Sometimes, the best things in life are completely unexpected. Due to a veritable host of factors – blissful ignorance, an often cantankerous four-month-old son, and a longstanding penchant towards games featuring bullets, pucks, basketballs, and accelerators – I never had Folklore on my radar. After all, as a Japanese-flavored quasi action-RPG, it wasn't exactly near the top of my list of gotta-have-'em fall titles. Yet between some gorgeous visuals, a deep combat system, and a twisted world full of memorable people and places, Folklore is a highly entertaining experience on a system that desperately needs one.
Folklore follows the parallel paths of two characters who've been summoned to a remote village in Ireland. Ellen, a twenty-something wistful lass who's searching for clues about her past, and Keats, a reporter from an occult magazine, both make their way to a town called Doolin for very different reasons. Yet as they cross paths, an unfortunate trend of murder binds them together. Turns out that the town has a lot of secrets, including a gateway to a Netherworld where the spirits of the dead gather. In order to unravel the mystery that surrounds them, Ellen and Keats traverse back and forth from these planes of existence. It's a quirky tale with plenty of twists and turns to keep you guessing throughout.
...Folklore is a much-needed breath of fresh air on Sony's expensive next-generation machine.
Dozens of otherworldy characters await as Ellen and Keats move from the real world to the Netherworld. Above ground, a local pub acts as a quest hub of sorts, hosting a bunch of ragtag spirits that makes the Cantina on Tatooine appear downright mainstream. Below ground, the land of the dead boasts dozens of creatures as well, from purportedly well-mannered faeries to all sorts of dreamlike apparitions that will help the pair piece together elements of the past.
When not talking with invisible men or floating scarecrows, Ellen and Keats battle furiously with dozens of different enemies. Combat is deep and varied, and even though much of it is fighting off hordes of enemies Dynasty Warrior-style, there's a purpose for all the hacking and slashing. As you slay your foes, their "id" hovers over them, waiting to be absorbed. Once you've sucked up enough of this essence, their particular attack becomes part of your arsenal. As you come up against the ever-powerful bosses (called Folklore), you'll need to figure out which of these various tactics to use to take them down. There is some help to determine your approach in the form of "picture book pages" that you can pick up along the way, which provide hints in the form of illustrations on how to take down the behemoths. Of course, depending on your savviness with games of this ilk, you'll either "get it" right away or struggle through countless deaths while learning through trial-and-error. Let's just way that this review author is decidedly not what you would call savvy. Ellen and Keats can certainly attest to that fact.
It's almost impossible not to be sucked in from the get-go, as the visually arresting presentation rivals the best eye candy that the PS3 has to offer (even Heavenly Sword). However, the involved storyline isn't told exclusively through the cinemas. Folklore kicks it distinctly old-school, mixing in text-based conversations and comic-book-style scenes along with the movies. While it may sound strange, this actually works perfectly, and is paced well from start to finish.
About the only trait of Folklore's that's not typical of a true next-generation title is its decidedly ancient navigation. Each area of the world you explore (aboveground or in the depths of the Netherworld) is split into small chunks of a map, and whenever you leave one spot for another, there's a painful loading screen to set up the next area. When combined with a rather shoddy method of pointing you in the right direction to head towards the level's objectives, getting around in Folklore is my biggest (and, really, only) complaint.
Even so, there's no doubt that Folklore is a much-needed breath of fresh air on Sony's expensive next-generation machine. All PS3 owners owe it to themselves to check it out. While it may not have universal appeal, it's a superbly polished and eminently playable offering on a platform that still awaits a defining set of exclusives. It may not wind up selling any systems on its own, but it's still a worthy gem.