Folklore [Buy Now]
Watching greatness undermined by flaws and bad decision-making can be like dropping the birthday cake inches from the table. Or Bill Clinton's political career. Or the Miss America contestant who face-plants down the stairs in the evening gown competition.
Or like Folklore, Game Republic's ambitious and beautiful PS3 game that misses gaming greatness by the breadth of a fairy's wing and the length of some disastrous design decisions.
If you're down with Walt Disney and the happy pill-popping crowd at Hallmark, then you're probably still laboring under the misconception that fairies are flittering, friendly sprites happy to shower you in smiles, flowers, and pixie dust. Anyone who's read their Shakespeare (or their Susanna Clark) knows they're mischievous, powerful beings who are not to be trusted or trifled with.
In Folklore, it turns out that they're also amazing beatsticks as well. Who knew fairies could unleash such gorgeous devastation?
Two different people — Ellen, a 20-something who lost her mother as a child, and Keats, an editor of an occult magazine — are drawn to Doolin, a sea-swept Irish village where the living can interact with the dead. Ellen's wondering what's up with the letter dear ol' mum has sent her from beyond the grave. Keats is wondering about the desperate phone message he got from a fairy-plagued Doolin resident. To unravel the game's mystery, both of them — and you can play 'em both in storylines that parallel and interact with one another — will have to pay multiple visits to the Celtic-inflected Netherworld, the land of the dead and the land of the Folk, the fantastical creatures that serve as the game's enemies and weapons.
Arming your arsenal requires swiping the souls — also known as Ids — of the Folk creatures you encounter in the Netherworld's lushly designed worlds. (And I do mean lush — rainbow petals tumble from the sky, and everything glimmers with an otherworldly light.) Pummel on a Folk until its Id appears as a pink shadow hovering over its body, at which point you hit a shoulder button and jerk, shake, or twist the PlayStation 3's SixAxis controller to yank it out of the Folk and into you. Collecting Id is an absolute blast and leads to a ton of strategic options, as you choose which of the various fairy attacks — wind, flight electricity, and so on — you're going to map to the controller buttons.
Unfortunately, like Ben Stiller's karaoke-screeching spouse in The Heartbreak Kid, Folklore keeps finding ways to sabotage its fascinating vibe, beginning with its method of storytelling. The bulk of the game's cut scenes are staged as hyperstylized panels of a graphic novel, glacially paced and often confusing as hell. After trudging though one or two, you'll long for the much better full-motion cut scenes — or a return to the Netherworld, where you can actually control the pace of the game yourself.
It's also unbelievably odd that a game that gives you so many combat choices offers so few everywhere else. There's a map function, but it's pointless: The Netherworld maps are basically thin tunnels that lead into larger areas where big and/or boss battles go down. Oh, and don't bother with exploring when you're stuck in Doolin; if the game mentions heading off to the lighthouse keeper's hut, it's literally the only thing you'll be allowed to do to move the action forward. Some games — I'm thinking, as I often am, of God of War — find masterful ways to disguise the fact that they're basically locking you onto rails for your journey from Point A to Point B. Folklore seems almost proud of this fact, tossing it in your face at every opportunity.
Folklore could have been a fantasta-classic on the order of Ico. Instead, it's an interesting curiosity that only the most steadfast gamers will fully appreciate. Somewhere, Bill Clinton and Miss America are nodding.