Folklore: Whofore Art Thou, Charlotte?

This week, Kathy and I finished playing Folklore. I bought the game because I’d heard the story was great, and — as I wrote previously — I’d heard it was supposed to be an RPG. Wrong on both counts.

The gameplay was action/adventure throughout, with some RPG aspects, like leveling up and resource management. That was a bit of a surprise, but not a disappointment.

The disappointment was in how the story devolved into a mess.

The plot conveniences may have been helpful cop-outs for those who wrote them, but they made little sense to me. Important non-playable characters showed up with no explanation and then disappeared or died with little fanfare. One of the game’s seemingly major plots, a series of murders, is dismissed (pretty much resolution- and justice-free) with a few lines of dialogue about three-quarters of the way through.

And I never did learn to care about either of the two protagonists, who both alternated between braindead and omniscient. They either figured stuff out hours after I did, or they sussed out plot points with no evidence or explanation whatsoever.

My favorite unintentionally funny example of this was near the end of the game (This is so minor as to not even really be a spoiler). I’m walking around this Irish village where most of the game takes place, talking to people for what may be the last time. As my final stop, I go into the local pub to say my goodbyes to the barkeep. Our conversation ends with my character saying something like, “It’s important that Charlotte has a father. Promise me that you’ll take care of her.” The barkeep solemnly swears he will.

That’s all fine, except for one thing: Who the hell is Charlotte? I’d never even seen her or heard of her, much less met her! Yet, somehow, she means so much to me that the last lines I speak to a member of this village are about her. I found out afterward that she’s some little girl who spends the game in a building you never need to enter — so I hadn’t.

All that said, I kind of loved the game. The gameplay was a lot of fun. It wasn’t too twitchy and reaction-based. Even with my crap reflexes, it was possible to beat most battles with a good plan*. I always appreciate that.

My only gameplay complaint was regarding the placement of save points. Most games let you save right before a boss battle. Folklore, however, makes you save a few screens before each boss. So, should you lose against the boss, you have to waste about 10-15 minutes blasting through the same dozen chumps beforehand, every goddamn time. Besides that, though, I thought the battle system was well-constructed and fair.

And while the story’s execution was weak at times, the premise (fighting with and against faery folk in the land of the dead) and moral messages (including a kind of rebuttal of Pascal’s Wager) were cool.

Overall, I enjoyed Folklore and consider it twenty hours well-spent. But I’m still waiting for the PS3’s first great story (Uncharted is tops, so far). And I hope some full-fledged RPGs start rolling out on the system, soon. Fortunately, I’ve still got a bit of leftover PS2 fare (e.g., Persona 3) to tide me over.

* – There was, however, one boss battle that was tedious, unfair, and had Kathy and me on the brink of quitting. It was this giant flying, spinning lizard/shrimp/fish boss that would leave the screen for minutes at a time. So, even after we came up with a strategy to beat it, the battle took half a freaking hour each time we tried. After four or five tries, we were close to chucking the whole game. It was just stupid.

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