Review by · December 10, 2007

Originally believed to be a project related to the PSP title “Monster Kingdom: Jewel Summoner,” details slowly but steadily surfaced about this PlayStation 3 project involving creative director Kouji “Cozy” Okada. However, it was later discovered that the Shin Megami Tensei series mastermind would only play an “advisory” role as creative director for this project, which was called “FolksSoul” in Japan and slightly renamed “Folklore” in North America, Europe, and Australia.

Folklore brings with it a number of unique elements, including some concepts that, to our knowledge, have never been done in a game before. However, the unfortunate truth is that Folklore also suffers from a couple of basic gameplay flaws that can cripple any otherwise-excellent Action RPG. Let’s take a look.

My id is bigger than yours…

Let’s start by straightening out one thing: genre. Sony touted this game as an “action adventure,” with no mention of the word “RPG.” There was much debate as to whether or not one would even consider Folklore an RPG. Here’s some supporting evidence: HP, MP, experience points, character leveling, monster leveling, inventory, optional quests, voluntary revisiting of dungeons, and some equipment (costume) changes. That’s RPG enough for us.

Here’s a nice way to describe Folklore: take two parts Kingdom Hearts, two parts Pokémon, and one part Ghostbusters, mix it all together, and you have yourself a pretty good picture of what Game Republic has designed. Playing as either Ellen or Keats, you enter the Netherworld and fight the “folks” within. These folks are the remaining negative feelings and memories of past souls. Once you’ve smacked them up enough, hold R1, flick the Sixaxis control upward, and you suck up the enemy’s id, allowing you to summon the enemy at any point.

There are anywhere from 10 to 20 monsters in each of the seven Netherworld areas seen in Folklore. When in combat, you use up to four “folks” at a time, assigning one to each button. Each “folk” type has a specific ability. The first two you are given are basic attack and defense with no elemental affiliation. As you progress through the game, you’ll find all kinds of different folks with different abilities. In the menu, they are described as having: short, medium, or long range; single, multi, or area-based target; wind, water, fire, ice, thunder, earth, slash, destroy, or “non” elements; attack, defense, or support/status effect.

And it’s this system that makes Folklore so unique and also so much fun to play. Gamers have seen dozens of monster-collecting and monster-summoning titles before, but never in an Action RPG, where hitting the button makes the monster appear for a split second and do the attack right in front of you. The system is, quite frankly, a new innovation. I’ve never seen anything like it before, and the fact that it works is a big deal.

Much like a Zelda or Metroid game, the bosses in Folklore are puzzles in and of themselves. The hints for defeating these bosses (actually called “Folklore” by name) are given in pages of picture books, which can be found randomly or given to you by NPCs. These picture book entries show black-and-white drawings of certain folks taking on the folklore, and how they would succeed. These are the only hints given to you and they become increasingly important once you’ve amassed dozens of folks in your arsenal, yet only a few can damage the boss. Bosses (and other large enemies) present the added challenge of a Sixaxis mini-game. Absorbing their id with your Ghostbuster-like abilities will require any combination of various minigames: shaking the controller violently, balancing the controller as the id moves back and forth, smacking the id to the ground by tilting the controller left and right, and other little gimmicks. These can be frustrating and monotonous, but they nicely demonstrate the Sixaxis’ capabilities, unlike other early PS3 titles.

As an individual character, you level by absorbing the id of folks. It is possible to kill monsters without absorbing their ids either by just bashing them senselessly or using an element that doesn’t show their id popping out (a blue/green flash coming out of them is the visual stimulus to look for, and red means it’s time to suck ’em up). If you absorb more than one id in one flick of the Sixaxis by locking on to multiple red ids, you get a “combo” EXP bonus. Leveling up your character (Ellen or Keats) increases your HP, as well as MP regeneration rate.

MP is used for the summoning of ids. Each time you hit or hold a button to bring (or keep) an id onto the field, MP is drained. If the MP bar reaches the bottom, you have to wait until enough returns to attack again. MP rises and falls at a fast pace, allowing the combat to be equally fast-paced and forcing you not to pull out ids rashly. Even with the fast pace, strategy is important during these battles.

The folks in your arsenal gain levels by completing certain requirements individualized to each id. These are generally simple tasks like “absorb 5 ids of the folk,” or “collect some particular item,” or “defeat such-and-such enemy with your folk.” Each folk only levels up 3 or 4 times, and increasing their level will strengthen them in a variety of ways, depending on what their specialty is.

Now that you’ve heard all about this new and interesting combat system, the question remains: what is the setting for all of this?

Do this, do that, Doolin

A young lady named Ellen has no memories of her childhood, nor of her mother. She assumed her mother was dead, until she receives a letter from her mother saying to meet her in the mysterious island village of Doolin. Around the same time, a journalist for an occult-themed magazine receives a phone call from a frantic woman saying that she needs to be rescued from Doolin village, or else the Faerys will kill her! This strapping young man, named Keats, also heads to Doolin to learn the truth.

The game is broken into seven chapters (as well as a prologue), which you can complete as Ellen or Keats. After each chapter, you are taken to a screen where you choose whom you will play as next. This doesn’t mean you play chapter 1 as Ellen, then 2 as Keats, etc. You complete each chapter with each character, and near the end of the game (after chapter five) you cannot progress until both characters are caught up to the same place.

