After three long years, Toby Fox and his talented team have returned to give us Delta rune Chapter 2. It is a wonderful continuation of the first chapter and expands the world, game systems and story in many ways. As I played through both chapters, I kept coming back to one topic. Delta rune‘s Dark Worlds and its entire Light and Dark philosophy have some interesting things to say about the potentially dangerous side of escapism.
I want to make it clear that this article is not an attempt to explain Delta runeComplete the story or unravel its many secrets with a sophisticated theory. It’s a rich and complex game that can be approached from many angles, and we are not yet playing with a full deck of cards. That said, it’s an exploration of some of the game’s themes, and that means there will be spoilers. Proceed at your own risk.
The sad world of Deltarune
Delta runes main characters lead sad and troubled lives. Kris is the only human in a town out of all the monsters, and it’s not clear how that happened. Have they been orphaned or abandoned by their human parents? They were taken in by loving monster parents, but Asriel and Asgore are now divorced and faced with icy conditions. Kris has few friends, and when you talk to monsters around town, it becomes clear that they consider Kris a calm, creepy kid. Kris’ adoptive brother Asriel, loved and admired by all, was her closest companion. But Asriel went to college and left Kris in a ruined home.
We know far less about our second protagonist Susie, but all signs point to an equally troubled life. Susie may be the only person in town with fewer friends than Kris. Her tattered clothes suggest she lives in poverty and there is ample evidence that she is malnourished. In Chapter 1 she notices that she only had chalk to eat all day, and in Chapter 2 we learn that she regularly drinks milk, which she finds in a bowl in an alley. It’s not even clear if she has a home. We have never seen it before. And when Toriel asks her to call her parents and ask for permission to stay overnight, she says she will, but never does. Either there is nobody there or she has an extremely distant relationship with her parents. All of this leads to it becoming closed and violent. She’s a bully who pushes people around for fear of being vulnerable.
Chapter 2 adds Noelle to the party, who may be dealing with the most emotional distress of all. Her father lies in a hospital bed with a serious illness that does not seem to be getting better. While we haven’t met her mother yet, several characters suggest she is incredibly strict and controlling. In fact, her father seems desperate to leave the hospital, mostly for Noelle’s sake. But it’s not just her mother. Her best friend Berdly treats her like a doormat, and at some point she realizes that she can’t say no to anyone. In addition, Chapter 2 contains numerous notes that some Terrible things have happened to your sister in the past. It is not clear if she died, but she is no longer there and Noelle shows strange and erratic behavior in her absence.
Into the dark world
All three of these characters are struggling desperately in their personal lives, all feeling isolated and helpless. If anyone could use a dose of escapism, it would be her. And that is exactly what they come across in the form of the Dark World.
In Chapter 1, Kris and Susie discover a portal to the dark world in the pantry of their school and they soon embark on a fantastic adventure. Kris, abandoned by his brother, is revered by “Ralsei” (an anagram of Asriel) and becomes the leader of the team and the great hero of an ancient prophecy. Meanwhile, Susie befriends Lancer, whose endless admiration means that no matter how hard she tries at first, she can’t bully him. Throughout the journey, these troubled characters are happier than ever and become close friends.
When they return to the normal world, Kris and Susie find themselves in an old, disused classroom full of playing cards, chess and checkers, and other toys. Many gamers initially thought that the dark world was just in their heads and that they were simply playing a tabletop RPG with the contents of the room. Chapter 2 makes it clear that the Dark World is more complicated, but the symbolism still applies.
Escaping into a fantasy RPG is a great way for many people to let their imaginations run wild and express themselves. It can help otherwise isolated people connect with others who share their interests. Dungeons and dragons is undoubtedly a safe haven and creative outlet for many. And board and card games alone can be a fun way to pass the time and connect with others. Chapter 2’s Dark World is based on computer games and the Internet that serve similar purposes. And while we can’t say for sure, it is likely that the Dark World of Chapter 3 will be television based and will continue the entertainment theme.
Light and dark, hopes and dreams
Delta rune‘s central prophecy describes that the world needs an appropriate balance of light and dark, hope and dreams. We have already examined how the characters escape into the dark to live their dreams, and light and hope form the other half of that equation. Because as much fun as the Dark World is, the players have to return to their real life and their real problems at some point. But the world of “Light” is seriously lacking in the Hope department. While Delta rune explores the benefits of escapism, but also warns against excessive indulgence.
In Chapter 2, Ralsei rebuilds his castle to create new rooms for our heroes and carefully design them to suit their wishes. He explains that he hopes this will become a second home for Kris and Susie no matter what problems they face in the outside world. We later see this parallel to Queen in Cyber World, but with a twist. Queen designs rooms that she thinks the characters will love based on her internet research. But while Ralsei suggested using his rooms as a second home, Queen forcibly locks the characters in their rooms. Ralsei recognizes the need for a balance between real life and fantasy and chases Kris and Susie out of the dark world when he learns that they should do a school project. But Queen would keep her in the Dark World forever, if she had her way. In addition, she argues that the inhabitants of the world of light beautiful locked up.
Think! Lightners have already been enslaved by me and my relatives. Every day they spend hours in delightful delight adoring our screens with funny animals and candied games. Staring, tapping to receive joy. Staring, tapping to avoid pain … Until recently, when the city’s internet disappeared. Now the refuge they take in screens will slowly fade away. Noelle … who will help her then? Your strange and sad searches, who will answer them?
Queen believes that the residents of the world of light, Noelle in particular, need to be tied to their screens. That there is no other way for them to deal with their problems. She is not really “bad” in the sense that she wishes someone bad. She believes humans can’t handle reality, so she wants to expand the Dark Word to consume it all and provide the Lightners with a permanent escape route. And if she fully explains this … your party largely agrees. Noelle, Susie and Berdly decide that the dark world is simply better than reality and plan to open a new dark well to create their own dark world.
Escape from escapism
At this point, Ralsei angrily interjects to remind her of the prophecy and to reveal more details about it. If Queen succeeds in completely overwhelming the world with Darkness, it will not give her the unlimited power to fulfill the Lightner’s dreams. Instead, all Darkners are crushed and turned to stone under the weight of the endless darkness. With no Darkners to guide them and help them achieve their dreams, the Lightners will spend the rest of their lives in total darkness.
The forms of escapism we practice can be extremely healthy and rewarding. But they can also become obsessive or even harmful. A favorite song can be looped through until you never want to hear it again. Browsing memes on social media can result in endless doom scrolling to pass the time. A successful indie game with branching story lines can be repeated endlessly until you push your way through cutscenes that you once found hilarious or emotionally impressive. If you are not careful, the things you love can slowly turn to stone with no meaning whatsoever.
As expected from Toby Fox, Delta rune gives us a lot to think about. But perhaps the most important lesson is that we shouldn’t think about it even much. I had a great time delving into Chapter 2. As a big fan of the first chapter (as well as Undertale), you could even say it was a dream. But now it’s time to leave the dark world behind and cross a few things in the real world off my to-do list.