Déraciné comes from FromSoftware, the studio best known in the West for its work on the Dark Souls franchise, though it’s also behind a lengtiether list of works including the Armored Core series. Déraciné is the studio’s VR debut, and it shows. While the game is technically sound, that’s just about the only thing it has going for it.
Déraciné Review Details:
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Developer: SIE JAPAN Studio, FromSoftware
Available On: PlayStation VR (PS4, PS4 Pro) [Exclusive]
Reviewed On: PS4 Pro
Release Date: November 6th, 2018
Déraciné is effectively a point and click simulator that walks you through a completely scripted fantasy tale of some children who live in a boarding school. In the story, the player is a Faerie, which is an unseen ghost-like entity which exists in a realm where time stands still. What that means in practice is that the game world is generally frozen, and you’ll wander around the same boarding school most of the game but at different moments in time, occasionally finding characters frozen mid-action, clicking on them to hear their thoughts.
Déraciné is one of the finest examples yet of someone setting out to create a VR game before actually finding out what’s fun or interesting to do when you have a headset on your head and motion tracked controllers in your hands (Move controllers are required). It feels a lot like someone wrote a story and then handed it to some developers and said “make this into a VR game.”
The game’s interactions (which are effectively all of the gameplay) are woefully boring. As time is always standing still, there’s zero gameplay conflict. You will wander around each chapter looking for the frozen characters, walk up to them, find something on their person to touch (generally whatever is in their hand), and then you’ll either see a little yellow orb pop out of them (which you can touch to hear a few lines of dialogue) or occasionally the character will play a lazy animation to accompany the dialogue.
Alongside that, you’ll occasionally take an item from one of the characters and go place it somewhere else (a key, a lamp, a bracelet, etc) in order to progress along the entirely scripted sequence of events. In order to succeed you’ll need to make regular use of the immersion-breaking pop-up dialog boxes, as essential information about items that’s otherwise unknown to you will be hidden therein. A watch that you hold also allows you to pop up an objectives/hints list, which you will need to reference on a constant basis because the game tells you what to do even when most of the time you have no idea why you’re doing it.
Let me give you just one example of just how arbitrary the interactions and gameplay of Déraciné can be:
At one point in the game I’m wandering around the halls and come across one of the children who is carrying some boxes. I click one box and hear some dialogue. I click another box and out pops a little twisted piece of paper no larger than a Q-tip. I grab the piece of paper (because game says I can, not because any normal person would expect it to be important), and it automatically goes into my inventory. I pull it back out of my inventory and use the ‘inspect’ button to see what it is and a dialogue box pops up: ‘A twist of paper used to clean instruments… or sometimes to tickle noses.’
“Um… ok,” I think to myself.
So I go about my way wandering around the halls looking for other characters and things I can click on. After not making any progress for a while, I check my objective list which says “Why not tickle the boy’s nose with a twist of paper?”
“Um… ok,” I think to myself.
So I walk back to the boy holding the instruments, get out the nose tickler, and try to tickle his nose. Nothing seems to be happening, so I try a few different ways. Eventually the boy makes a very subtle motion like he’s about to sneeze, but doesn’t. So I think maybe I’m just doing it wrong. I keep trying. At some point I hear a noise as I’m flicking this tiny piece of paper back and forth, and I feel some rumbling, so I think maybe the game is giving me a clue that I’ve almost got it.
After maybe five whole minutes of watching this boy look like he’s about to sneeze as I tickle his nose, I think maybe the game is bugged and not triggering the action correctly. I quit and reload the scene… walk back through to the point where I get the piece of paper and continue to hone my apparently inadequate nose tickling skills. I still get the almost-sneezing animation, but no technique seems to achieve a real sneeze.
