Halfway through my interview with Hidetaka Miyazaki, a panel in the Sony booth fell to the floor and crashed to the ground. It ripped some wiring from the wall, so the lights went out. We continued the interview in the dark. It was a fitting second phase for the creator of the Souls series.
But we weren’t there to talk about Souls. We were there to talk about Déraciné, FromSoftware’s new VR title, that suffered from unfair obscurity due to the fact it was was announced after Sony’s press conference. But I’ve played it, it’s real, and it’s beautiful.
“Déraciné is French for uprooting,” says Miyazaki. “Or someone who’s been displaced from their natural environment.”
It’s a cryptic and intriguing description, as Déraciné itself is cryptic and intriguing. It takes place in a children’s boarding school, where you play as an invisible fairy, solving puzzles and playing tricks on the students. As you pass through it’s sepia toned world, you interact with memories, frozen in time, that offer clues to your next objective. In my playthrough, I was trying to find vials of herbs, and chased memories throughout the school and its beautiful, lush green grounds, to remove them from the collar of a dog or beneath the hat of a boy lounging in a tree.
It’s beautifully atmospheric, with that classic FromSoftware attention to detail. Every object is lovingly crafted and imbued with some mysterious meaning, and it’s a meditative pleasure to be able to float through the world in 360 degrees. “If I were to try to really boil it down,” says Miyazaki, “it’s basically a very quiet and calm, classic adventure game.”
Déraciné is born from Miyazaki’s desire to challenge himself and his team by working with a new technology, but it also as a throwback to FromSoftware’s roots. “When we were wrapping up Bloodborne and Dark Souls 3, we were thinking of, okay, what’s next for us? We wanted to create something new, but at the same time, we looked at our past and history or back catalog of what firm software used to make, not in recent years, but what we’re rooted in. We actually put out some adventure games in the past. One example is Echo Night. That became a trigger or a springboard of discussion. We’re like, well, we can challenge ourselves to adventure game, but who would just make an ordinary adventure game these days?”
Certainly not FromSoftware, whose games have differentiated themselves by being completely unlike anything else on the market. “We had to look inside and look at our uniqueness,” says Miyazaki. “Our strengths or maybe our characteristic as a developer firm software used to maybe be known as a studio that put out unexpected, almost like quirky, very unique titles. Not that we’ve lost that charm in recent years, but that’s something that I really, really liked about our studio. In order to bring that characteristic out, this concept worked in favor of supporting that idea. It’s unexpected. It’s not something that’s a sequel from our recent titles and it’s on a small scale and it seemed very achievable.”
Déraciné is full of the unexpected. Like the Souls series, much of it appears to be about discovery, about finding that dog under the deck or the boy in the tree or the girl in the attic, in a way that feels organic and spontaneous. That, according to Miyazaki, is the essence of FromSoftware’s approach to development.
“The way we are trying to tell or serve the story is done in a very fragmented way. You’re discovering this and discovering that. There is a range of players using their own imagination, for example, or maybe it’s not in the ‘correct’ order that you need to discover things. There’s that flexibility that we’re giving to the user to go out and discover the elements that we are placing throughout the game.”
Déraciné doesn’t define a new direction for FromSoftware, as action – such as its adjacent title Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice – is still its bread and butter. However, I got the sense that Déraciné something of a delightful experiment for the studio, a quiet moment of reprieve in among all the bloodletting.
“It wasn’t necessarily that I wanted to … not moving away, but taking a break from the Souls series wasn’t the only strongest motivation to work on this game. As a result of now coming to the stage of being able to show what we have so far, it has really helped us, helped me, freshen things up. It’s not just about a different kind of game or a different format. We’re learning things in VR, which is new technology. This game is actually also developed in Unreal. There’s been a lot of learnings already.
“By no means are we going to stray ourselves away from the more or less more mainstream games that we’re known for,” Miyazaki continues resiliently, in the dark. “I think this segue will only give us good learnings, good experiences, and that’s something that we can reflect on and will have a good influence on the other games that we’d work on in the future. It’s been really good learning experience.”
Lucy O’Brien is Games & Entertainment Editor at IGN’s Sydney office. Follow her on Twitter.