The global economic crisis has dealt many cruel hands over the last three years. Even in this ever evolving and steadfastly emerging industry, game studios and development companies are in no way immune or impervious from their own share of the hardship. As is all too often the case in this current recessive paradigm, the best and brightest are often the first to be culled. Nearly every week we hear a new report or headline that details a studio’s downsizing initiative, a significant closure and/or the concurrent loss of dozens, sometimes hundreds of jobs. Last week it was BlackRock in the UK. You can be sure that another studio will bid adieu to the gaming world at some stage this week. The security just isn’t there. It doesn’t matter if you developing Call of Duty or a small independent indie digital title, uncertainty prevails.
It was with great sadness that word of Game Republic’s closure emerged a couple of weeks ago. With no more than a hand full of titles under their belt, the studio still had a long way to go you would have thought. Sure, most of what they had produced up to this point could hardly be collectively regarded as huge commercial successes, but none the less, they showed great promise and initiative. The company, the brainchild of former of indigenous Capcom talent Yoshiki Okamoto, employed some 300 employees towards the end and in its six year history were responsible for everything from the Genji franchise, to last year’s Majin and The Forsaken Kingdom and this year’s Knights Contract. But of the dozen or so titles that Game Republic are responsible for, it is 2007’s Folklore that is perhaps the most indicative of the talent, creativity and vision that resonated between the cubicles of the now defunct development studio. Some four years on, Folklore remains a unique and beautiful experience, one that’s deserving of a good trawl through the bargain bins for those of you who have yet to experience the sleepy quaint mysterious thrills of the inexplicable village of Doolin.
One of the coolest things about Folklore is its setting. It’s actually set in contemporary Ireland. Doolin is, strangely enough, actually a real village found in Co. Clare. Doolin acts as a passageway to another world, a realm inhabited by Folk, a batch of mysterious and mythical creatures. Don’t go thinking these folk are like Pokémon or anything like that, they’re much more ornate and precious. The story is told from the perspective of two playable characters, Ellen, a young university undergraduate and Keats, a journalist with Unknown Realms, an occult centred magazine. Both have two very different reasons to be in Doolin. Ellen was drawn to the town by a letter from her dead mother (come to think of it, that sounds very Silent Hill). Keats comes to Doolin following a phone call from a panicked old woman who believes Faerys are trying to kill her. Both stories are episodic based and have a different impetus but eventually the tale of Keats and Ellen intertwine.
Folklore is brimful of charm, from the detached and insular eerie simple surrounds of Doolin to the beautiful kaleidoscopic poetic vistas of the folk Netherworld. Everything is perfectly stylised and the bewildered misty greys of Doolin and the sumptuous primary’s of the folk world are perfectly complimentary to the character of each setting. The art direction and the level design are simply wondrous. I had forgotten just how beautiful this game was. It hasn’t aged one bit. Its design and execution arguably goes unrivalled on Playstation 3 for a fantasy game of this kind. On the surface, it’s an RPG but what you’re actually engaging with is more of an action title. When in the Netherrealm you will battle any number of folk to ensure progression. Each folk has different abilities and different characteristics. You must defeat a folk and collect its soul before you can harness said soul and use collected folk powers against other folks. Folks you collect are attached to the face buttons and are deployed during battle; this interchange is, for the most part quite seamless. It makes for engaging and lighting quick battles. There’s also an underscoring element of strategy employed as certain folk will only take damage from specific folk types. It’s quite a layered system and with a bevy of folk souls to collect, there are infinite combinations of folk to throw at the creatures you encounter. What Folklore does that most other games don’t these days, is utilise (and effectively utilise for that matter) the Playstation 3’s SIXAXIS functionality. When a folk has relinquished its threat, you can essentially pry their soul from their physical being. Here you play something of a tug of war match with the soul and when the timing is just right, a quick yank of SIXAXIS should ensure the soul is yours to store and use when you see fit. It’s a very subtle integration of SIXAXIS but it’s effective and in no way defines combat. More games should have taken a risk with SIXAXIS. Folklore proves that it could be used effectively.
The story is inherent to proceedings and it’s told in a number of splendid ways, in traditional text based stand and deliver sequences, in a stylized and very cool frame by frame comic book collage and in any number of beautiful CG sequences. It would have been really cool if each sequence was voiced instead of wholly relying on text but this is only a small gripe. The story is engaging stand alone enough to grab your attention regardless of the vehicle the developers use to bring it to you.
One thing that really stuck out in this replay was actually how much repetition there is in the piece. Sure, Keats and Ellen’s stories have different starting points, but once you start playing through the second time with the other character you’ll realise that there’s quite a bit of overlap. Again, it’s not that big of a deal, especially since the characters are so fantastic and the combat is so fluid. But still, it can become a tad tedious seeing the same sequences and reading the same text over and over again.
Folklore isn’t perfect, but its beauty is undeniable. In 2011, it deserves your attention, now more than ever. Back in 2007, the PS3 didn’t have the robust catalogue of exclusives and triple AAA titles it has right now. If you like a good story with engaging characters and creatures, thrown into surroundings unlike anything you’ve ever engaged with before, then you should really give Folklore a try. It’s the Playstation 3’s forgotten classic. Take it upon yourself to give this one ago. It’s a true gem.