In Deracine, you are a faerie. Not a “fairy” as they’re commonly conceived in a post-Peter Pan world—a tiny magical being that flits about with dragonfly-like wings, sprinkling fairy dust about and being playful and good-natured—but a “faerie”, more akin to their origins in Celtic mythologies. You’re an otherworldly spirit, not necessarily good or evil, and seemingly bereft of physical form.
You occupy a “world where time stands still”, wherein you can visit snapshots of the physical world, frozen in time. You can interact with this world to only a small degree—moving objects around, witnessing fragmented memories, and the like—but in doing so, you can alter the flow of time for the humans in the mundane world.
Your particular haunting ground is an old, locked-up boarding school in what appears to be the early 20th century, home to six students and an aging headmaster. Though they can’t see you and you witness only fragmented slices of their lives, your tinkering around the edges of their reality soon leads them to acknowledge your presence and even become friends of a sort.
This is how the first few chapters of Deracine play out: you simply explore the old school, learning about the children and trying to make your presence known to them. That’s easier for one student in particular, Yuliya, whose love of faerie stories makes her very willing to believe. With her help and some light pranks, you’re soon able to get the others on board. They begin to leave you messages, and ask for your assistance with their various troubles.
This is where you and your faerie powers come in. Though you can’t interact with the children directly, you can move things about in a roundabout way by moving things around, drawing their attention to stuff they otherwise might have missed or otherwise affecting the state of their world.
In practice, this all plays out like a classic point and click adventure game. In order to “solve” each epoch that you visit, you’ll need to look around the environment and listen closely to the memories you witness, in order to find the items you need and make use of them in the right place.
Here’s an example: in an early scene, Yuliya has the good idea of pranking the other kids by putting disgusting herbs into their morning stew. Clearly, this is a prank she’s pulled before, because all the others seem to be well aware of Yuliya’s herbs and where they might be found. By listening to the memory fragments, you’re able to discern the location of some of those leaves, find them all, then bring them back for the stew.
In the next scene, you get to witness the effects: children flailing about in disgust at their herb-filled stew, and one of them collapse on the ground—perhaps for real, or perhaps elaborately playing his role in what seems to be a recurring gag for these kids. This time, however, Yuliya has a rock-solid alibi, leading the others on their first step to believing that there is, indeed, a faerie present.
As this goes on, you start to piece together the mysteries of the school. While Deracine isn’t a horror game at all, it certainly has an eerie quality to it, and for good reason. Likewise, the children start making increasingly serious requests of you, to the point of bringing people back from the dead and altering the past—things that are within your faerie powers to do, but only at great cost.
In that, Deracine builds up from a quiet, relaxed experience to a rather intense exploration of loss and regret. As humans, we tend to cling to the past, often to an unhealthy degree, and wish for a chance to revisit our mistakes and do things differently. But should those wishes actually be granted, the unexpected consequences would be far-reaching—chaos theory, and all that—and it’s that meddling with fate that Deracine delves into.
Deracine builds up from a quiet, relaxed experience to a rather intense exploration of loss and regret.
It’s worth noting here that, as far as I can tell, Deracine is a strictly linear adventure. There’s a single solution and a single solution for each puzzle. You might expect this sort of story to have at least a couple of branching points to explore the different outcomes from different actions, but Deracine has a particular story that it wants to tell, and it does it well.
It’s also a commentary on the fragmented nature of the way we engage with game worlds, which is something that producer Masaaki Yamagiwa said outright in a recent PlayStation Blog post:
“When director Hidetaka Miyazaki first experienced VR, he felt an impressive sense of presence – as if VR characters existed while simultaneously feeling absent and disconnected from our world. Deracine is a game that tries to capture this strange feeling that is unique to VR and create an interesting experience by making this concept the core of its setting and world. The setting, lore and presentation, such as the world where time stands still, as well as the player’s role as the unseen faerie, are devices to emphasize this sensation unique to VR.”
I’d disagree with the point that this is unique to VR, though. For as long as games have been around, they’ve struggled with a tension between player and created world, with the player’s role as an unseen puppet-master, and with characters who exist solely for the benefit of their brief interactions with the player. VR just makes the disconnect more apparent. Though with virtual reality in mind, Deracine‘s commentary casts a much wider net.
Likewise, I think Deracine would work just as well as non-VR game. It doesn’t really do anything of note with the VR framework itself, and the story would be every bit as effective as a regular first-person adventure game. It’s a shame, really; this is a very good game that deserves a wider audience than PSVR can give it, and there’s no reason it couldn’t reach that audience.
For those in the PSVR camp, though, Deracine is definitely worth a look. From a slow, dreamy beginning as a faerie exploring frozen snapshots of time, it builds up into an unexpectedly intense exploration of loss, regret, and that universal human desire to “fix” the past. It does so beautifully.
|Developer: FromSoftware / SIE Japan Studio
|Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
|Platforms: PlayStation VR (reviewed)
|Release Date: 6 November 2018
|The publisher supplied a copy of the game for this review.