Deraciné, the first PlayStation VR game from Dark Souls maker From Software, definitely isn’t for everyone. It’s a brief, slow-paced, story-heavy game set in a boarding school. You solve puzzles with an inventory of items in classic adventure game fashion, but unlike most classic adventure games, these puzzles are quite easy. Deraciné is more about experiencing the world and obsessively combing it for clues to its odd supernatural story.
By design, Deraciné doesn’t overload you with information about where it’s set, who its characters are, or what their respective deals are. Finding out what’s going on is part of the fun, and after a brief tutorial about how to use the required pair of PlayStation Move controllers to navigate the world, you’re dropped right in. You are a faerie, a supernatural being that can move through time. The children in the school can’t see you, but they eventually come to understand that you exist, because you can take items from them or place things in their hands that they need.
The school, which is composed of two floors, an attic, and the surrounding grounds, is a beautiful, intriguing place to walk around in VR. There’s not that much of it to explore, but that’s to your benefit since you have to check and recheck the school every time you shift to a different time period, to see where the kids are and what their current problems are.
Probably to avoid any players getting motion sickness, navigation around the world is entirely done by snapping to hotspots. Whenever you reach a given hotspot, you can look around with the headset and press buttons to rotate your position in 45-degree increments. Once you understand how it works, you can move quickly through the world. As a person who doesn’t get sick from VR, though, I would have preferred some actual simulated motion rather than just snapping from point to point.
Some hotspots are simply navigation points in the world, but there are also special ones where you can interact with a person or a thing. Your hands are represented in the world thanks to the Move controllers, and you can use both to grab objects. Touching or grabbing certain objects might open up access to more vignettes of dialogue that will give you more insight into what’s going on in the story at that moment. Other items will go into an inventory that you can pull up with the press of a button, so you can carry them around the school and use them to solve puzzles. In all, the control schemes are easy to learn and painless to use.
Although it does have puzzles, Deraciné is not a game built on challenge. The puzzles mostly serve as a way to get you to explore the whole world. Once you’re done talking to everyone and looking at everything, there will be no question as to what item to use where in order to advance the story. So be prepared for an experience that’s more of a VR visual novel, if anything.
Fortunately, the story is pretty interesting. I don’t want to go to deeply into detail, since solving the mystery is the primary attraction, but it quickly moves on from lighthearted childhood pranks to a more serious thread about the nature of fairies themselves. It’s less of a personal story about the characters and more of an aloof philosophical meditation about the nature of time. There are some dark moments that can feel much more frightening because it’s VR, but if this were a movie, it would be rated PG-13. Deraciné is definitely trying to creep you out and give you an unsettling feeling, but it’s not trying to scare or shock you.
The whole thing wraps up in about 5 or 6 hours. There is one ongoing sidequest that I actually found to be more fun mechanically than anything else in the game. It involves eight hidden coins around the house that are tucked into some very clever spots, and you definitely have to look closely and move your head around to spot them. I’ve got six so far. I feel like I’d have gotten them all, but for the fact that some of them are limited to certain epochs, and the linear progression of the game means you can’t arbitrarily jump around looking for them. Instead, to collect all of the coins, you have to just start over from the beginning, re-solving puzzles to get to where you want to be. This is not that difficult, but it does feel a bit like, “okay, now play the game again.” Still, it’s a credit to Deraciné that I want to go back and find those last two coins to see what happens.
This is in no way a revolutionary VR game. In fact, if you look at the mechanics and how it makes use of virtual space, it’s quite pedestrian. But the offbeat story and meticulously-designed world help Deraciné rise above the fact that it’s a short, simple experience.