At the start of the PlayStation 2â€™s existence, there was a game released called Shadow of Memories. It has faded into obscurity, which is a damn shame because this adventure title was an excellent and original little affair that was concentrated and cerebral. The reason I bring up Shadow of Memories is because I was constantly reminded of the title when playing Game Republicâ€™s Folklore. Thatâ€™s not to say that Folklore and Shadow of Memories are cut from the same cloth; Folklore has a larger focus on action. However, like Shadow of Memories, Folklore is an original game that is a refreshing breath of fresh air in a world where setting Call of Duty outside of World War II is considered an innovation.
The game is based on Irish mythology (although with a Japanese twist), and it is surprisingly dark. The game involves two characters, Ellen and Keats, who arrive at the village of Doolin for different reasons. Ellen has come because her deceased mother has seemingly written her a letter and Ellen, who remembers little about her past, would really like to piece this altogether and find some sort of closure. Keats, who works for an Occult Magazine, arrives at the village after receiving a cryptic phone call informing him that faeries are up to their old tricks again. Ultimately, it all ends up with both characters journeying into a place known as the Netherworld in an attempt to uncover the truth.
Folklore really comes in two parts. One part is the adventure side of things, which requires players to run around the little Irish village talking to the townsfolk and collecting information about an event that happened 17 years ago. The adventuring isnâ€™t really that deep, and the characters all appear a little two-dimensional at first, but as the story progresses everything becomes a little bit deeper than youâ€™d expect. It can get a little repetitive, and at times it almost feels like a chocolate wrapper that you must remove each time to get to the sweet, gooey goodness underneath, but itâ€™s never a chore, and the village hub can often serve as a refreshing breather from the bizarre Netherworld.
The Netherworld is where the action largely takes place, although it also has a narrative focus. Both characters will journey to the same locations, although usually at different times in regards to the story. The Netherworld itself contains its own plot about faeries and conquest in addition to holding the clues to uncovering exactly what happened in Doolin 17 years ago. The plot threads are, surprisingly, rather intelligent and serve as excellent motivation to keep playing.
In regards to the action, the game focuses on using little creatures known as folk to fight for you. Itâ€™s not quite a Lost Kingdoms kind of affair, although there are definitely similarities. Although you can capture a number of folk, each with their own ability, you can only equip four at any given time. Each folk has a strength and a weakness, and it is often a case of finding the right folk for the job. Often this can be solved by obtaining pages of fairytale picture books that inform you of how to kill various folk. At the end of every level there is a super-folk known as a folklore, which must be vanquished in order to finish the stage and progress the story. It is here where the use of various folk really shines.
A neat twist to capturing folk is that their souls are literally yanked from their bodies and players execute this by moving the Sixaxis controller accordingly. Certain folk will come out with a simple jerk upward, but other folk require more complex movement to be captured. For example, one folk might require you to balance their soul by tilting the Sixaxis, and another will require you to move the Sixaxis around and around. Because enemies can still attack you while this is happening, and because failed gestures will cost you, it often becomes a case of working out which folk you wish to capture for experience and which folk you are just going to kill so you can survive. Although it walks that narrow tightrope that lies above the pit of gimmickry, itâ€™s probably the most refined and subtle use of motion control that has been seen a game so far and it really adds something to the game.
Although it might be tempting to see the game as an RPG, what with the focus on the story and all the talking, the game actually contains few RPG elements. You can gain experience by yanking the souls from folk, and you can level up and get stronger, but you never really have anything close to an RPG. All health items are used as soon as they are picked up, and the various items you collect really have little value outside the progression of your folksâ€™ abilities. You can get various costumes for Ellen that have different abilities as well as looks, and you can partake in a variety of sidequests, but ultimately this is an adventure game through and through.
In terms of presentation, the game is a mixed bag. Indeed, if the game was to be dissected against a reviewerâ€™s checklist, the game might not fair well at all. In terms of technical graphics, itâ€™s not going to set the world alight. This isnâ€™t Heavenly Sword. However, in terms of artistic merit, the game really shines. Doolin really does feel like a quaint, homely (if run-down) Irish town, and the various Netherworld realms are absolutely gorgeous. Even some of the more bland areas like Warcadia look amazing. The sound can also be a mixed bag at times. Generally the music is solid and suits the locations well, although some of the tunes can become a little annoying and repetitive. The sound effects are meaty and appropriate, although the lack of voice acting for most of the game is oddly bizarre. Although the game features Irish accents aplenty in the beautiful computer-generated cutscenes, most of the conversations are progressed with walls of text. Itâ€™s especially perplexing given that Blu-Ray offers a massive storage advantage over DVD. Fortunately, the menus through the game are polished, intuitive, and really reflect the theme of the game. There is a little lag when you leave each menu, but itâ€™s nothing to whinge about.
Ultimately, however, the charm of Folklore isnâ€™t really something you can dissect. Itâ€™s definitely better than the sum of its parts, yet itâ€™s hard to state exactly why itâ€™s fun and refreshing to play. Consequently, it makes it rather hard to review it and to recommend it, as itâ€™s definitely going to be a love-hate affair for many. Itâ€™s an original game that offers an intelligent story, some excellent action, creative use of the Sixaxis, and some truly memorable level design. Itâ€™s not going to appeal to everyone, but for those whom it charms it will definitely leave a lasting impression. The PLAYSTATION 3 is finally getting some solid titles under its belt, and Folklore is definitely one of them.