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Platform(s): PlayStation 4
Genre: Adventure
Publisher: SCEE (EU), SCEA (US)
Developer: From Software
Release Date: Nov. 6, 2018

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PS4 Review - 'Déraciné'

by Andreas Salmen on Dec. 17, 2018 @ 12:30 a.m. PST

Déraciné is a fairy-tale game for PS VR. As a spirit summoned by a young girl in a secluded boarding school, the player must prove its existence and build a bond with the students. The spirit must manipulate the forces of life and time to change the students' fate.

Buy Déraciné

PSVR had a remarkable year, with several strong exclusives and desperately awaited ports rounding out its game catalog. One of the more surprising reveals at E3 2018 was surely Déraciné, a narrative-driven adventure from the creative minds of From Software and Sony Japan Studios, who had previously collaborated on Bloodborne for the PS4. The talent and reputation attached to the title were enough to garner interest, even though the final product is unlike any other From Software titles.

One could classify Déraciné as another walking simulator and be technically correct. On the other hand, calm and atmospheric titles usually work well in virtual reality, and as long as the story and setting hold up, even a walking simulator can amount to an incredible gaming experience. That being said, Déraciné is a title that you'll either love or hate, but no matter which side you're on, it's a technical marvel that can't quite stand its ground with regard to the story and gameplay.

If Déraciné were to be commended for one thing, it's for the implementation of the player in its story. We are a faery, a being that lives in time itself and can roam and interact with its surroundings freely while time stands still; when necessary, we can also give and take time from living objects and travel through time. As a timeless being, we're rarely noticed and can observe our surroundings, so it's a good setup and explanation for two bodyless, floating hands roaming around a school.

Déraciné places us in a boarding school where we observe the lives of six orphans and their headmaster as they go about their daily lives — or so it seems. What starts out as a very innocent observation of a group of naive kids quickly fades. From the very first moment, there's a certain tension in the air, a creepy and unsettling undertone that can be felt and read between the dialogue and documents. If you were searching for parallels to From Software's other works, it's the storytelling. It never tells the story outright but provides outlines that the player has to fill in by interpretation and observation. It isn't too drawn out, and it doesn't state the obvious, which is greatly appreciated and enhances Déraciné's mysterious undertones, even when we're just following kids to their music recital. The story gets dark quickly and almost unexpectedly, but it's not entirely out of character due to the world-building that precedes it.

The general gameplay isn't wildly inventive, but it mostly works. The game only supports PlayStation Move controllers, so we can freely move our faery hands and grab objects. The game doesn't let us interact with anything we want, though. Only certain objects can be picked up at a certain point in time. This provides some guidance (like most traditional point-and-click games), so the player always knows what's important, but this also removes the challenge of the moment-to-moment gameplay.

As we move through the boarding school, we encounter actual humans frozen in time as well as their echoes from the past. Both their echoes and their physical representation may be interacted with, mostly by searching them for items or uncovering orange orbs around them that in turn play back a piece of dialogue that can point us into the right direction or move the story along. We also have an inventory, where the game automatically stores useful items that can be used later. However, puzzles are never tough or rely heavily on inventory management. Our inventory rarely had more than three items in it, most of which were letters or further instructions and the occasional key to open a locked door.

Moving is done by teleportation, with no continuous movement options available. We can turn with the face buttons on the right controller and duck down (frequently necessary) with the left action button, or we can duck down freely if we play standing up. Teleportation around the school is anchored around predefined points in a grid, and locations of interest usually have their own point in space where we can circle around the scene to observe and investigate. This helps to make sure you can see and interact with everything in a scene, but it's also hard to avoid when you're trying to get somewhere else and it's in your way; you'll often snap to it in passing and end up facing in a different direction.

Combining all of these controls and features, Déraciné may seem a bit basic in its approach, but there is more to the gameplay to keep things interesting. As mentioned before, we're a faery that's in control of time to a certain degree. Our right hand has a red ring that can to take time out of a living being and transfer that time to something else of roughly the same size. Our left hand holds a chronograph that also works as a notebook. In the beginning, it's used to resolve all ripples in our current time and then move on to the next epoch, but later, it can be used to travel through time.

Of course, none of the time travel is done at our own leisure but at specific story points and to specific times in the past or future. We move through time quite frequently, and the game employs a few narrative tricks that add another layer to the storytelling. Later in the story, it's quite easy to get stuck in a loop. Your chronograph proactively tells you that you've done your job and sends you ahead, at which point you find out you haven't done everything and having to travel back again and sit through the same unskippable dialogues and cut scenes once more. It almost felt like a deliberate Dark Souls reference of failing and repeating the same part of the game a few times until actual progress is achieved. Take that as a positive or negative, but it didn't feel as well designed, and the repetition hindered the story development.

While we move through time a fair bit, the most interesting of our abilities, to take and give time, is criminally underused. It crops up within the story and is integral to it, but we rarely get to use it for anything but a few story moments. For example, we'll take the life out of a few grapes to make a flower bloom. It's also an incredible thing to watch on-screen as a flower slowly withers away in your hands in a level of extraordinary detail that is rare for a PSVR game.

Ultimately, Déraciné is a story-driven game, so the narrative has to do the grunt work, and it manages to intermittently sustain the atmosphere. It starts out with mundane tasks in an unsettling atmosphere and makes us build a connection to the school kids who roam the boarding school. It attempts to tell a story with the surroundings and subtle hints; this mostly works but can sometimes feel inconsistent. I cared about some of the characters, but other characters felt strangely underdeveloped and bland, which in turn dampened the story revelations.

The overall experience could've been more impactful if the game had a better way to introduce the children and make the mundane chores slightly more engaging. The story is pretty good, although the latter half needed to be more focused. It has a few pacing issues that can make playing through the five- to six-hour campaign a chore, but sticking with it usually paid off and yielded more interesting story revelations.

Déraciné greatly benefits from its technical achievements in VR. The game looks gorgeous, which is one of the main reasons the story has such an impact. The boarding school is full of details, and the elaborate character models and animations add a layer of immersion to the experience that's among the best I've seen so far. The game also features a lot of particle effects that swirl around your hand or through the air, which is never a boring sight. It goes well with the overall slow pacing of the story as we move around and interact with the same objects and environments over and over again. It feels like a real place with a dark secret, and it does so in a beautifully twisted way. The sound is equally good, with some great displays of spacial sound effects when the kids play their instruments around you, and you can distinctly hear and recognize individual instruments as you turn. The soundtrack dynamically changes from scene to scene and, although it isn't spectacular, it succeeds in setting the overall mood. From a technical standpoint, there is barely anything to complain about, as it looks and sounds great, and it runs as smoothly as one could hope.

Déraciné has equally surprised and disappointed me. It's a gorgeous, story-driven experience, but the story has a few pacing issues and can drag along while not making the most of its gameplay mechanics. It's a slow burn, but if you enjoy eerie stories and atmosphere, Déraciné may be worth checking out. It certainly pulled me in and punished me for my naivete as the story grew darker by the minute.

Score: 7.1/10

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