Déraciné review: a solemn VR story from the creators of Dark SoulsNovember 6, 2018
The first virtual reality experience created by From Software, the studio behind notoriously punishing action role-playing games like Dark Souls and Bloodborne, Déraciné isn’t what you’d expect. It’s not violent or particularly challenging. In fact, it has more in common with narrative-focused indie games like Gone Home and Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture than the rest of From’s catalog. So it’s important to go into Déraciné with the right expectations. No, it’s not Dark Souls in VR. Instead, it’s a beautiful, bite-sized story that explores the fantastical through an experience that feels surprisingly at home in VR.
Déraciné takes place almost entirely within the confines of a small boarding school. You play as a faerie, a magical — and invisible — being who lives between moments in time. You explore the school during these quiet moments. As you float around, you’ll see people frozen in the midst of their activities, whether it’s a chef making a stew or some rowdy boys trying to climb the school’s roof. While they can’t see you, you do have the ability to interact with the world and its inhabitants in limited ways. You can pick up certain objects, for instance, like keys or books. As a faerie, you also wear magical rings that give you some slight control over the flow of time.
The story starts out innocent enough. After proving to some of the students that you exist, they then ask you to help with a prank by collecting bitter herbs to ruin the dinner stew. Déraciné uses the fairly common teleport method of moving around in VR; instead of actually walking from place to place, you’re able to zip from one hot spot to the next. For a lot of people, myself included, this can dramatically reduce the nausea that can still plague VR games. The game also requires PlayStation Move motion controllers, and you interact with the world by using them as your virtual hands.
As you zip about the school, you’ll come across people and things that you can interact with. You can pick up a doll and examine it or swipe a packet of medicine from someone’s pocket. Sometimes, this will trigger an event and time will move forward slightly; other times, it will trigger off a memory, in which you listen to a moment from the past.
Slowly, you’ll start to learn about the school and its inhabitants. Déraciné’s story is purposefully disjointed and occasionally disorienting, regularly jumping back and forth in time. Often, you’re exploring the exact same locations in different time periods, and toward the end, you’ll even be experiencing the same events multiple times, with only small changes.
It can get confusing, though it’s hard to go into too much detail without spoiling things, and the real joy of Déraciné comes from unraveling its mystery. While this isn’t Bloodborne by any stretch, its narrative does share many of the same traits that fans of director Hidetaka Miyazaki have come to know and love. It rarely spells out events fully for you, and while it starts out as a relatively lighthearted story about some kids in a quiet school, it eventually takes a dark turn that will have you questioning your own place in the story. It makes you feel culpable and guilty in the same way taking down a dignified Dark Souls monster does.
Structurally, the game follows the “walking sim” template popularized by games like Firewatch, where you can explore without worrying about being killed or running out of time. What really makes the game stand out, though, is the added immersion that comes from VR. The world of Déraciné is impeccably detailed, and being able to get close to people or objects, and sometimes being able to turn them over in your hands, adds an important texture to the world. This is especially important in a game that’s all about scouring your environment for information. It feels less like you’re wandering around a video game, and more like you’re exploring an actual place. (That said, the game commits the unforgivable sin of including a very good dog that you can’t pet with your ghostly hands.)
The conceit that you’re a wraith-like faerie even gets around some of the issues inherent in VR. It doesn’t feel strange that you can teleport around the school, and it’s not so jarring when your spectral hands clip through objects. That said, while Déraciné mostly benefits from virtual reality, there are elements of this style of game that are worsened by the headset. Déraciné’s story necessitates a lot of backtracking, which gets especially tedious in VR. Similarly, while the puzzles in Déraciné are mostly easy to figure out, there were a few times when I missed a specific item or clue and found myself unable to proceed. Those moments of frustration are exacerbated when you’re fully immersed in the experience.
At around five hours long, Déraciné is short enough that these problems never become overwhelming. And while it’s not a particularly original or groundbreaking experience, it does do something very important. Much of VR right now is focused on brand-new kinds of games that are only possible with a headset. Déraciné goes in a different direction. It takes a style of story-driven adventure game that’s already a known quantity, and shows how it can be enhanced by virtual reality. It might not be what you expected of From Software, but it’s still worth seeing what it’s like to be a faerie for a few hours.
Déraciné is available today on PlayStation VR.