Miyazaki brings his unique storytelling to VR.
Hidden in games like Dark Souls and Bloodborne are a myriad of optional side quests that often serve as melancholy vignettes that give From Software's role-playing games (RPGs) their pathos away from the hacking-and-slashing. In a way, From Software's Déraciné feels like a six hour-long sidequest that wouldn't be too out of place in a Soulsborne game.
Anyone who's played a Dark Souls game or watched a Soulsborne lore explainer online will tell you that the emotional heart of From Software director Hidetaka Miyazaki's storytelling comes from how you must unearth it as if it were a rare artifact. Miyazaki and the From Software team tends to slip the storytelling into things like item descriptions and dialogue over long cutscenes. Déraciné functions on a similar level.
Déraciné screenshot provided by Sony.
In a note to reviewers, Miyazaki called Déraciné (which translates as "uprooted" in French) a "quiet game" and that's pretty much what it is. Taking place in some kind of Victorian boarding house occupied by six children, the player takes the role of an invisible fairy. They interact with the children and their daily adventures in little day-to-day story fragments.
The controls are typical of virtual reality (VR) games such as this. Déraciné requires two PS Move motion controllers which act as hands that players can use to pick up items and interact with objects. Travel is via teleportation and not movement. While I prefer this method, as it reduces VR-induced nausea, I still found myself needing a break every two hours or so. But I'm particularly sensitive to VR, so your mileage may vary.
One of the best things about Déraciné is how few restrictions there are on the player. The boarding house, which is quite large, is easily accessible nearly from the outset. While more of the world opens as the story continues, it's easy to explore from the very beginning and From Software encourages this.
As Déraciné's story unravels into a mystery that I won't spoil here, you begin to get a sense of Miyazaki's atmospheric storytelling rolling in like a fog. Déraciné, like the best Soulsborne sidequests, is ambiguous and melancholy; it eschews traditional three-act storytelling structures. There's a resolution of sorts, but the six-hour tale is an exercise in ambiance and the finale is more stirring on an emotional level than it is a narrative one.
Déraciné is a beautiful game and a reminder that VR really does offer a new dimension in terms of interaction. There's no rush in Déraciné and sometimes the best moments are just stepping out into the game's virtual gardens and taking in the air.
At first, I was hesitant to write about Déraciné in relation to From Software's Soulsborne series. It's almost a faux pas to bring Soulsborne games into the conversation when a game is not actually Dark Souls. More than that I feel bad comparing every Miyazaki project to his most popular series. But Miyazaki has a clear storytelling style. Déraciné is more narrative-driven than his previous works and it echoes with past Soulsborne side quests, which are arguably the most narratively weighty bits of his games.
A picturesque world with plenty of secrets.
Despite the fantastical premise Déraciné is permeated with a realism that feels closer to Dickens' naturalist take on fantasy than, say, C.S. Lewis's allegorical fantasies. Ultimately, Déraciné feels more like an experiment in medium than storytelling. I can actually see Déraciné's story tucked away in one of Miyazaki's RPGs as a hidden quest and it wouldn't feel out-of-place. But while his narrative style is a known quantity, VR proves to be a powerful medium for Miyazaki's unique brand of atmospheric storytelling. And I'd love to see more experiments like this from From Software in the future.