A creativity blog - including reviews, photographs and discussion on a variety of things; such as dragons and other things almost but not quite completely entirely unlike tea.

Wednesday, 25 December 2013

"Even invisible men need to express themselves"

Among the first games I bought for my PS3 were games I knew to be good, either because they were sequels to games whose predecessors I had loved, or because I had been introduced to them at a friend's place - I have mentioned these first games in a previous blog post about Bayonetta, but as a reminder, the others were Devil May Cry 4 and Final Fantasy XIII. This blog post, however, does not discuss either of those games, but another game entirely: Game Republic's Folklore.

Folklore is another one of those PS3 games I became acquainted with at a friend's place. The demo, which was available in Playstation Store, was one of the first demos I downloaded on my PS3 when I finally found the money to purchase it. The full game is only available in disc format though, so it took some time before I found it in my local videogame store and got to play past the first chapters. Plural for chapters, because in Folklore you have two characters, Ellen and Keats, with whom you play through the same story arc from different points of view, intersecting with each other every once in a while. Basically you play through all the same levels with both characters, but their approach is always a bit different. The same story is being told through different points of view, so the actual plot differs only a bit - most notable difference is in the characters' weaponry; or the Folk they get to use as such.

The beginning of the game takes you to the village of Doolin, which is an actual village on the west coast of Ireland, right by the Atlantic Ocean. Ellen is brought there by a letter that is supposedly been written by her dead mother, whereas Keats receives a mysterious phone call suggesting there might be something going on in the village worthy of his attention as a journalist to an occult magazine. Both arrive on the eve of Samhain, that is, the Celtic harvest festival, which marks the turn from summer to winter - the origin of the American Halloween. Samhain was treated as a very mystical time of year. According to Suzanne Barret, it was believed that a lot of supernatural events took place during Samhain (as well as on Beltain, which is on May 1st): it was a night when the fairies swarmed and one had to be careful of moving about outside, out of fear of being abducted by the otherwordly creatures - also, it was a day of remembrance of the dead and some believed it was possible to communicate with the dead on the night of Samhain.

This is also the premise of the game Folklore. Ellen arrives to find out about the letter that has been sent to her, impossibly it seems, by her dead mother and after learning of the possibility of meeting the dead, decides to go looking for her mother in the Netherworld. For Ellen, the village and the faery realms she accesses are a journey of self-discovery. She has lived in an orphanage most of her life and does not remember anything about her childhood. The arrival of the mysterious letter makes her uneasy and so the player needs to guide her through the game to discover her past. I'm not myself a huge fan of Ellen, nor of playing with her, even though she is the central character of the story and most of the events of the game are put in motion by her arrival to the village. My dislike is due to her being so predictable as a character, I suppose. But luckily there are several minor characters who steal the spotlight occasionally from our tragic heroine, so the player is not required to roll their eyes at the main character all the time.

At the same time, in the same place, Keats arrives to the village just in time to witness a tragic accident on the cliffs near the village - the incident and finding out about the legends of Samhain intrigue his curiosity as a reporter and he enters the faery realms in order to write the story of his life-time. But as is often the case, solving mysteries turns out to be more of a handful than it seemed at first - for uncovering the first secret yields two more and more surprises seem to be waiting around every bend. Playing through the game it sometimes seems the two characters are on opposing sides of the conflicts, but they manage to work through it together after all. I have currently played the game up to a point where I cannot continue Keats' journey until I catch up with him with Ellen - at first I played a chapter with each character before moving to the next one, but I quickly tired of running through the same maps time and again, so I decided to stick with Keats from chapter three onwards. The NPCs in Keats' previous chapter kept telling me how the next one will be "the last big one" or something such, so I don't think a lot of the game is still left after I manage to trudge through the remaining chapters with Ellen. That being said, games sometimes cheat in that respect too. (Mainly Persona 3, Final Fantasy X and other similar games... But those ones are often quite obvious cheats, and as the games are so enjoyable, there are most often no hard feelings for continuing with the game even after the "final fight".)

The actual game play in Folklore is, in my opinion, a lot of fun. When in the village of Doolin, you can do little else than run or walk around and talk with people, maybe sometimes search places for clues or something such. Once you enter the Netherworld, however, the action begins. You get to meet differents kinds of Folk, or faery people, living in different sorts of realms you get to access one by one as the story progresses. Each Folk has an Id and it is possible for the characters to absorb these Ids and then start using them as weapons. Each Folk has some sort of attack, or possibly a defend, and you assign Folks on the buttons on your controller - pressing a button then executes an assigned Folk's action. After absorbing Folks you also get an info note about them to the menu and can also see the tasks you need to complete to make the Folks stronger to use. Completing a task is called releasing Karma and can sometimes take a while, bringing a bit of that beloved running around from one corner of the map to the other, leveling up your weapons, into the otherwise rather straightforward game. Most of the first Folks you get you can level up to maximum right in the first realm, but later in the game you need to travel between several different worlds in order the get all the Karma released. Releasing Karma has several different results: the cost of using a Folk is lessened, you get more consecutive uses out of a Folk or a single use becomes stronger, for instance.

As mentioned, Ellen and Keats have different Folks they get to use as weapons, but there are also some that are the same for both characters. However, most often than not, the action the Folk performs is a bit different, even if it is the exact same Folk, but the character controlling it is different. With Ellen, most of the Folks seem to be separate from her, in that they often charge away from her or jump in front of her to do whatever it is they do - but with Keats the Folks often just seem like a continuation of his own arms, complementing his movements. This sometimes makes it difficult to play consecutively with both characters, as you keep expecting them to execute the same actions with the same Folks. Luckily there are also the other Folks which are unique to their respective characters. Some have magical attacks too, the elements of which are indicated by the colours of the circles around them. In the Folk palette, where you can choose Folks for your pad, you can even arrange the Folks by their elements, as opposed to the default arrangement by worlds.

And naturally, some Folks can only be defeated by some other Folk's attack, while others are useless against it... This is true both in regards the smaller Folks as well as the bosses, or Folklores, which await the player at the end of chapters. Most of the bosses are challenging in some respect, but as it is possible to collect Picture Book pages throughout the way to the boss (which give the player hints on how to defeat the bosses) the main problems are posed by such age-old evils as camera angles, attacking-and-not-hitting or running out of Folk juice (or whatever the thing's called) just when the enemy is prone and you're supposed to be hitting them with everything you've got.... And when you've managed to coax their Ids out of them (i.e. make them visible) you need to absorb the Id. This is accomplished by attaching to it (via pressing a button, but you need to be close enough too) and jerking the controller up (normally), although sometimes you need to soften the Id up by turning, shaking or timing the movement of the controller (and the Id), before the Id allows itself to be absorbed. And if there are enemies around you when you're doing this... Well, they've every right to hit you while you're standing still, don't they? Doesn't make it any less annoying.

I've now reached the point in this blog post, where I can finally get to the root of the game, as it were. And that is:

...this game is pretty.

The music is excellent too, if a bit repetitive at times, but then, that's background music for you. One of the things I'd like to change for this game is the amount of voice acting - there's way too little of it and I'd really like to listen to those lovely Irish accents a lot more while playing. Most of the dialogue is in text format, however, and I suppose it's nice too to hear the rustling of pen-on-paper while the characters talk, too... But as there are some instances where there is voice acting, I for one am left wanting for more.

I hope to be actually able to finish the game when I get back to my console for the New Year's... But as I've played a lot of it already, I felt I'm already capable of writing this introduction of the game and maybe encourage other people to at least try the free demo from PStore, nudge, nudge, wink, wink.

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