I completed the Playstation 3 game Folklore earlier today, after a couple of days of fairly intense play. I've had it since the start of the year, but other things got in the way of me getting really stuck into it, and a silly bit of impatience and poor planning made me fall out with it for a while. I'm extremely glad I came back to it because it's become my favourite game on the system, and really one of my favourite gaming experiences overall.
The game is played through the stories of two characters, brought by circumstance to the sleepy Irish village of Doolin. Ellen, a young girl searching for her mother whom she believed died when she was a child, and Keats, a hard-bitten skeptical reporter looking into a murder story with supernatural overtones. Ellen and Keats are both drawn into the Netherworld, becoming crucial players and pawns in a power stuggle between the Faeries. At the same time, Ellen uncovers the truth behind her own past, and the dark secrets of the villagers are brought to light.
Folklore plays out in two distinct sections. The Doolin parts, where Ellen and Keats talk to the villagers, prompting memories and leads surrounding the mysteries of the place, and the Netherworld parts, where they engage in combat with a wide variety of Folks - creatures of myth and legend, spread over several different realms each culminating in an epic battle with the resident Folklore - the 'boss monster' of the realm.
The hook is that in order to fight against the Folks, Ellen and Keats have to collect Folks to use as weapons. There are over 100 individual Folks in the various realms, with particular strengths and weaknesses, and it's the exploitation of these that forms the backbone of the combat system. In order to add a Folk to their arsenal, Ellen and Keats must deal enough damage to it that it becomes weakened enough for them to absord its Id. This is done in a variety of ways using the SIXAXIS motion-sensing controller. Most basically, after holding R1 to ensnare the Id, the controller is flicked upwards, pulling the Id out of the Folk and into the players' collection. Other Folks require the controller to be shaken, carefully balanced, or rocked from side to side. Sometimes timing comes into play as well, and sometimes a combination of these actions is required.
Once a Folk is captured it can be assigned to one of the four face buttons and summoned at will (limited by an energy reserve). The Folk pops out, performs its particular action, then disappears. Folks can be strengthened by repeated use, by absorbing a certain number of the same type, or by using specific items on them. Throughout each realm the player will find pages of a picture book relating to the Folks of the realm and the Folklore. Here in pictorial form are clues to which Folks should be used on which for the best results. Most are self-explanatory; seeing a Folk that is water-based usually leads to the conclusion that a fire-based Folk would be good to tackle it with. However, there are some non-elemental Folks, and some that require charming to coax out their Id, for example.
Collecting and 'levelling up' the Folks becomes quite addictive in itself, and there's certainly a satisfaction in snaring a particularly slippery one. In fact, I found the combat as a whole to be very fun and engaging. While the game is a little on the easy side it does demand quite a bit of quick thinking and it keeps you on your toes - especially when you are faced with numerous Folks of different types. Costumes come into play with regard to the magical cloaks that Ellen wears. As she progresses through she acquires a variety of different outfits, each with specific properties (usually elemental protection). Some of these are found easily enough, but a couple do take rather more effort.
Perhaps a contentious issue is the fact that the game has to be played through by both Ellen and Keats, and they tread much the same ground. The Folks they collect and their particular attacks are often unique, and sub-boss encounters are different (as well as each characters' perspective on the unfolding story), but it is potentially offputting to essentially repeat each chapter. However, I found that by playing through exclusively as Ellen until the story paths merged, then taking Keats to the same point, I was removed enough from Ellen's experience in the early parts of the game for it not to feel stale with Keats. That, and the experience gained by Ellen in terms of what to expect in the realms made Keats' journey very swift.
Visually the game is a real treat. A lot of care and attention has gone into fashioning the Faery realms, each one very distinct. The use of colour and range of texture is breathtaking, and incidental animations abound. You really have to get in close and analyze things to see the seams, but it's a triumph of imaginative design over poly count. Away from the dazzle of the Nether Realms, Doolin itself is attractively rendered in its own way, particularly at night. It's undoubtedly one of the most visually appealing games I've ever played.
The visual beauty of the game is matched by a score that runs from haunting piano pieces to weird carnival nightmare music, and appropriately dramatic pieces to accompany the Folklore encounters.
After that there's the subject matter, and Folklore is right up my street in that regard. Myths and legends, folklore, and a murder mystery. What more could I ask for? The translation and vocal performances are well above average, and while the story concerns itself with enough flashbacks and half-glimpsed memories to befuddle you a lot of the time, by the end it comes together quite neatly.
It says enough about a game these days that not only will I finish it, but I will buy all the downloadable content available (extra quests to undertake in both Doolin and the Netherworld, and alternative constumes), but I will also go out of my way to collect everything in it.
Of course, being something of a hidden gem the game failed commercially if not critically (though some were very harsh in their criticisms). Maybe it's simply a hard sell, being very much a fanciful fairy tale on a system currently dominated by more hardline action titles. I would urge anyone to at least give it a try though, because if it does click it has the power to captivate and delight, and the journey into this Netherworld is well worth taking.