Sony seem to have their own idea about style
. All of their products reflect a sense of aesthetic pompousness due to the fact they almost always look far sexier than the competition (and they know it, too). In the realm of videogames this is equally true of the electronics giant – a simple look at the aesthetic difference between the PSP and the DS is proof enough, and in this regard, there is also a certain flair the company manages to maintain throughout their in-house and second-party products. You could almost say a game “looks Sony
” based on this idea. With this in mind, it’s also easy to see why certain games are released on their systems as well as why they set up specific partnerships, teams and talent; Sony want everything branded as uniquely Sony
as possible. What invariably complicates this is more often than not (lately, at least), Sony products tend to offer little else in the way of robust life – strength of gameplay conviction, fun and even innovation have – recently – taken more of a back-seat to looking pretty and showing off the power of the PS3.
Indeed, now, more so than ever, the company almost seem to be on the complete outs with what the gaming community is looking for which is why it’s incredibly important they come back to the fray with some top-notch offerings. I’ve said it in the past, but there are more than a few great games headed to the system, a lot of which I’m chomping at the bit for. One such title I was really looking forward to was Folklore.
Helmed by Yoshiki Okamoto, the man behind some of the best games from franchises such as Devil May Cry, Onimusha and Resident Evil, you’d think Folklore couldn’t go wrong. And in many respects the game doesn’t; it draws you into an interesting setting with closed-off game-world characters and an initial mystery to solve. The visual stylings and art-direction are all incredibly well-handled and the super-polished and convincingly voice-acted cut-scenes go along way to inviting you into play. But alas, this is the first pitfall of what should
have been an incredible game. And it comes back to my initial statement regarding Sony’s zest for flair – Folklore looks great and would probably smell like lollies (if it had an odour), but once in control of the game, things shift into a different gear where a few different play styles are married together in what would most definitely have been a Vegas shotgun ceremony. This isn’t to say there’s nothing here worth looking at, it’s just the colourful and inviting wrapping only comes off to reveal three completely incompatible presents inside.
The game begins with Ellen Reid. She’s aboard a boat heading to a village in Ireland. She received a letter from her mother, which has shaken her up a bit considering she believed her mum to be dead. A storm is raging on the water passage and the boat’s captain tells her he’s going to turn around, desperate to find out the truth, the young Ellen jumps off the ship to swim ashore. On dry land, our other Folklore protagonist, Keats, has just received a phone call. He works as an editor for an occult magazine called “Unknown Realm”, the phone call he catches tells him to also head to what is dubbed The Village of the Dead
. Before we know it the two have arrived at pretty much the same time, both unsure why they’ve been drawn there. Ellen comes to a cliff and finds what she thinks is her mother sitting on the edge, Keats walks up behind but before the truth can be revealed the would-be-mother keels over, dead, and falls from the cliff’s edge. Ellen runs after the body while Keats remarks, “A murder in the village of the dead? Tell me this is a joke.”
From this point on, the game is played in chapters with you choosing who to play with for each. They both have their own story which in many ways intertwine throughout the adventure and as gameplay is broken into chapters it’s really easy to stagger the playtime between the two so you get the full story from the get-go. Things begin with a Prologue and what becomes immediately apparent is Folklore, while offering an inviting mystery in a spooky village, gives you very little in the way of exploration and interaction. Gameplay is broken up into investigating the game’s hub, which is the village of Doolin and its two-faced pub, and fighting and investigating in the Netherworld (which I’ll get to in a moment). Beyond this there is very little exploration available, nothing to do outside the main quest or sub-quests) and so, in the end, you’re left with a game that runs you from A to Z without too much happening in the middle.
However, that being said, not every one likes exploration, and if you’re into a bit of intrigue and mystery, Folklore could be something for you to look at. The whole story is based off Irish Celtic lore with faery gardens, underworlds and runes and henges. The Village of Doolin, it seems, is actually a gateway to the Netherworld. This gateway only opens up once a year (November 2nd, to be precise) and is the only way humans can gain access to the world of the dead. It just so happens to be the night of the 2nd of November, and so both Keats and Ellen (in their respective Prologues) are drawn into the realm. What we learn from them being in here is that Ellen has been ear-marked to be the realm’s next Messenger
and Keats her Guardian
, which is why the two of them were lured to the village of Doolin.
Given all this happens in the Prologue, don’t stress about spoilers, much of the game’s pretext is thrown down right from the get-go, just so you have a clue what’s going on. As mentioned earlier though, there are a few different play-styles on offer, and while the ‘go-to-and-investigate’ stuff is pretty boring, once you enter the Netherworld realms, things become a little different. Up until this point, the game has maintained a Silent Hill-esque camera system that doesn’t give you any control, in a realm, however, you have full access to shifting the camera up and down and left and right (though it is still somewhat automated). The Netherworld itself is broken up into action portions and passive portions. The passive areas are where you can converse with the nice folk of the Netherworld, while the action portions are where you find pick-ups and enemies to battle. The folk you fight are actually mostly fought with other folk you’ve caught. This is explained early on in the piece, but essentially you take their Id (spirit) and use it as a weapon or tool.
This is where the game’s Sixaxis control comes into effect. Essentially your guide hooks you up with your first folk Id, after that the power of that folk is mapped to a face button on your controller (not at all dissimilar to Kameo, and this isn’t the only
similarity between the two games, either). You can obviously map up to four and each one has a different ability. Some are used to attack at close range, others aerially or from a distance while others still are used to block. Some will be required to beat others (rock, scissors, paper style), while certain types only open certain memory stones (the Netherworld version of item crates). Capturing folk Id is as easily as beating them into submission, when their Id turns red you hit R1, once you’re locked on, just reef the controller up and you’ll have ripped the Id right out. Capturing a single one is worth one EXP point, while two or more obviously gives you far more EXP. The folk you battle will come in waves in certain battle zones
, beat two and five more will pop up until you’ve cleared the zone. It’s a fairly safe battle-system, but works well with the overall pacing of the game.
What comes of all this is a reasonably uniquely paced game in that investigating top-side, while fighting and navigating in the Netherworld, gives the adventure a somewhat wet and dry charm. Investigating, however, feels like a redundant exercise given you’re really only walking from point A to B, and while you’re supposedly ‘exploring’, anything you can actually interact with is immediately made attention of, everything else is just dressing. It has a certain point-and-click adventure feel to it, only you have to do the physical walking, which, as I mentioned a second ago, feels redundant in the face of this. Thankfully this portion of the game, while decidedly unexciting is still paced well enough in the context of story it’s bearable, it’s just the jump from this to fighting folk and exploring Realms (dungeons) in the Netherworld seems a bit too juxtaposed, but that is
what makes it unique.
Throughout the adventure the art-direction is great, and while I would rather the voices be maintained in real-time, the classy comic-book stylings of the in-game story stuff is still quite cool. But the real juice here (in terms of story) is the CG stuff which is absolutely stunning, from visuals and imagination to direction and style, they’re almost
worth the price of admission alone (if only there were a few more). Still, this isn’t the saving grace game Sony are looking for, and while it is imaginative, it still lacks the sort of depth and originality the PS3 so sorely needs at the moment. If you own the console, however, and like your adventure games delivered with a bit of kookiness, you should most definitely check this out.