Deracine, the PlayStation VR game that Dark Souls and Bloodborne developer FromSoftware revealed at E3 2018, is a game born of a feeling that FromSoftware president Hidetaka Miyazaki had the first time he put on a VR headset.
Though he felt a sense of immersion, he also felt disconnected from the alternate reality he inhabited.
“In the early days of VR, actually before the headsets were commercially released and available, I had a chance to check out some VR titles in the works,” Miyazaki told Polygon at E3 2018 through an interpreter. “And as VR is supposed to, it really blew me away and impressed me in the way that you get transported into this space where you know that you exist. You have this sense of existence, that you are there, you are in this world, you’re fully immersed. But at the same time, you have ... characters in front of you, and you’re not quite perfectly interacting with them. So if you want to touch them, they might not exactly work the way you are thinking. Or you want to talk to them, but they’re not talking at the level you’re hoping they would.”
As he thought about the developer’s opportunities in VR, he returned to this idea — in part because it’s an experience that you can only have in VR.
“So it’s like, ‘Whoa, OK, I’m impressed by this sense of existence, but at the same time there’s a sense of almost non-existence,’” he said. “And this is a feeling or mood or sense that you can only feel in VR. And so that’s what actually really attracted me to wanting to come up with an idea that would give you that sense of existence, but also at the same time, you know that there’s something around you that doesn’t exist. But how could I create a game around that feeling, that could only be delivered as a VR experience? That’s really what kind of triggered the idea.”
Deracine, scheduled for release later in 2018, is his answer to that question. In Deracine you take on the role of an invisible fairy (or “faerie,” as it’s referred to in official documents). Set in a Victorian boarding school, you can only interact with the children there indirectly, while time stands still.
In other words, you’re fully immersed in the world, but fundamentally disconnected with it — just like Miyazaki was when he first tried VR.
I spent about 30 minutes inside the sepia-toned world of Deracine at E3 2018, and it’s a stark departure from FromSoftware’s recent action games. Whereas you fight for your life in Dark Souls or Bloodborne, in Deracine you’re in no danger. Your focus isn’t on survival. It’s on delight.
It’s a game built to be savored — to be played at your own pace. It’s something that you’d find precedence for with a longer view of FromSoftware. In our interview, Miyazaki refers to Echo Night, FromSoftware’s adventure game series whose first game debuted in the late ‘90s on the original PlayStation.
As he thought about what FromSoftware could do with VR, he was reminded about the developer’s pre-Dark Souls games.
“I just mentioned the adventure games, going back into our previous portfolio, but From Software has also put out some very unique, very peculiar, very one-off-ish type games in the past,” he said. “And I don’t know if everyone agrees, but I personally like that part of our company and our brand and our history. So I kind of want to bring that back, in a way that is still From, but kind of unexpected and surprising. So I presented that to Sony studios, and then they said, ‘You know what? This all sounds great. So let’s start working on a project.’ And that’s how it really came to be.”
The creator of the Souls series has diverse tastes in games, and he saw VR as an opportunity to explore more than what he’s been doing recently.
“I actually prefer something that is a little bit on the slower paced side, where it’s really, you know, play at your own pace, unravel the mysteries at your own pace, leaving a lot of it up to the user’s imagination,” he said. “So that’s kind of maybe the period or the era that you should think that this game could have or would have existed in.”
In this sense, Deracine is a modern take on a FromSoftware adventure game, with emphasis on modernity.
“The addition of bringing this game into VR, though, there’s got to be some added value,” he said. “Bringing it into VR is kind of a twist. All in all, what we’re aiming for is to make a classic story-based adventure game in VR, and so I don’t know if that would be unexpected to fans or not, but that’s probably how it should be looked at.”
Deracine is a game produced with a smaller team than From’s recent projects. According to Miyazaki, “even at its peak, it was probably about one-fifth the size of a Bloodborne or Souls team production. Or maybe even smaller.”
Playing Deracine with this knowledge makes its conception impossible to ignore. Its central conceits — that you’re a fairy who can only interact with the world when time stands still — were the building blocks that FromSoftware began with and crafted the narrative around.
“And even down to the character as you playing the unseen fairy, it’s almost like these are elements and settings that we’ve had to craft to realize the world that we wanted to build,” he said. “So that in of itself was probably one of the biggest challenges. Not to mention — I forgot to say — when you’re playing the character, when you can discover or uncover mysteries, when you’re interacting, you’re only doing it when time is standing still. That’s the only time you’re actually doing something. So that’s another element, a setting element that we added in to achieve the goal that we wanted to achieve.”
I spent my time with Deracine wandering around the boarding school, whose young inhabitants were frozen in time. I could approach them, pick up and read things near them and, sometimes, listen to things that had transpired before time stood still.
These moments between moments are a fairy’s time. The children knew of fairies, and like a clever letter to Santa Claus, hoped that I could prove my existence to them. I explored three floors of a mansion, teleporting from place to place, uncovering clues and piecing them together so that, when time became normal again, they’d know I was there.
That we fairies are unstuck in time isn’t just a narrative conceit. It’s a way to prevent the feeling that Miyazaki had when he first tried VR — or perhaps lean into that feeling. Direct interaction with the children, he feels, would create the sense of non-existence.
“It really comes down to us wanting to emphasize — really emphasize — that whole idea of existence and nonexistence,” he said. “What I mean by that is that, if we didn’t integrate the system of time stands still — and that’s when you interact or take your action. It goes back to if I were to do something and try to interact with the character, or one of the students at the school, we will run into a situation where we know that this is not really happening. Because the character may have a scripted dialogue, or the character maybe having body language, but they’re not reacting to what I’m doing.”
Ultimately, Miyazaki hopes that Deracine will serve as proof that FromSoftware can do more than Dark Souls-like games — and either teach or remind potential players that this isn’t entirely new ground for the developer.
“I feel like in recent years, because of the Souls and the Bloodborne series — whether it’s FromSoftware or maybe my personal sort of image has been lopsided to the side of very gory and bloody-driven sort of games only, and I’m trying with this title to maybe swing that perception around where it’s a little bit more well balanced,” he said. “Hopefully, after you play the game, you feel like this is still a FromSoftware game, but it’s quite different in that it appeals to people who are interested in very unique content in VR.”