Long before FromSoftware burst into the public consciousness with its Souls titles, it already had a large body of work to its name dating back decades. But after finding mainstream success with the likes of Bloodborne, its newest title Déraciné offers a glimpse to the past. And while this PlayStation VR foray is unlike anything it's released recently, the connective tissue still remains.
Déraciné is first and foremost a walking simulator – and yes, we can see some of you rolling your eyes already, but stick with us, as this is one of the good ones. You play as a faerie, a sort of ethereal spirit who has come to visit a school frozen in time – except when you interact in specific ways – set in a decidedly European forest.
Right out of the gate, while there’s no combat, the trappings of a FromSoftware title are instantly recognisable: an intriguingly engaging gloominess, Victorian and Gothic influences, and a difficult-to-pinpoint but ever-present sense of dread lurking around the next corner. Using abilities you unlock along the way, you hop around the timeline of the academy, befriending and attempting to aid the children who call this place home.
As the title is a walking simulator, it’s integral to the experience that the cast on display be good, and thankfully, this is very much the case. Quality voice work lends sincerity to all the characters as you indirectly interact, and even avail yourself to their innermost thoughts. The sense of camaraderie and genuine affection that you build for the handful of children – as well as the headmaster who oversees them – helps to make the story impactful and engaging. While the story isn’t necessarily straightforward – this is a FromSoftware title after all – the clues are there if you dig deep enough. Frankly the cast is charming enough that just engaging with them and seeing the way they react to one another is worth it – this is one of the platform’s best narrative experiences.
The game chose a perfect time to release as well, as the entire experience just feels autumnal, with most of the game occurring in and around October. It really helps give the school a character all its own, which is definitely aided by the presentation. The game is visually divine, and this is one of the most convincingly realised environments we’ve seen in VR to date: textures are crisp, the environments feel appropriately large – there is a cathedral that is particularly gorgeous – and everything feels lovingly implemented. The navigation aids this, as it uses teleportation along set trajectories, which has allowed the developer to focus on the details close to you at any given point.
Most importantly, the narrative has a few twists and turns that pop up across the title’s five or so hours. This is largely where the darker elements of the game rear their head, and it also may be why so many are speculating about the title hinting at a follow-up to PS4 darling Bloodborne. While it seems more likely to be a collection of Easter eggs paying homage to a much-beloved title, it’s unlikely but not impossible that there really is something deeper at play here in regards to Bloodborne.
Much like Bloodborne – and all the Souls titles really – the music in Déraciné is magnificent, with a particular standout being a diegetic concert recital, that for reasons we can’t quite figure out filled us with such a melancholic happiness that it shocked us with just how much it moved us. It was a truly lovely moment in an already delightful experience.
Who or what the titular Déraciné may be is unclear, but don’t let that dissuade you from walking through this wonderful title. A charming cast of characters pair with an incredible environment to explore, while the stirring soundtrack helps to elevate an already good title. Throw in the great narrative, in and of itself a rarity in VR at this point, and you have one of the best titles available thus far for Sony’s headset.