the ultimate argument of Twelve Minutes, you might recall.
If you’re anything like me, then Option 3 doesn’t exist. There’s no world where I don’t pursue an ending to a game like Undertale or Deltarune, I have to know where things are headed. I have to get to the conclusion. To be totally honest, I get unsettled if I play the genocide route or anything like that - I don’t like to even explore the negative endings, I’d rather watch someone else do them instead.
Believe it or not, this relates perfectly to our scripture for today - Romans is one of Paul’s more stressful letters. He says a lot and so much of it is laid with very intense and factual language that it comes across as legalistic and abrasive. Much of our more controversial theology comes from this letter (and less from the actual words of Jesus **cough cough** I’ll leave that there)
Anyway, in this passage from Paul, he is using very much the same theme that Toby Fox is playing with in his obsession with control.
As human beings, we love to be in charge and have control. And so, we try to convince ourselves that the third option mentioned above exists in our own lives. We tell ourselves that we don’t have to choose between the right and the wrong, we don’t have to serve one or the other, we can do another thing entirely. The world isn’t so dualistic. While I tend to lean that way myself from time to time, Paul advises against it here.
Paul has just gone into great detail on grace - which as a Wesleyan is my very favorite thing - but then he goes immediately into the first question that pops up.
"Well, if grace is there for us no matter what, then why shouldn’t we just sin all the time, live the life we want and then ask for forgiveness on the deathbed?"
Why not, right?
That’s where Paul begins to explain things dualistically - it’s an unfortunate byproduct of our own human minds that he needs to do this.
He even says that in this text - “I am speaking in human terms because of your natural limitations.” In other words, I’m talking this way for your sake, not God’s.
God doesn’t see you as good or evil, God sees you as you - nothing dual about it.
Since Paul believes he must use this language, he says that we as humans are making a choice regardless of our intention - we serve whoever we choose to serve. We either are slaves to righteousness or slaves to sin. Whether you agree with this reality or not, it does set up perfectly within the world of the video game.
At the end of the day, Undertale and Deltarune feature a great deal of hidden decisions and easter eggs, but the truth is that the player can only really choose to serve between the two choices of pacifist or genocide. Given the limitations of the game as a medium, the choices lie on a spectrum of duality.
But, again - that’s by the game’s understanding. We as a third party in the metaverse are able to add nuance, twists, theories, interpretation, AUs for pete’s sake.
So, too, does life feel like a spectrum when it is limited to our human understanding.
If we see sin as being some game mechanic, something we just get to choose to equip or unequip at the end of the game when we reach the level cap, then we are only playing into that dual thinking. By choosing sin or choosing not to sin, we are playing into the system of human living that got us into this mess in the first place.
I don’t believe that what Paul is doing in this text is presenting us with the choice between serving sin or serving righteousness - he is literally telling us that, if we choose to see sin as something on the table and a relationship with Jesus as just being some kind of object, then we are missing the point entirely and are setting ourselves up as slaves.
This is perhaps a bit heretical, but I don’t think that Paul wants us to be slaves to righteousness really - I think he wants us to be free in Christ from all of these things.
Being a slave to sin is still being a slave, being a slave to righteousness is still being a slave.
As long as we understand Christ as a ‘get outta hell free card’ and not as a relationship to be had, we are seeing life as this dualistic thinking that gets us caught up in serving some form of slavery.
Sure, some are better than others - the pacifist route sure seems to end on a good note. But the truth of Jesus is that Jesus sets us free from the route entirely.
What can we actually learn from this? It’s that we aren’t designed to be on a spectrum. Dualistic thinking isn’t the end. We aren’t made to be slaves to sin or to righteousness, we’re made to be in holy family with Jesus. We’re made for something more than just some kind of video-game-based moralism by a prolific game dev like Toby Fox.
Games like Deltarune allow us the opportunity to explore these worlds, to venture into the harsh reality of dualism, and then to allow that to encourage us to to break free of these shackles IRL.
The truth of Toby’s obsession with control is that it is spot on - Deltarune is only making it that much better. We really don’t have any say when we live a dualistic life.
Deltarune is predestined, like it or not. That’s how the medium works.
When we treat Jesus like some heavenly game dev, we’re limiting ourselves to the same life of slavery. We are so much more than this - let us choose something more for ourselves than just a game.
In the meantime, we can keep playing with games and letting them speak into our lives and make us live that life so much better by the mistakes and lessons we learn in the stories we get to experience in our human understanding.
While we wait another three years (please let this be joke) for Toby to release chapters 3, 4, 5 to drop together, know that whether you’re afraid of the genocide route or face the darkness head on, whether you’re more Noelle, Susie, or Ralsei, you’re always welcome here at Checkpoint Church.
But if you’re Berdley, maybe give us a heads up that you’re coming.
Question: Do you like playing the genocide routes or darker storylines available in games? Or are you a chicken like me?
God loves you. We love you. You matter.
Until next time,