Folklore – “Interactive Art Museum”
“Folklore” is every art fan’s idyllic dream. From start to finish, your senses will be engaged in hundreds of sumptuous sights and sounds, beautifully blended in a sea of lush, vibrant colors and moving melodies, each referencing several art movements all at once, from realism to surrealism, minimalism to impressionism. The bundling of layers and layers of cultural and aesthetic influences into this arresting piece of audio-visual fanfare is baffling, to be honest, and its unique artistic expression is surely the main focus of the game. Journeying through its locations is always a breath of fresh air in the polluted aesthetic of the videogame environment, and it’s not to wonder, since it comes from a group of artists not commonly associated with videogames, such as the art director Kohei Toda or Kenji Kawai, one of the game’s 5 soundtrack composers, known for his work on Mamoru Oshii’s animes (“Ghost in the Shell”) and Hideo Nakata’s movies (“Ringu”). As the authors themselves admit, it’s a work heavily inspired by Patrick Woodruff and Roger Dean, Tim Burton and Danny Elfman, amongst many, many other visual artists and composers. It’s impossible to find a game that so clearly presents itself as an interactive art lesson, compressed in space and time into this beautiful fantasy story about a little girl named Ellen.
Ellen is all grown up now and lives a normal life, until the day she receives a letter from her long lost mother. Desperately in search for clues concerning her past as a little child, of which she bares no memories, she goes back to her childhood village, Doolin, an island along the Irish coast. There, she becomes aware of her power to travel into the Netherworld, the land where the spirits of the dead roam freely. Searching for her mother, she thus embarks on an allegoric journey into the deep corners of our collective subconscious’ dreams concerning death and the after-life. She explores several different interpretations of death, from the lands of the Faery Realm, a curious vision on Celtic mysticism, to the dark halls of Hell Realm, a modern view on religious Inferno, passing through an interpretation on atheist philosophical currents, The Infinite Corridor. Each of these worlds is tightly bound by an unique aesthetic frame, which allows the enormous variety of artistic styles and influences. The tale of the occult and mystic, which weaves these worlds together is interesting, dramatic and well written, even if at times, a tad eccentric for its own good. Delivered through nicely rendered cutscenes, a few FMV’s by Shirogumi and a stylized 3D vignette type of cutscene, which mimics graphic novels’ framings and mise-en-scene. The only major downfall in the narrative department comes from the lack of voice acting in the vignettes, which are the most prevalent storytelling vehicle in the game. At least, cutscenes and FMV feature good cinematic production values and excellent voice acting.
Where “Folkore’s” ambitions are brought back down to earth is in the interaction dimension. A sort of narrative driven action/adventure hybrid with mild rpg elements, “Folklore” never frees itself from the weight brought about by its director, Takashi Shono (director of the “Genji” series) and its executive producer, Yoshiki Okamoto (who also co-directed the first “Genji” and produced/directed a vast portfolio of classic Capcom games, from “Street Fighter” to “Resident Evil”). Despite the artistic marvel present in the game, the head honchos behind it decided to bring in their knowledge on the ludic genres they knew best, creating a game which revolves too much around mindless grinding and action, specially considering it’s a 20 hour experience. The result is an overlong “Onimusha”, with repetitive and dull combat, and with a bland level design that’s the same for all of the realms you explore in the netherworld. The poor interactive mechanics severely mar the story flow, and systematically impede a proper exploration of the wonderful sets designed by the art department, not to mention that they make little sense in an artsy production such as this.
“Folklore” is an experience like no other, and one that deserves all my love. Its sheer artistic value is enough to capture the spirit of any art enthusiast, and make him dream profusely with such delectable and delicate artwork. However, there’s a price to pay for its ambitions: to suffer the tedium of the game’s poor combat and mediocre game design, which constantly shatter the otherwise virtuous 3D art museum of “Folklore”. But hell, is it a ride worth dying for…