Hello, readers! Last week, I replayed a dark fantasy game that was fine, but derivative.
This week, I took a look at another kind of dark fantasy title, albeit one that's much more original. Sadly, this game was sorely overlooked.
Folklore came out back in 2007 for Playstation 3. It was developed by Game Republic, a now-defunct developer who also created the similarly underrated Genji: Dawn of the Samurai and its sequel. Folklore was directed by Yoshiki Okamoto, who also directed classic Capcom shoot-em-up 1942 and was the producer of an obscure fighter called Street Fighter II.
That alone should tell you enough to go seek out a copy of Folklore, but I'll keep going anyway. Taking it's inspiration from Irish mythology, two people arrive in the tiny village of Doolin, on the western coast of Ireland. (Doolin is a real place!) First, there's Ellen, who receives a letter from her mother, asking her to meet in Doolin-except Ellen's mother has been dead for some time. After running into a mysterious figure who she mistakes for her mother, she runs into Keats, a reporter for a paranormal magazine, who has also come to Doolin under strange circumstances. Keats gets a call from a woman who's afraid Faerys are coming to kill her. Naturally, Keats comes running, not one to pass up a story like that.
It soon becomes apparent that Doolin is no ordinary place; it serves as a portal to the Netherworld, which is in complete disarray due to circumstances you'll learn about over the course of both Ellen's and Keats' adventure. Both character's quests are independent but intertwining; you can play through one character's campaign at a time, or alternate between the two. It's cool having options like that, rather than be forced to commit to one character throughout the game. Of course, their stories do connect at the end, so you do have to finish both to see the whole thing. However you play, you'll have to pay attention, as the story can be difficult to follow at times. That's partly due to the deep, twisting nature of the plot...
...but it's also due, in part, to the somewhat disjointed nature of the storytelling itself. Folklore makes use of a combination of pre-rendered cutscenes, comic-book style scenes with voice balloons and limited animation, and dialogue scenes with more voice balloons. Come to think of it, Folklore has very little actual voice acting, which is a shame. But the varying styles of cutscenes can be jarring at times. I guess they were going for a certain feel, but it comes off more as indecisive, really.
On a side note regarding the story, Ellen is a perfect example of how to make a female character that isn't hypersexualized or clad in a ridiculous outfit. Aside from the fantastical elements of the game, she's more like a person you could actually meet in real life. See Rachel from Ninja Gaiden Black as an example of the opposite. Or Ivy, from SoulCalibur, or or or or or.
But on to the gameplay. Folklore essentially plays two different ways. First, you explore Doolin, talking to townspeople and gathering clues. You do little else here other than that. But eventually, you go to the Netherworld, and that's where the fun begins.
Primarily an action RPG, Folklore's combat (which is basically all you do in the Netherworld) involves absorbing the spirit of Folk (enemies) and using their abilities to fight more Folk. Weakening a Folk enough will cause its spirit to hover out of its body. When it glows red, that's your signal to hold R1 to latch onto the Folk's spirit, Ghostbusters-style, and then pull it out of the Folk's body by yanking the PS3 controller upwards. Sometimes, larger enemies require more complex motions, like tilting the controller left and right in rhythm, or pulling upwards at the right time. Now, I've always been an advocate of motion controls (they give us a new way to play), but I'll also admit that they're not always 100%. That holds true for Folklore as well; once in a while, the movements just won't register. Thing is, though, I don't care, because yanking a soul out of an enemy is just too much fun to complain about. My suggestion? Whip the controller upwards hard.
Absorbing a Folk gives you a new move, which you can assign to one of the four face buttons on the PS3 controller. You can even create sets of attacks that you can quickly swap through. There's a surprising variety of Folk at your disposal, and Ellen and Keats use their Folk a bit differently, leading to different play styles for the two: Keats is more brute force, up close focused, while Ellen has more ranged attacks. But overall, they don't really play so different as to require learning new mechanics or anything.
If there's really a complaint I have about the combat (it is fantastic, though), it's that despite the variety of Folk at your disposal in the later levels, there really aren't a lot of options for fighting large groups of enemies. Almost every attack is meant to be focused on one enemy, and this can be a bit of a problem late in the game, when you get dogpiled by lots of enemies at a time. Add this to the need to absorb enemies in order to permanently kill them, and you have a recipe for moderate frustration.
There's also the need to pause in order to change attacks. Not a problem in and of itself, as this is done through a quick menu, but the game locks up for a couple of seconds every time you exit the Folk menu. It's something that gets a little tedious as the game goes on; you'll often have to change Folk to take out elemental enemies, so you'll be in that menu often unless you've somehow come up with the perfect combination of Folk (you won't).
Nevertheless, Folklore's combat is amazing despite these quirks. It's not every day you have this much freedom in deciding what attacks to use, and you can assign them to whatever button you want, to boot. And none of the Folk really feel "wrong" to use-apart from fighting element resistant enemies-so you can really play the game any way you prefer. For example, I have a forcefield-generating Folk always set to X, so X becomes a Block button for me, then a combo Folk to Circle, a flamethrower Folk on Square for area attacks, and lastly, Triangle is for big, slow attacks.
Folklore is a fantastic looking game. Not so much from a purely technical standpoint; there's mild texture pop-in and slowdown. But artistically, the game is damn near unparalleled. Doolin is designed very well as a sleepy coastal town, but it's the Netherworld where things come alive, with a variety of unique enemy designs and environments practically around every corner. Ellen and Keats are designed well, even if they fit more in the Netherworld more than they do in Doolin. But maybe that's the point. I love the art style here; there's maybe just a little Tim Burton in Folklore, but it's too original to really compare. Audio mainly consists of battle sounds and a wonderful if limited soundtrack, ranging from a haunting piano tune for Doolin, and more epic fare for the Netherworld. The soundtrack is great, I just wish there was more of it. And voice acting is solid, but as I mentioned, there's so little of it.
On a final note, Folklore's also great for it's Irish mythology roots, which is something that's not really explored much in games or movies, at least not at this level. It's another reason Folklore is one of the most original games I've played in this article series. It's also a shame there's never going to be a sequel; though there was talk of one, Game Republic is no longer around these days. Alas,I'm glad we got this game at all. It still remains fresh after eight years (oh GOD it's eight years old), and it's still one of the best game worlds, stories, and combat systems around.
So...yeah. Go play Folklore! It's awesome.
Thanks for reading! As always, leave comments, suggest future games to be featured as Game of the Week, and find me on Twitter! Also, catch up with my other article series here, and consider subscribing to my Patreon if you like my stuff!
Next week-I've been going through my PS3 library, so I'm gonna replay a remastered PS2 title. It's one with a mechanic you wish you had in Dark Souls-the do-over.