I give up in frustration and leave to see what else I can do. I find another one of the children out on the grounds playing with a dog, and above her there’s two others on the roof leaning dangerously over the edge and around a corner trying to unlock a window that’s out of reach. In order to get to them I have to go back inside another building, and then happen to stumble across an open window that was never open before. I go out the window and walk along the roof over to the two boys trying to unlock the window. I click on them to hear their dialogue, which includes a seemingly random line “Oh god, what’s wrong with my nose?”
So I grab the piece of paper from my inventory and see a small highlighted version of it placed near the one boy’s nose. I place it there and let go (I’m not even asked to do a mock tickling motion). An animation plays out where the boy sneezes and almost drops his friend off the roof.
That’s what I was supposed to do the whole time—I was supposed to know that I should take a menial item like a piece of twisted paper from one character to a completely different part of the game to try to make these kids almost fall off the roof by way of sneezing.
These are the defining and memorable moments of Déraciné. The ones where you throw your hands up and say, “REALLY?!” The ones where you wonder, “why was that the answer?” Few things are worse, especially in VR, than inhabiting a character and not understanding why they (you) are doing what you’re doing, or sometimes, even what you’re supposed to do.
But this is the essence of Déraciné, born of an inane script where the player has zero agency, and often no understanding even of the intentions or reasoning employed by the character they inhabit.
To top off Déraciné’s, ‘gameplay’, there is never a pressing moment and no risk of failing or making a wrong choice. You could take your headset off at any point throughout the game without pausing it, and nothing even could go wrong.
On paper, that isn’t a bad thing by default; after all, there’s some pretty compelling VR works out there which are designed to be more story than game. But Déraciné is trying hard to be in the game end of the spectrum, and failing spectacularly.
It’s ultimate conceit is that even if they took out the inane interactions and just had you passively watch the events unfold without being part of it, the dull story still wouldn’t be compelling on its own.
You know how they say ‘time flies when you’re having fun?’ The opposite must also be true, because Déraciné’s roughly four hours of playtime felt like double that because of how little it engages you.
Immersion & Comfort
The only compliment that Déraciné deserves is for its looks. The environments are fairly detailed, well lit, and consistently art directed. The characters in the game aren’t quite as well rendered, but are passable when still. The occasional animations aren’t terribly well done but at least don’t feel uncanney.
It’s when the characters start talking where things really start to grate on one’s patience. The voice acting is actually good, but the script and direction is terrible. From hearing their thoughts and dialogue, the children are entirely unbelievable as people (either as a child or an adult); it’s not clear why they want to do many of the things they do, or why they’re profoundly excited by the most menial tasks. That’s all made worse by the bumbling pace of delivery.
As you can imagine, not being able to understand the characters’ motivations, or even their perception of the world around them, makes it difficult to care about them—a surefire way to make a story and character driven game fall flat.
In the world of Déraciné, Faeries apparently move using node-based teleportation (see the videos in the Gameplay section above for a look at how it works), occasionally seeing larger nodes around points of interest which means there’s something to interact with (be it a character or an item on a table). While the environment can often be quite richly detailed—a library full of books, a classroom full of plants and drawings, a kitchen with pots and pans—it’s all for naught as you rely entirely on the game to point you to the few select items that you’re allowed to interact with; the rest is pure set dressing.
The node-based movement and snap turning is comfortable at least, and generally node’s are placed frequently enough that it doesn’t feel terribly restrictive, but it’s not very fun or immersive to rapidly node-hop from one side of the boarding school to the other to get to some objective. Nothing short of rethinking the game’s fundamental design would fix this though (even smooth locomotion wouldn’t make the chore of running around more fun). Furthermore, when you do enter into ‘interaction mode’ your snap turning changes from rotating you in place to rotating you around a circular interaction area which is clunky at best and immersion breaking at worst.
When you move from one of the game’s scenes to the next, you’ll be greeted not only with a loading screen, but also a plain old game menu asking if you want to quit or continue to the next chapter. This even happens right between the story’s few key moments and ensures, along with the essential pop-up dialogue-boxes, that the world never feels very solid or constant around you.