At this year’s E3, I personally came away most excited about the titles coming out for the Playstation 3. To date, most of those titles have come out, including Warhawk, Lair, Heavenly Sword, Uncharted, Pain – and I’ve enjoyed all of them. I recently completed another title that I saw at E3 that was extremely promising, and that is Folklore. Folklore is a gorgeous game, and I don’t mean just in terms of visuals. Let’s get to the review.
Folks & Ids & Fairy’s Oh My
Folklore tells the tale of Doolin Village, both in the present and seventeen years ago on a particular day when many mysterious and sorrowful events occurred. As the player, you will control two protagonists, Ellen and Keats. You can switch between the two characters at the end of each chapter throughout nearly the entire story, and I do recommend doing this because it provides the most insight to this complicated, but intriguing story. Speaking of the story, I would argue that it’s mostly a strong point of Folklore, but it also is a weakness. The reason being is the story is really quite confusing and convoluted, and by the end of the game I was still confused about some of the ideas presented and about what exactly happened to who and why. I think the story could have been more effectively told if there were more full blown cutscenes and more explanations in parts. There are in fact many cutscenes, but most are text driven, comic book style ones that, while in themselves I find nothing wrong with, can make an already confusing story harder to follow over the course of playing through the game.Ultimately, even though I don’t necessarily get every aspect of the story, it was still a much more interesting and satisfying tale than most games I have played.
Getting that next clue to the mystery and unlocking more secrets about the heinous events of seventeen years ago and in the present kept me playing for many hours at a time. The gameplay mechanics including the controls, style of play, health system, etc., are for the most part, very nicely done. I think my biggest issue with playing through Folklore, besides struggling to completely understand the story, was in how Folklore handles save spots. There are no checkpoints, just save spots, and towards the end this gets frustrating, especially when battling longer, tougher boss battles. The reasons include having to battle through the same enemies over and over (in some cases you can actually run past them, but usually not) just to get back to said boss to try again. In comparison, take a game like Uncharted, which I just recently completed, and the way Naughty Dog handled checkpoints. Checkpoints in Uncharted come silently and often, and for me that opens up the game a lot to experimentation and it definitely keeps it fun. With Folklore, exploration and roaming about isn’t encouraged because everytime you leave a ‘room’ or area and come back, guess what, every enemy you just defeated is there again and again. While you can build up Keat’s Transcendental power meter with this and earn experience and unlock Karma (something I will get to shortly) by engaging in these repeat battles, I just found them annoying. The Genji games, also created by Game Republic also has this issue, although I am a huge fan of both Genji games, too.
So despite those issues, which are considerable but certainly not deal breakers in and of themselves, Folklore is a very enjoyable game to play. I found that there is actually quite a bit more strategy and RPG elements than I expected, too. Before explaining that and other aspects of Folklore however, you need to understand that your character doesn’t actually do battle themselves—they call upon the Folks they have absorbed to battle for them. You can assign four Folks at a time by accessing the Folk Palette. Each Folk is assigned to one of the four face buttons and they are invoked simply by pressing (and in some cases holding for more power) these buttons. Each Folk takes away some amount of your Mind Capacity, which is basically your Mana or energy, separate from your health. It fills up automatically after a few seconds, but it’s timed in such a way that you cannot constantly call on Folks back to back without pausing for a few seconds.
Taking Names In the Netherworld
That said, Ellen and Keats absorb Folk throughout their journey through the Netherworld by pummeling these Folk and then yanking their Id out of them. This is one thing I really liked about Folklore, as you fight various Folks, you have to be mindful as to which Folk you are using in combat. Some Folks do no damage to other Folks, others do plenty, and so forth, and you will know by the sounds of the game and the appearance of a blue shadowy figure popping out of the Folk as you hit it. When it turns red, you can absorb it in one of five or so different ways involving SIXAXIS motion controls. Game Republic did a great job implementing the SIXAXIS controls; for most Folk, just holding down R1 and flipping the top of the controller back towards yourself, i.e., imitating a pulling motion is sufficient, and the motion control here is nearly 100% reliable. Other absorption methods require you to tilt the controller to the left and right, in effect smashing the Id back and forth repeatedly, which fills up a meter (at the end of which you pull the Id out); if you don’t keep a good rhythm of going left to right and back again, the meter begins to drain. These motion controls add a nice edge to the game that stayed enjoyable throughout the experience. Most Folklore, i.e. the bosses, have you doing multiple motion control sequences which makes these battles all the more enjoyable and satisfying, too. About the only complaint I would add to these Id absorption sequences in normal battle is that you cannot stop trying to absorb an Id once you’ve started, leaving you open to take damage from other, still fighting Folk. Oh, and as a last point, should you not absorb an Id from a Folk, they will regain their ability to fight in a few seconds or if you continue to pummel them they will simply die.
Folklore spans some seven realms of the Netherworld, ranging from the land of Fairy’s to the Netherworld Core, which is just past the harsh Hellrealm. These different realms share a few things in common, not the least of which is the gorgeous artwork and visual detail. Each realm begins with about three or four NPCs that you can talk to, revealing some small details about the Folklore in this realm or about other aspects of the game. Each realm is also laid out similarly, usually beginning with some easier battles that introduce you to new Folks and then you will encounter the mid and higher level Folks in the realm before finally battling the Folklore of that realm, after which you will unlock more information about the events of the past and present and then return to Doolin Village. So there is definitely a formulaic design to Folklore, not that that is bad, but just so you know each realm, while distinct, does follow a pattern. Something you may choose to do as I did on a few occasions is take on side quests in between Folklore battles. You can access these starting about half way through the game by talking to the pub owner(s); performing these tasks gives you various power up items that can be used towards unlocking the Karma of your Folk. Unlocking the Karma of your Folk makes them more powerful. You unlock Karma by completing various tasks with your Folk, like killing so many other particular Folk, or using x number of power ups on it. These upgrade paths can be found in the Pause Menu.
It’s Like Halloween For My Eyes And Ears
I would also like to commend the folks behind the visuals and audio in Folklore. I think this is definitely the most richly and vibrantly colorful game I have every played, some areas are simply mesmerizing in their beauty. The visuals never fail to impress and convey the mood of the environment. The same can be said for the tremendous score; the music is powerful and so very fitting. I love the track that plays whenever you take Ellen or Keats to their resting quarters. Thinking back, Folklore has had the most moving and effective soundtrack of any game I have played this year.
As you may have guessed, there are no multiplayer elements to Folklore, but there already is some DLC (Downloadable Content) available on the PSN that give you some new Folks, new quests, and even a new Folklore to battle. The single player campaign will keep you busy for a good while, however, especially if you switch off between the two characters in between chapters as I did. It basically doubles the length of the game and by the time I finished it I had put twenty to twenty-two hours into it. I would add that at least four hours was spent struggling through the final couple of boss battles, and this was also largely due to the frustrating save system and having to constantly fight through respawned enemies just to get another crack at the boss.
Folklore distinguishes itself in many ways. It unfolds an elaborate, intriguing, although confusing mystery tale involving many cool ideas about the Netherworld and our world (I loved the explanation of Oblivion in the Undersea World Realm for example). It presents and develops some interesting characters, my favorite of which would have to be Belgae, who is essentially Keats’ advisor. Folklore’s combat and RPG system and numerous Folks are also unusual and fun, too. It’s also showcases gorgeous visuals and a very memorable soundtrack. Despite a few nags I had about this game, i.e. the confusing story, save system, and respawning enemies, Folklore is a real gem that you should absolutely make every effort to get and play. In my opinion, Sony has another classic on their hands with this one, and you certainly shouldn’t pass it up.