Dark Souls creator FromSoftware is renowned for its vague, interpretative stories and captivating gameplay–two strengths of the studio that have been successfully applied to similarly styled games for nearly over a decade. Deracine is a departure from what the studio is primarily known for. It’s a narrative adventure that makes good use of PlayStation VR and the immersive nature of the hardware but fails to consolidate a poorly structured story and mundane gameplay to create something truly special.
Deracine puts you in control of an invisible Faerie who manifests in a mysteriously secluded boarding school that serves as a home to five children. You’re summoned by one of the children, Yuliya, who believes in a Faeries’ duty to guide and protect those in need with their ability to alter and traverse time, tasking you with looking over the other children at the school. Deracine’s tale begins with innocent chores around the school, where you play simple pranks on the children in a bid to prove your existence. But its overarching narrative quickly starts exploring greater themes concerning life and its sacrifices, obsessions with the past and the morality surrounding the ability to change past events.
It’s a story that presents its ideas without much hand-holding, which combined with the frequent time jumps can create a difficult thread to follow. It can often feel like you have a grasp of where the narrative is heading before it completely flips itself again, introducing more characters and supernatural elements that undermine the overall story. The final two chapters are most guilty of this, tossing aside previously established themes and instead focusing on numerous jumps between two days in an attempt to explain these sudden additions. The repetitive nature of these chapters wear thin quickly and only confuse the narrative further, sadly undercutting the harrowing conclusion that desperately tries to tie everything together.
As a Faerie, Deracine gives you two abilities to command with disappointing limitations. The first lets you glance at current objectives though a magical pocket watch, while also giving you the power to travel through time when the narrative allows it. The second is a glowing red ring that can absorb time from objects and beings around you. The earliest example of this has you transferring the limited time left on a ripe pair of grapes over to a wilted and dead flower, instantly rejuvenating and reviving it. This initially seems like a clever mechanic, but you rarely get to use it. You’re only able to use it freely in two puzzles, and even then, the choices presented to you are too straightforward. It’s a shame that more of Deracine’s puzzle-solving couldn’t be designed around this single intriguing mechanic, especially when you ponder how captivating it might have been to be given the chance to experiment with its power in smart settings.
Each chapter takes place within a frozen moment in time, letting you explore the school at will and interact with both past and present versions of the children residing there. Translucent echoes of characters give you insight into past events and create a breadcrumb trail for you to follow back to their current locations for more context into their current actions. Past conversations play out after you manipulate certain objects around the house and on the children’s persons, while larger changes to their surroundings culminate in short showings of how they react to your meddling. Deracine makes your impact on its world and characters felt with each action, even if it gives you little to no room for experimentation.
Exploration is the gateway to Deracine’s point-and-click-like puzzles, which have you hunting for items you’ll need to advance stories during each chapter. This can be as simple as hunting down a key for a locked chest or as involved as figuring out a way to move a stubborn black cat from your path (since Faeries seem to fear the cute pets). Puzzles are all similar to one another and expect you to pay close attention to each of the conversations you stumble upon for vague clues to their solutions. Sometimes, these clues don’t offer meaningful information, leading to infrequent but frustrating instances where you’re stuck trying to use every item in your possession to elicit a response. But most of the time they delicately point you in the correct direction–not outright explaining what to do, but giving you enough to make your eventual solutions feel satisfying to orchestrate.
Moving around Deracine’s surprisingly large boarding school and accompanying grounds makes good use of existing VR systems of control. You’re forced to use a pair of PlayStation Move controllers (since you’ll be handling items frequently with your hands) but an intelligent combination of segmental rotation and teleportation makes getting around a breeze. You use two face buttons to rotate the camera through fixed angles and then use a third button on the right Move controller to teleport to any highlighted area within view. In instances where you need to take a closer look, you can get right up and close with the item in question, orbiting the camera around to give you whatever desired angle you might need. It doesn’t take long to become comfortable with the control scheme, making its frequent exploration easy to engage with and comfortable during long sessions of play.
Deracine does contain an impressive level of detail to its world, enrapturing you in a space that is primed for you to pick apart. Finely detailed objects give you insight into its lore, with the benefit of VR and motion controls letting you manipulate each item carefully to inspect its every detail. The ability to move around freely and engage without numerous objects within Deracine’s world with your own hands is effective in making you feel exactly like the Faerie the children describe, which just wouldn’t be the same with a traditional controller.
Deracine has the buildings blocks of a good VR debut from Dark Souls creator FromSoftware, but it lacks the engrossing gameplay and mystique that has made the studio’s previous titles so successful.
Expressive animation also plays a big role in enriching the many character moments with a strong sense of emotion and personality. The boarding school and its surrounding forests are also beautiful, bathed in warm lighting and rich seasonal colors. It’s contrasted by a delicate and somber score, which loops and changes with each scene to provide a serene backdrop to your adventuring. Silence is also used to great effect, creating an ominous atmosphere at key, powerful moments. With the immersive properties offered by virtual reality, Deracine is a technical treat on both eyes and ears.
Deracine has the buildings blocks of a good VR debut from Dark Souls creator FromSoftware, but it lacks the engrossing gameplay and mystique that has made the studio’s previous titles so successful. It is a good example of a PSVR-exclusive title that uses the medium effectively, giving you ample control over your movement and an enticing space to explore fully with the flexibility of using your own two hands to pick it apart. Its narrative ambitions fail to meet the same bar, though, with intriguing themes that get lost within a poorly constructed narrative that’s difficult to follow. Its puzzles fall prey to the same inadequacies, failing to leverage the more exciting mechanics presented from the start and instead relying on trivial scavenger hunts though frozen time. Deracine is a disappointingly flawed adventure that won’t likely stick with you long after its conclusion.