Tim Burtonís movies have an undeniable style to them that is a sort of predictable-imaginative Ė you know whatís coming but still charmed all the same. The problem with Burtonís movies, I find, is that, while I like the design and tone of the characters, Iím not a huge fan of what they say. Itís when the story goes into any degree of detail that I find myself not paying attention and becoming increasingly bored. Folklore is like a Burton game: a great look, secondary characters, and a story that has points of interest but becomes a chore to care about. Fortunately for Folklore, but unfortunately for Burton, heavy artillery, a two-headed arguing robot, and a Faery war go a long way in keeping things interesting.
A mysterious phone call or a mysterious letter, depending on which character is chosen, the obtuse reporter Keats or the confused Ellen, is the starting point of Folkloreís tale of mystery and murder. Set in Ireland, a convoluted story of the supernatural and death unfolds as Keats sets out to discover why he was called and Ellen tracks down the writer of the letter. Each character plays out through a prologue and seven missions, either straight through with each or alternating between the two after completing a level. As tempting as it is to play through one side to completion it is important to alternate between characters, less you play too far and ruin the other characterís story.
That is, if you can even follow the story. Told through standard profile shots and dialogue boxes set in a weird comic book-style, many of the names, faces, and events will be lost among shaking screens, sliding panels, word bubbles cluttering the screen, and poor, jarring transitions from one scene to the next. The overall story is indeed interesting, as are the incredibly imaginative folk and original characters that are met. Getting to the key story points, however, is like walking through a fog; and it often doesnít matter since the key points tend to conveniently condense the preceding events into a few sentences.
What makes Folkloreís story interesting isnít just the cast of characters but the incredible presentation. The graphics are gorgeous, the voice-overs for the non-playable characters are excellent (much less so for Keats and Ellen), and the sound is some of the best Iíve heard in a game. The game simply looks and sounds like a fairy tale should. Itís hard not to get lost in the world when a lumbering tree and a tiny, poorly dressed mouse are the normal crowd at the local pub. Alternating between the real world and the netherworld, Keats and Ellen will focus their newly discovered powers of transition between the realms on solving the townís mysteries by talking to the memories of the deceased. The concept is definitely interesting, and the supporting cast does a phenomenal job in their respective roles.
There will be plenty of obstacles though. Spread throughout the several planes are creatures, folk, that arenít friendly. These creatures attack in a variety of manners and exist in seven unique realms. Once a folk has been defeated their id will be released, which can be absorbed by using a very Ghost Busters-like stream that emanates from the main characters and wrestled via motion detection into their possession; if not absorbed the first time, the ids return to the folk who then renew their attack, and subsequent failures lead to the spirit dying and taking their id with them. Further absorption of already possessed folk will increase that specific spiritís potency.
After being absorbed, the ids are then used to attack and defend against foes. This aspect is very much like Pokemon in that large repertoires of abilities are accessible through creatures that are called upon and whose powers can be specific to certain situations. There are slight variations in how Keats and Ellen use folk and which kind each collect. To find out just how to tackle the numerous folk, pages of realm-specific books are found that show an alien language and drawings that indicate what creatures are used to kill enemies. Discovering a folkís weakness and then subsequently wrestling its id from them is fun at first, but after a while I found myself tired of the tracking down pages and slinging the controller around like a madman.
The various abilities are imaginative and extensive, including everything from folk creatures to twentieth century military units to original creations. The ids will launch bombardments, slam grounds, freeze, cut, burn, smack, just about everything imaginable. There will be elemental powers that counter elemental obstacles, as well as enemies whose nature will be countered in a similar manner. With over 100 powers, there are plenty to seek out and utilize.
While the setting, music, and powers are good, the main characters are drab and actually a little exasperating. Ellenís transformation into super trench coat heroine is borderline silly and Keatsí asinine behavior makes him one of the most unlikable main characters Iíve played in a long time. I just didnít care about them. And if Keats had stretched to make one more reference regarding reporting or journalism, I think I wouldíve tried to finish him off myself. The interplay between the two was also very weak, and their general obtuse-to-the-point-of-eye-rolling behavior made a short game seem like it was dragging on for too long in several spots. Decisions will be made in one portion that affects the other, but the changes are more to provide slight alterations rather than provide full-fledged alternative storylines.
There were also some technical and design problems as well. The biggest gripe I have is the ineffective lock-on and camera systems. While fighting one or two enemies at a time, the targeting system and camera function about on par with most games; but anytime a larger group (which was more common) or one of the giant folk bosses were on screen, everything would go to hell. Having to fight the camera just to bring a boss into view is inexcusable. The characters also have stiff animations that further exasperate the problems.
The biggest problem with Folklore is that the story becomes boring and the characters tedious. Despite the phenomenal presentation, the main characters were just completely uninteresting and the storyís plot peaks were connected by periods of convoluted storylines that just dogpile characters onto a simple plot. There are other positives, including optional sidequests that become available, downloadable quests, and also the ability to create and download user-created simplified dungeons. Maybe if players were allowed to tweak the story itself things wouldíve turned out a little better.
There is a lot to like about Folklore, like the folk creatures, bounty of powers, rich and humorous non-playable characters, and beautiful graphics and music. Itís just a shame that the most prominent elements of the game - the main characters and the extended story - are a bore. I donít know how a story about jumping between realms and meeting the memories of the dead could be made uninteresting, but someone at Game Republic found a way to do just that. Focus on the plethora of powers and getting lost in the rich surroundings, youíll be better off for it.