Chances are, you probably wouldn’t expect a somber, laid-back adventure game from the likes of FromSoftware, but that’s exactly what PSVR owners are getting from the developers responsible for a few of the most challenging titles in recent memory. Déraciné (which is French for a person who feels displaced or uprooted) takes a break from the brutal hacking, dodging, and rolling found in the Dark Souls franchise and Bloodborne and replaces them with a faerie who comes to the aid of some children and their headmaster at a charming boarding school in the middle of nowhere. And while that might not sound like much of a setup for a great VR experience, Déraciné provides a fascinating, thoughtful look into the lives of a small cast of characters and the invisible outsider who helps them solve their problems and dilemmas, from the mundane to the heartbreaking. Although the game suffers from a few hiccups and the usual VR jank, it’s easily one of the best PSVR titles currently on the market, as well as a captivating and frequently heartbreaking old-school adventure.
The game kicks off with a fair amount of lore and exposition: You’re a faerie, you’re told, and you possess the ability to grant life and control time. The red ring you wear on your right hand for the duration of the journey allows you to engage with the characters who exist in a place frozen in time. By interacting with little glowing balls of light, which are often discovered by interacting with objects on or around the characters, you’ll learn more about the children, their headmaster, and the school. The blue ring on your left hand, meanwhile, has its own unique powers and gives you a helping hand if you find yourself wandering aimlessly around the school. Thankfully, those moments of cluelessness are few and far between, as Déraciné does a fantastic job of leading you to your next destination without completely holding your hand. Only once or twice did I find myself backtracking to rooms and locations more than once to push the story forward.
The tale begins with a bit of harmless tomfoolery; one of the students asks you to drop some herbs into the school’s food, which makes it very bitter. This chapter also proves to the kids that there is, in fact, a faerie in their midst, despite their initial misgivings. From there, the adventure starts to darken as your quest begins to affect the children and their well-being. The headmaster, a kindly old man in a wheelchair, wants nothing more than for the mysterious faerie to use its powers to prevent one girl from suffering a life-changing injury. That particular girl’s accident, meanwhile, only occurred because of her concern for a boy suffering from a terrible fever. It’s these moments where the game’s writing truly shines, and you slowly start to realize that there’s more to this faerie’s arrival than simply collecting herbs and ruining meals.
Although Déraciné doesn’t feature epic boss battles or a stable of frightening creatures, FromSoftware’s penchant for remarkable atmosphere and deep, story-rich lore remains intact. You could conceivably work your way through the entire game without learning much of anything about the world around you, but you’d miss out on a lot of small touches that bring this boarding school and its inhabitants to life. Reading notes tucked in drawers, for example, provides some insight into life around the school, as does examining photographs and interacting with everything around you. Think you’ve exhausted every conversation during one chapter? Interact with objects around you to see if another glowing orb magically appears. It may not advance the story in any major way, but it could provide background on one of the children that you wouldn’t receive otherwise. You definitely get out of Dark Souls and Bloodborne what you put into them, and the same can be said for Déraciné. The more you explore, the richer this truly amazing world becomes.
Fortunately, FromSoftware made navigating the boarding school extremely easy, although Déraciné does require the use of motion controllers. You’ll navigate through the school using warp points, which allow you to jump to pre-determined points around the school. You’ll smoothly transition from one point to another, and there’s never a time when this movement makes you feel nauseous or dizzy; the same certainly doesn’t ring true for other like-minded PSVR adventure games. You’ll occasionally need to lean forward to peer into boxes, holes, and the like, but for the most part, this is pretty much a stationary experience with very limited movement. You can physically crouch to check out items and characters who are below you, but this movement is also mapped to a button on the motion controllers, meaning you don’t actually need to stand up during your playthrough. This is an excellent option, especially for players with limited mobility or who don’t have much room to move around. I wish more VR games would provide this level of accessibility to gamers.
Graphically, Déraciné doesn’t deviate too far from other PSVR titles. Due to the current limitations of the technology, the game doesn’t sport current-gen graphics, but honestly, this works in its favor. Since the story itself contains elements of whimsy, the art style reflects that feeling, and its classic-fairytale-meets-anime approach to character design somehow manages to work. The boarding school, meanwhile, looks fantastic, and exploring its dark corridors, cluttered classrooms, and charming grounds is just as satisfying as solving the puzzles these areas offer. Again, you can blow through Déraciné in a few short hours, but the game almost demands that you slow down, take in your surroundings, and enjoy the world the developers have constructed. It makes wonderful use of VR tech.
That said, Déraciné doesn’t escape some of the problems inherent with VR. The motion controllers, in particular, often didn’t feel like cooperating. During one frustrating instance, my character’s left hand glitched, leaving it permanently extended until I restarted the game. It didn’t break the game, mind you, but having to backtrack a bit because of a glitch always tends to rub me the wrong way. There were also instances when the game screen would rapidly vibrate for a few seconds at a time, which, for someone who struggles with motion sickness, didn’t help keep my dizziness under control. Again, not a game-breaking moment, but it’s these little problems that can rip you away from the breathtaking world FromSoftware has developed. However, as long as you go into the journey knowing that there are a few possible hiccups and speed bumps along the way, chances are they won’t matter much in the grand scheme.
Although action-packed VR titles have their place, I’ve always gravitated toward the more intimate, story-focused experiences, whether that’s “walking simulators” or titles that incorporate elements from traditional adventure games. Deracine feels like a combination of both, and it brings the best aspects of both to the table. The world-building here is as strong as it is in other FromSoftware games, albeit with a lot less bloodshed and frenetic combat. The level of immersion here feels nothing short of masterful; your time at this boarding school, roaming its halls and interacting with its inhabits, goes by quickly, and although you could, in theory, complete this game in a matter of hours, fight the urge to rush through it and explore every nook and cranny instead. It sounds cliche, I know, but Déraciné will reward those players who appreciate the journey instead of the destination. If you’re new to the world of VR and want something that shows off the tech without requiring you to mindless destroy an array of enemies, this is where you should start. It’s a must-have title in any PSVR owner’s collection.
This review is based on the PlayStation 4 (VR) version of the game. A review copy was provided by Sony Interactive Entertainment.
FromSoftware steps away from brutal combat to deliver a touching, often heartbreaking adventure, and it's one of the absolute best PSVR adventures currently available.