REVIEW: Folklore

The Playstation 3 hasn’t exactly enjoyed the world’s greatest library since its launch. A number of titles that fans were counting on to give them some much-needed value faltered, seemingly because of motion controls, time pressure, or both. Lair and Heavenly Sword arrived to much fanfare but little welcome, as they both were found to be overhyped and deeply-flawed games, moreso in the former than the latter.

In recent weeks, however, things seem to be picking up for the beleaguered Playstation stalwart. Folklore, Ratchet & Clank Future, and The Eye of Judgement have all landed on store shelves. Today, I take a look at Folklore, the fantasy action-RPG from Game Republic.

Folklore has the distinction of being the first real cult game for the PS3. This is not a game that everyone will like. I could best describe it as Fable’s Controls + Lewis Carroll’s gothic fantasy + Pokemon’s catch-em-all mentality.

Playing as either of the protagonists, Ellen or Keats, you are effectively swindled into traveling to the Netherworld, by way of a mysterious Irish town called Doolin. The game on the surface is effectively a detective story, talking to the denizens of the town and slowly unraveling the mysteries of its inhabitants. A good deal of the traditional “go to X location and get Y item” gameplay is used here, but it doesn’t hurt the pacing too much. Of course, the bulk of the game takes place after dark, when all manner of strange creatures come to town.

At night, Ellen and Keats take their parallel storylines into the Netherworld, having been imbued with special powers that allow them to travel to and from with ease. In the Netherworld, as you progress through the disappointingly linear levels, you collect Folks, twisted creatures born of human souls, through a surprisingly effective use of the SIXAXIS controller. When an enemy’s id, a sort of ghostly halo, flashes red, you can whip the controller back and take their powers for your own. The normal means of doing this works well, though some more complex Id absorptions require some slightly more finicky controller spazzery.

The game takes a lot of risks, which is something to be commended, however they don’t all work out for good. Almost all of the cutscenes are portrayed by an odd sort of animated graphic-novel interface, with speech bubbles appearing over the character’s heads. It is an interesting choice, and certainly a visible one, but one has to wonder why they opted for this seemingly archaic method of advancing the plot, when they not only have voice actors for a handful of traditional cutscenes, but an entire blu-ray disc to store audio on? Ultimately this choice hurts the story, making it seem far more dull than it really is. Simple dramatic voice overs, which the voice actors do plenty well during their few appearances, could have made the game that much better.

The combat itself leaves much to be desired, as well. The folk attacks are useful, but almost 100% of the game’s combat consists of rooms in which waves of enemies will spawn in, which then have to be dispatched before one can progress with the game. The rooms are separated sometimes by enemy-free corridors where you can heal, or, shocker of shockers, more enemy-filled rooms. The whole deal is very anticlimactic and linear to a fault. The game’s id-absorption mechanic is truly unique, but would have been put to far better use in an open-world environment, as opposed to the frankly boring button mashing dungeon crawl.

The game does have its strong points, most notably the art style. The dark, brooding environs of the Netherworld, as well as the fantastically-designed Folks are instantly appealing. The quality of the artistic presentation tells me that this game could have been far better than it is, and was likely troubled during development.

There are other notable features, of course. The dungeon building tool is interesting, and would most certainly be an attractive feature, were the end results not constrained by the game’s lackluster design. There is a level sharing element here, too, that allows you to upload your levels to the Playstation Network, receiving points for creating your own levels, and participating in other people’s levels.

At the end of the day, Folklore is an interesting, decent game. It isn’t buggy in any way, and there’s a lot there for people who want to go through it. If you own a Playstation 3, do yourself a favor and rent this one first.

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