Does a rich story and detailed setting override the inconsistent tone?
Though to modern audiences From Software is best known for creating unforgiving action titles such as Dark Souls and Bloodborne, long before that the developer created some gentler fare, such as adventure title Echo Night. In some ways Déraciné is a throwback to those days, but with plenty of more modern twists along the way.
In Déraciné the player takes the role of a fairy, summoned to a stereotypical English boarding school. At first, you ‘mission’ is to make the children at the school believe in your existence, which involves adding a bitter herb to the meals, as well as causing some other mischief.
Interaction comes in the form of touching balls of light, that cause certain scenes from different times to play out. Your character is not constrained by the typical notions of ‘past, present a future’ and can flit between different eras to discover the history of the school and those who inhabit it.
Your main concern is with a group of children, and here is where we run into the first problem that Déraciné has. The children act and speak like characters from an Enid Blyton novel. They are flawlessly polite, sweet and gentle and as a result, don’t really feel like real people. For all that they have their own distinct personalities and history, they feel like caricatures in many ways.
The problems with characterisation adds to a feeling of disconnection. You are never truly ‘present’ at the same time as the children, and as a result its difficult to form proper attachment to them. Despite the attempts From Software has made to bring you closer to each of the characters, the time-shift makes it much harder than it ought to be.
The storytelling is good, there’s much to explore here, especially when things start to take on a darker turn. There are pieces of story scattered around everywhere, all of which have fascinating hints and implications. However, the fractured nature of the time periods you visit means it often feel like you’re listening to an audio book instead of playing a videogame.
The sweet nature of the children and the overall theme of childhood wonder and innocence is in sharp contrast to the eerie, vaguely sinister atmosphere that prevails throughout. You keep expecting a dark secret to come to light, but despite some tragedies and sadness, it really doesn’t. As a result, it feels tonally inconsistent.
The inconsistency of the tone is a shame for something that looks and feels so good. There are myriad details available to explore, and graphically From Software have done an excellent job, but its impossible not to feel like the setting would feel more appropriate for a horror title.
Travelling is done by fixed-point teleport that takes you to different fixed locations within the school, and from there you can explore the room using the PlayStation Move controllers. With few button presses needed, this works fine.
When not listening to historical conversations, gameplay is puzzle-based, and most of these follow fairly direct logic, but one or two might leave you scratching your head and you try and divine what you are meant to be doing.
Déraciné is beautiful and atmospheric and has a deep and absorbing story to tell, but its easy to question why this needs to be a VR title. The tonal inconsistency and node-based movement might also be off-putting, but for those who wish to be absorbed in a story, Déraciné is worth giving a look.