Developer: From Software, SIE Japan Studio Publisher: SIE Platform: PS4 (PSVR required) Review code provided
Virtual reality is beloved by those who have adopted it for many reasons. For making you feel like you’re being chased by a psychopath and screaming like a banshee. For imbuing you with the level of badassery only seen in John Woo movies. And in the case of Déraciné, the new PSVR exclusive from From Software, telling stories like no other medium can.
Your immediate thought when looking at Déraciné for the first time will probably be that this really isn’t anything like the developer’s more recent output, and that’s because it isn’t. A tale set almost exclusively in a school with you playing a benevolent faerie is not the typical From Software experience, evidencing that they aren’t comfortable with being set in a rigid mould. While Déraciné probably won’t change their public image as it’s a much smaller and quieter game, it’s a narrative-based ride worth going along with.
Déraciné immerses you into the role of the kindly overseer pretty easily, even if the controls may take some getting used to. The game make full use of the Move controllers — the only way it can be played — and may result in some clumsiness if you don’t use the oft-forgotten peripherals often. The player uses their ethereal hands to interact with the world, so whether that’s collecting herbs for a stew or removing someone’s hat to get a key, it’s all about exploration.
Movement is determined by teleportation based on glinting areas on the ground; you can only really traverse the school in set patterns, which feels like a shame. As a convert to full locomotion, it’s easy to see why From Software chose this for accessibility’s sake as it lessens nausea, but the lack of an option to move freely does limit the freedom of adventure somewhat. In addition, having to “flit” constantly can be a bit of a pain, especially down long corridors. I had thumb cramp at one point from having to hammer the Move button over and over just to get anywhere.
While a short experience at roughly four hours, Déraciné wisely uses its gimmicks (which I won’t entirely spoil here as they’re too closely tied to the narrative) to make it a far more expansive game than it may first appear. Early on, the player gains the ability to go backwards in time when certain criteria have been met, which is a great avenue for telling the stories that the school and its children have to tell. Even after dusting off the game, there are some small mysteries about Déraciné that are open to interpretation, as is the From Software way.
Despite being a radical step away from their flagship franchise, Déraciné does include some Miyazaki hallmarks. It has a decidedly gothic undercurrent that belies its nostalgic, sepia-infused aesthetic and isn’t afraid of getting dark when it needs to. The overall tone, meanwhile, isn’t nearly as oppressive and isolating: there’s a lot of optimism to be found here, especially in the way the children interact with each other, even if some of them do talk too much exactly like Luna Lovegood.
Rather than you awkwardly trying to chase after the kids as they do dumb children stuff, Déraciné instead freezes time and allows you to inspect and interact with them. You don’t ever directly talk with them, rather your actions around them create a reaction instead. One of my favourite sequences saw me stealing a key from under someone’s hat and then flushing it down the toilet, just because it’s as satisfying as it sounds. All of the characters are well-written and affable, despite having haunted strains to their voices and some disaffected delivery. You may argue that they’re somewhat robotic, but that feels largely by design.
There’s not much of an overarching plot to tie things together to begin with, but there is a mystery afoot that deepens the further you delve into Déraciné. While the grand reveal is never an earth-shattering one, it’s reflective of the game itself: understated and soothingly quaint. Anyone wanting a mile a minute explosion-fest probably won’t find much endearing here, but those who’d like the video game equivalent of time by the fireside should line right up.
Déraciné isn’t really like anything else out there on the VR market. Sure, there are some other “hands-off” experiences that prefer to tell tales over spilling blood, but none of them do it quite as competently as Déraciné. The only real major drawbacks come with the lack of relative freedom and the final couple of chapters feeling oddly paced to wrap things up with, as well as the length of the chapters feeling wildly inconsistent. Despite those qualms, Déraciné is an easy but perhaps not essential recommendation for From Software fans and anyone who wants to live in a fairytale for a little while.
Déraciné is completely unlike anything From Software has attempted before, and while it may not be as captivating as the franchise that made their name, it’s a magical time all the same.