Friday, June 1, 2007

Folklore Demo Impressions

Today, the Japanese PSN Store saw the release of the demo version of Folklore (or FolksSoul as it's known in Japan) an action RPG from Genji developer, Game Republic.

As it is all in Japanese the subtle nuances of the story escape me, such as why there is a giant blue rat wearing an oversized 19th century European suit, complete with extremely tall top hat. But, I'm sure it all makes sense though...really. Regardless, the game is flat out awesome.

I knew little about the game until Sony's recent Gamer Day and from that I learned you can suck the souls out of your enemies and not much more.

As I write this I am walking around a fairly nondescript European style pub in an equally non descript town perched on a cliffside. This pub, however, is populated with a number of fantastical creatures, not what I was expecting upon walking in.

A jovial, but rotund, witch with a hedgehog on her shoulder sweeps by the fireplace, while an elegantly dressed blue-skinned lady with a parasol floating above her, (who looks like a less stylized version of Tim Burton's Corpse Bride) looks on. The bartender is nothing so much as a 7 foot tall Cousin Itt, only with a straw hat, long ears, and bulging eyes. Sitting at a table across from him is a massive pig-like creature with an upturned blue snout and white hair covering his eyes. He sits with the aforementioned blue rat, who is actually quite tiny. The cutscene, and the fact that he is wearing what looks like a man's suit that is 6 sizes to big for him, lent him the appearance of being much bigger than he is.

As I exit I am accosted by a lamp-wielding scarecrow-looking creature who looks like a darker, more realistic, version of the Skull Kid from Zelda: Majora's Mask.

I notice the name of the bar, in English, above the door: "The Little Neighbors".

After finding myself at a Stonehenge like ruin and meeting with another scarecrow, my decidely modern looking clothes are magically replaced with more appropriate fantasy attire and I am teleported to a world where the creatures in the pub would feel at home.

Soon enough I am in battle with the indigenous creatures, and the combat system is fantastic. You begin with two powers, which you can assign to any of the 4 face buttons, and use them to attack. After pounding on a monster their soul will become visible above them, this is your cue to hit the R1 button at which point a beam of energy links you and the creature's soul and you draw it in, jerking the Sixaxis towards you like you're pulling in a fish. You gain experience and new powers in this way although I'm not sure if the experience is for your character, for increasing that particular power, or both. It seems capturing multiple souls at a time gives an experience boost.

What is awesome is the creatures you face are your weapons and magic. Your basic "sword" attack is a leaf skirted wood sprite who quickly appears in front of you to attack, the very same creature you will face all over this first area. As you defeat new enemies their powers become your own and they can be utilized at the push of whatever button you assign them to.

If it sounds cumbersome, it is anything but. Combat is fast paced and fluid and the use of the Sixaxis to capture souls works perfectly, a slight tug is sufficient to draw it in and it feels natural in the midst of battle. The L1 button lets you lock on to the nearest enemy Zelda-style for focused attacks. The battles are reminiscent of Zelda but even faster paced. It plays how all action RPG's should.

The music and sound is gorgeous: ethereal and spooky, full of soft chimes, evoking the Harry Potter films. Wolves can be heard howling off in the distance.

Graphically, the game is extemely impressive, which is saying something seeing as it is downscaled to 480p on my 1080i-only HDTV. I refused to buy Resistance because it looked terrible on my TV but I would have no problem playing this game in 480p. It might even convince me to upgrade my set because if it looks this good in SD it must look amazing in HD.

Cutscenes are presented in a graphic novel style using the game engine as well as still art. Very well done.

Needless to say, I am kind of blown away by the game so far, and it may very well be the first actual PS3 game I ever play on the system I've owned since launch. Hopefully the game will live up to the promising gameplay shown in the demo, it could easily end up being somewhat of a disappointment if there are limited areas and creature souls to devour.

FolkLore hits Japan in a few weeks and will be releasing this Fall in the US.

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