It’s rare these days for a developer to start a new IP, let alone try out something that is actually new. Enter Folklore, the first game (as far as I know) that revolves around Celtic mythology. Interested? You should be!
Folklore is already the second PS3 game by developer Game Republic (Genji 2), but hasn’t received much publicty thusfar from Sony, despite being a first-party exclusive. Folklore is a fantasy action/adventure game with a lot of RPG elements. And despite the abundance of titles in the genre, the game looks like it’s one-of-a-kind, thanks to its unique art direction.
Folklore tells the tale of its two main characters, Ellen and Keats. Ellen has received a letter from her believed to be deceased mother, asking her to come the Irish village of Doolin.
Keats is a journalist for an occult magazine, who has received a tip that their might be more to the village than meets the eye. Once there, Ellen quickly discovers that she is a ‘messenger’ who can travel to the Netherworld, the land of the dead. Keats is revealed to be her guardian, so he can also travel between the two worlds. And that’s basically how the game is mapped out. You search for quests in the real-world village of Doolin and you complete them in the mystic Netherworld. As the story is unfolded, you learn more about your past and the actual fate of Ellen’s mother.
The game is about 20 to 25 hours long, which isn’t much by RPG standards, but is quite a lot for an action/adventure title. Unfortunately, the game feels artificially stretched, since you’ll be revisiting the same environments and fighting the same enemies twice.
Though Ellen and Keats have slightly different quests, this fact makes the game feel quite repetitive. Though it’s perfectly possible to finish all of Ellen’s chapters in succession and then doing all of Keats’, this actually hurts the story, since you’ll be missing out quite a lot of interesting details and plot twists. It’s better to just play a chapter with Ellen and then playing the corresponding chapter with Keats. It may be tedious, but it pays off story-wise.
You’ll only engage in combat in the Netherworld. The Netherworld consists of six realms (a lush fairy realm, an underwater realm, a fire realm…), which all look distinctly different from one another. Nevertheless, the gameplay always boils down to the same thing, no matter which world you’re in.
You walk through fully linear environments, defeat a whole slew of monsters and ultimately take on an end boss (or Folklore as they’re called). You don’t actually fight on your own, but you use the powers of creatures (or Folk) to fight for you. Every realm has its unique set of Folk you can collect by absorbing their Id (or ‘soul’). Some Folk provide a protective barrier, while others deal long-range attacks or quick strikes. Some enemies (especially Folklore) are only vulnerable to the attacks of specific Folk, so you’ll have to constantly switch between your available creatures (you can assign one to each face button).
As you use them and absorb more of one type, your Folk will grow stronger and do more damage or consume less magic power. You absorb the Id’s of Folk by dealing damage to them, until their Id is exposed. You can them grab it by pressing R1 and yanking the Sixaxis towards you. This actually feels like your pulling the soul out of an enemy, so it’s a lot of fun to do. Some of the harder enemies require you to carefully time your pulls before you can add them to your collection. Though the use of different Folk may sound fresh and interesting, the combat feels quite shallow, since each Folk only has one attack and most creatures can be defeated by simply spamming the same attacks time and again.
Folklore’s presentation is its biggest feat. The Folks’ design is very well executed, with each one looking unique thanks to the Celtic source material. The different worlds are a real pleasure to watch, thanks to the magnificent use of warm colours, impressive architecture and beautiful shaded lighting. However, as said, the levels are very linear, due to the continued use of long paths (with invisible walls) and open areas where you can fight.
This is in fact the same problem Genji 2 suffered from. The captivating story is told through comic-like cutscenes and an occasional -stunning- CGI cinematic. Unfortunately, you only get to hear voice-acting during those few CGI interludes. All of the other dialogue is written, which is an even bigger pity, considering the quality of the actors involved. When you’re in Doolin, a masterful piano score plays in the background (think Final Fantasy X and X-2), but when you’re in one of the Netherworld realms, the music is more dramatic (and in my opinion less beautiful).
Folklore is less of a gameplay achievement than it is an artistic one. The unique atmosphere of the game undoubtedly makes Folklore an intriguing and attractive title, but the actual gameplay falls a bit short, due to an ultimately shallow combat system and very confined levels. Maybe wait a couple of months, until you can find it at an attractive price.