It almost seemed as if JRPGs on the Playstation 3 wouldn't make an appearance in the console's early lifespan. Those who've longed for such a game had Enchanted Arms, originally an Xbox 360 title, to tide their woes. But even Enchanted Arms, though a good game yet somewhat unfavored by many, wasn't enough to tide most. It wasn't until E3 2006 when early Playstation 3 adopters would be introduced to one of the many JRPGs heading to the system. Monster Kingdom: Unknown Realms was announced, later changing its name to FolksSoul (Folklore in the U.S.) wowed many with its surprisingly rich visuals comprised of a Gothic environment. I had the luxury of playing through FolksSoul for the past week. Without sounding too happy and amazed, FolksSoul truly is a good game. What's even more surprising is the developer behind the game, Game Republic, put a lot of effort into the game to prevent it from being another Genji: Days of the Blade. They fixed Genji's abundance of slowdowns and a very bad in-game camera.
The game's prologue opens up in such a nice fashion and treats the gamer to the introduction of the game's main characters, Ellen and Keats. As evidenced through the demo, Ellen receives a letter from her dead mother who tells Ellen to meet her on the shore of Lemrick Village. While Keats, a paranormal detective of sorts, receives a disturbing call from a young woman asking for his aid and to meet him, well, at the same place Ellen is meeting her dead mother. When Ellen arrives she sees a woman sitting, her body and head covered by a blanket, and asks why she was summoned there. It isn't until Keats appears and asks Ellen if she was the one who called him 'till both Ellen and Keats realize there never was a woman sitting there at all. The blanket goes with the wind, leaving Ellen to rush towards her dead mother only to realize nothing was ever there. From here the game prompts you to choose a character to begin the dark and twisted tale of two characters whose fates do intertwine in an odd fashion.
The good thing about FolksSoul is the game doesn't restrict you to just playing through the game with one character since, well, the character's scenarios do intervene at several points in the game. The game is divided into chapters with the beginning of each prompting you to choose between Ellen and Keats. Your progress in one character's scenario won't affect your progress in another character's scenario. So if you're worried about missing out on Keats' earlier chapters since you've played through most of the game as Ellen, you can take comfort in knowing Ellen's chapters don't move on if you've progressed further with Ellen. Where you were with Keats is from where you'll start their chapter. Like the demo, some of the game's sequences are told through comic book-esque scenarios devoid of voice overs and the ability to change the game's text to English, which is interesting considering the game's VAs are in English complete with Irish accents. I suppose this is a good thing considering the game is based off Irish fairy tales, and the voices do justice to their characters, sticking somewhat true to the origin.
The heart of FolksSoul is its convincing gameplay and how both characters go about fighting enemies. At the beginning of each character's prologue, each character is led by mystical figures (Ellen a scarecrow and Keats a clothed phantom) to a particular area of Lemrick where they receive supernatural powers to do combat in the Netherworld, where most of the game takes place. When fighting in the Netherworld Ellen and Keats must enlist the aid of Folks, the game's monsters, to do combat with other Folks. By holding R1 after weakening Folks and moving the SIXAXIS in an upward manner (similar to reeling in a fish), Ellen and Keats are able to extract the ID of almost any Folk to be used in combat after giving each Folk a face button. Four Folks can be used in battle with each one having its unique form of attacking. Some Folks are melee fighters, others are distance fighters, others are heavy hitters, and others have unique powers. Acquiring Folks can be easy, but throughout the course of the game, Ellen and Keats will encounter Folks that can only be defeated by using a particular Folk. Knowing which Folks to use to defeat certain Folks can be a problem, but the game makes use of a clever book you receive that requires you find its pages, scattered throughout the Netherworld, which contain illustrations of certain Folks being used to defeat certain Folks. Boss Folks and Miniboss Folks are extracted in the same manner as Folks with the exception that these kinds of Folks are extracted in a certain way. When a boss/miniboss' ID is green, you have to move the SIXAXIS in an upward manner and continue doing so until the bar at the bottom of the screen is full. Miniboss Folks can be used in battle; boss Folks can't.
Levelling up in the game is done for both the main characters and the Folks. Folks reach a new level and increase their abilities and skills when Ellen and Keats have absorbed enough of that same Folks' ID. Some newer skills can be learned this way; but in order for a Folk to truly be considered fully levelled, the game requires that you make use of jewels you find in various Stones of Thought as well as defeating Folks. Certain abilities/power ups require a certain amount of jewels, and all Folks make use of these jewels. As for levelling up with Ellen and Keats ; after a Folks' ID has been extracted, both Ellen and Keats receive a certain multiple of EXP (1.0/2.0/4.0/4.5 for example) that goes towards their personal level which, when levelled up, increases their HP and Folks' stamina bar which determines how long you can attack with your Folks before you let it charge.
The game overall takes a good 25-30 hours to complete and features a fairly good amount of sidequests. Neither of Ellen's and Keats' chapters are too long, and the game does have its challenging moments as evidenced in boss battles where Ellen and Keats have to use certain kinds of Folks to inflict damage to certain parts of an enemy. The slowdown featured in the demo a while back weren't rectified in the full version of the game, but as the slowdown in the demo weren't bad or anywhere near Genji: Days of the Blade, the slowdowns don't deter you from the overall game. There is a fair amount of back tracking involved in the game; and since the game blocks off where you aren't supposed to go, those of you who are importing the game can take comfort in knowing the game is pretty much a trial and error experience. Though the game's main text is in Japanese, VAs are in English with Irish accents and can be enjoyed by those who have little knowledge of the Japanese language. Of course the game may be a bit hard to understand since you can't read Japanese, but the cutscenes do provide you with a general understanding of exactly what is going on in the game.
If you're looking for a good JRPG to tide you over until the big guns come out later in the PS3's lifetime, FolksSoul is a definitive choice.