Announced at E3 2018, FromSoftware’s Déraciné had the PlayStation VR community absolutely intrigued. A VR title from the now infamous developer of Dark Souls and Bloodborne is a must-see on pedigree alone. What comes as a surprise then, is how Déraciné opts to go in a different direction from what the developer is known for. It’s change of pace for FromSoftware and figurehead Midetaka Miyazaki, and while it feels fresh and substantial at first, Déraciné quickly runs out of steam and ultimately fails to tell the captivating story it wants to.
Taking It Easy
Here we have an experience that moves at a more relaxed pace, and is about giving the player a space to explore and a mystery to unravel. There are no horrors here, and no need to worry about seeing the words, “YOU DIED” taking up your entire field of vision. Instead, with a pair of PlayStation Move controllers approximating your physical hands, you’ll be jumping from space to space, picking things up, and solving puzzles.
In Déraciné you play as a fairy, who is granted a pair of rings at the beginning that have the power to manipulate time. These powers are quite limited. Sometimes, they manifest in specific plot-oriented moments, and at other times they help explain why this world is frozen in time. As this mysterious fairy, you explore a mysterious boarding school only populated by the headmaster and a small handful of students, all of whom are frozen in time except for key moments. During those time-stasis moments, you can grab and manipulate objects. Sometimes the characters will react to your mischief, and sometimes they struggle to even react to each other.
There may be very little motion, but the world of Déraciné is beautiful. Thanks to VR, it really does feel like you’re exploring a space that is alive with detail if not actual, moving life. As you explore you’ll see decorations, furniture, messes, so on and so forth. All of these little details help fill in blanks about when and where this place exists and who the inhabitants are. Early on, these details also give the player a reason to want to be here.
Who Likes Scavenger Hunts?
At its best, Déraciné makes you feel like you’re exploring a defined place, manipulating that world and perhaps uncovering the keys to a grand mystery. In the beginning, you drain time from a bundle of grapes to revert them back into flowers in order to prove to the children you exist. Miyazaki recently said in an interview that existence is its key theme. Much of the game is spent moving from one child to another, proving that you’re there. Some of them believed you were there from the start, and some remained stubborn even after you continued to mess with them and helped them out with some serious problems.
At its worst, what is a typically short VR narrative experience feels like hours as you hop around the empty boarding house, hunting for hidden objects so you can advance the story. Its halls never really change or surprise you except for differences in open and closed doors. And unfortunately, the story you are rewarded with is not just decorated with the usual FromSoftware vagueness; it’s simply poorly constructed and meandering, often feeling like it was made up on the spot as you’re playing it.
Like I mentioned earlier, there is so much deliberate vagueness that the whole delivery feels disjointed and unreal, like when certain major events take place and nobody reacts to them at all. Sure, you jump forward in time between levels, and there are blanks for the player to fill in on their own. But while Déraciné clearly wants you to bond with the children, feel empathy for their struggles and feel an urgency to help them, the work isn’t done to push the player along that path.
It’s one of those situations where the story expects you to be on board the mystery train right as it pulls up, but the ticket doesn’t say a word about where you’re going and most of the windows are closed. The ride itself is fun and all, but you can’t even buy a sandwich if you’re hungry. And the conductor is staring at you the whole time like a friend watching a movie with you they’ve already seen, desperate to see you react to everything.
Hand-holding isn’t necessary, as fans of Dark Souls and Bloodborne will agree, but those games did way more legwork to root the player in a purpose and give them motivation to continue. Déraciné moves you from objective to objective, sometimes with a disorienting lack of detail, and always without even showing you the results of your efforts before moving on to the next thing, which introduces things seemingly out of nowhere without (again) the slightest hint at why or what. Then when things get climactic towards the end, it feels like the writers realized this issue, and thus went to extreme lengths to try and retroactively tie things up. It doesn’t necessarily feel like a lack of effort or a disaster on anyone’s part, but it does feel like an experiment gone awry, which is frankly appropriate for the VR space.
Déraciné is an intriguing PlayStation VR experience that definitely feels like a FromSoftware title. From its air of whimsical mystery to its hard reliance on theme rather than detail for its narrative delivery, well, I could make a Dark Souls joke here, but I figure that ship has sailed elsewhere. However, while Déraciné is worth playing and figuring out for yourself, it’s hard to recommend with enthusiasm. While intriguing and mysterious, the storytelling does have fundamental issues that make the overall mystery feel unearned and the tension intangible. The player’s “powers” are more scripted than play-oriented, and the play itself is bogged down in searching for objects and placing them where they need to go to move things forward. There are neat ideas here and plenty of VR-flavored awe to be had, but Déraciné won’t be standing out like one may have hoped.
Déraciné review code provided by publisher. Version 1.00 reviewed on a standard PS4. For more information on scoring please see our Review Policy here.