Déraciné is, first of all, a story told in video game format. So the question is always: “Would this story be better told through another medium?”
Because it usually is. Most RPGs would be better books than they are video games. Most action games would be better movies than video games. When one make a video game and the focus is the story, one must make sure that they are telling a story that benefits from the medium. Alternatively, and even better: a story that could only be told through that medium.
I am pleased to say that Deráciné falls into the first of these categories, that is, while its story could have been told through prose or film, it would have been poorer for it. This alone is such a rare feat that it is worth celebrating.
Déraciné uses the gimmicks of time-travel and supernatural powers to explore the themes of fate and mortality. However, the thread that connects this is one of intimacy – an intimacy that the game builds by letting the players explore the world on their own, uncovering little tidbits of information about each character, like digital archeologists.
Indeed, this approach could be replicated, let’s say, in literature. One could write a novel where now and then a paragraph would be written in code, and it would be up to the reader to figure it out.
However, it does flow much better in an interactive setting, and doubly so through virtual reality, where the process of shuffling through drawers or peeking under the gap of a closed-door feel much more physical than in a first-person or point-and-click adventure. It also helps make the characters feel much more human and alive, even if they are, for the most part – due to narrative and technical reasons – static.
So Déraciné is a success on three accounts: it does a good job of exploring the themes it sets out to explore; it is a better story for being interactive, and it is a better interactive product for being presented in virtual reality.
That is pretty good.