Folklore (PlayStation 3)

Along with the 360’s Blue Dragon, this is one of the games I’m having a hard time reviewing. There is a lot done right, but there are considerable shortcomings too. I always feel like I should play some more before passing judgement. (I’ve already submitted my printed review of Blue Dragon, but I’m still playing it to see how it holds up over time. You’ll find my verdict on that in this space at some point in the future.) I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, since both games are highly polarized in reviews.

Folklore is a beautiful game. You play a girl and a reporter in Ireland, investigating a strange, remote village and the realms of the faeries. Most of the time you’re looking for clues and advancing the story in the “real world” in daylight, and when the night falls, you make your way into the “other side”, exploring the faery realms. The story starts out as a murder mystery and you need to find the dead people from the other side to gain clues from then. I like this structured approach to the basically story-driven game.

The story segments suffer from their presentation. They stop the game to take place in comic book frames, using the 3D models and even animating them slightly, but the pacing feels sluggish and it can be hard to follow. Add the constant loading (frequent, but not too slow) and exploring the village just loses a lot of immediacy.

In the faery world you need to fight hostile spirits, “folk”. This is done in real-time, using a set of four spirits you’ve acquired. The spirits are mapped to the gamepad’s face buttons and using each summons a spirit which does the work for you. So instead of charging an enemy, you summon a party of spirits to do so. Or fire guns, or perform bombing runs, or shield you from damage, or just hit very hard – and so on. In addition to the melee and ranged distinction, there are spirits bound to given elements. All this adds up to a pretty complicated, interesting combat mechanic. I love the Pokémon element of collecting new spirits – you can collect every enemy you beat in combat – and gathering experience for the ones you use. Switching spirits during combat is a breeze, owing to some inspired interface design.

If it was turn-based, I would probably love it. The real-time usually works well enough; the arenas are not too cramped and usually the enemies only come in a couple of variations per fight, so it doesn’t get too chaotic. The problem is the camera. It manages to get in the way in the simplest of circumstances, only keeping up when you’re circling a lone opponent in a large, circular arena. When you’re facing several opponents and you can’t see anything but yourself, things get needlessly cumbersome. If it wasn’t for the lock-on function, I’d say it was unplayable.

The music is good and the world has been crafted in an intriguing fashion. It has surprised me several times and there’s a feel that in the end, this might hold up as something of a gem, despite all the issues.






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