During the Prologue, a number of things happen. Ellen and Keats arrive at a cliff (the “cliff of Sidhe”) and witness a woman collapse and fall off the cliff. Ellen initially believes this is her mother, but it turns out to be the mother of another villager named Suzette. That night, both Ellen and Keats cannot sleep. They wander to the pub where they meet some strange, surreal creatures who tell them about the possibility of visiting the Netherworld. Believing she might find her mother there, Ellen goes. Keats follows behind, thinking he can get a good scoop for his magazine.

Ellen meets a scarecrow who tells her to put on a magic cloak. Keats meets an invisible man who informs him that he is destined to be Ellen’s protector and guardian. Unfortunately, it isn’t all that simple. Once they enter the Netherworld, Ellen meets the Faery Lord, an ancient and wise being who has plans to dig deep into the layers of the Netherworld and “right the wrongs” of so many centuries prior. Keats, however, does not trust the Faery Lord, and instead aligns himself with a dark and rebellious woman named Livane.

Throughout the chapters, Ellen and Keats head to different parts of the Netherworld to dig up the mysteries of 17 years ago, 5000 years ago, as well as the present. Most of these mysteries involve murders: who died, who killed them, and what the motives were.

As you read, you may ask yourself: “how can events from 5000 years prior have anything to do with this game?” Here’s our hint to you: Doolin Village is clearly located somewhere in the realm of the British Isles (either Ireland or Scotland), and Doolin Village is host to some stone ruins called the “Henge.” There is a yearly festival surrounding the Henge called “Samhain,” where people supposedly have the opportunity to meet the dead. Of course, the villagers of present-day Doolin believe this to be legend, myth, or should we say, “folklore”? But what if it’s true? In fact, what if the beliefs and religion of the ancient folk of this land are more factual than the large-scale constructed religions of today? The ideas and worldviews presented in Folklore are more deep and heady than one might imagine by looking at the fantastic, childlike, Tim Burton-esque visuals.

Taking it all in

Indeed, the visuals in Folklore are fantastic. However, there are some problems. First of all, you won’t say to yourself “yes, this is next-gen material” unless you own some sort of HD-displaying device. Experiencing this game on a standard-definition television was a gross disappointment; indeed, even the text was blurry and difficult to read. But the clear and stunning pictures presented from an HDTV are what make this game look great.

Unfortunately, all non-combat areas have a completely fixed camera. There is no way to appreciate all of the visual environments in these areas. Even in the combat areas, the camera doesn’t have much movement on the vertical axis. Also, targeting enemies is another problem. Hitting “L1” is supposed to target the nearest enemy, but if there are no enemies in the character’s line of sight (regardless of where your camera is positioned) the camera just quickly throws itself 180 degrees. There are a few variations to camera control in the options menu, but none of them seemed to fix these very basic problems.

The other problem with the graphics is that it seems the game is a little too big for its britches. Even after “installing” the game to the PS3’s hard drive, the load times were sizeable enough to warrant frustration. A load screen appears before every dialogue sequence and every move from one area to another. Load screens average somewhere between three and five seconds. This is a shame, but it’s also to be expected from a game developed so early in the console’s lifespan.

The game’s audio is wonderful, but lacking in sheer quantity. The voice acting is amazing, some of the best I’ve heard since Final Fantasy XII, but there is very little of it. Voiced dialogue only takes place during all-out FMV sequences. The trademark “comic panel” cut scenes don’t use voiced dialogue, nor do standard in-game dialogue sequences. This is a shame, because Sony hired some of the best, most authentic English voice actors for this game. I hope they are used again for future projects.

The music, reminiscent in some ways of a Danny Elfman score, is just as impressive as the dialogue. However, even for a game as short as this one (about ten hours), there aren’t enough songs that stand out. The game re-uses three or four distinct melodic motifs in a variety of different instrumentations, and while these are beautiful, and they do their job well, I would’ve liked to hear more of this great stuff. The aural weak points are the battle themes, which are hit-or-miss in terms of quality.

Ready to die

Though the game’s progression is simple and formulaic, its combat system and plot stand out as remarkable: beautiful in their subtlety and understated styles. Since the RPG library on the PlayStation 3 is currently lacking, RPG fans would do well to at least try this game out. The game isn’t epic, given its relatively short length, but it is everything RPG fans would want from a short title: fun, challenge, mystery, and an incredible story. The only things that could’ve been done to improve the title? Fix the camera issues, tweak the battle system and the Sixaxis “mini-games,” and put in a whole lot more voiced dialogue. But even with these flaws, I was generally impressed by Game Republic’s first PlayStation 3 game; Folklore earns an 82% from this humble reviewer.

Overall Score 82
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Patrick Gann

Patrick Gann

Therapist by day and gamer by night, Patrick has been offering semi-coherent ramblings about game music to RPGFan since its beginnings. From symphonic arrangements to rock bands to old-school synth OSTs, Patrick keeps the VGM pumping in his home, to the amusement and/or annoyance of his large family of humans and guinea pigs.