Stories: The Path of Destinies
Developed by: Spearhead Games (a Montreal-based studio featuring talent from Assassin’s Creed 2, Assassin’s Creed 3, and Dead Space 3)
Published by: Spearhead Games
Available on: PS4 (reviewed), PC
In a nutshell: A Link to the Past meets Bastion in a charming choose your own adventure novel.
Choose your own adventure novels were popular among the middle school crowd growing up, but rather than trying to act as a hero, I had more fun getting the characters in to trouble. However, I quickly discovered that authors never truly anticipated a child wanting to witness the darker side of adventure or derring-do, and thus my curiosity was rarely rewarded.
In Stories: The Path of Destinies, failure is the only option.
As the fox pirate Reynaldo, you’ll explore a cluster of floating islands in an attempt to best a crazy frog emperor and his army of menacing ravens. How you get there, though, is entirely up to you.
In the opening moments, Reynaldo stumbles upon a magical book that not only records his deeds but allows him to flip its pages in reverse and begin his adventure anew — complete with all the weapons and skills he’s unlocked along the way. Much like re-reading a choose your own adventure book, this allows you to see different outcomes and use what you’ve learned to make better decisions on subsequent playthroughs.
For instance, in the early goings you’re given the option to help a friend in need, or leave him for dead in favor of seeking out a powerful weapon that could swing the conflict in favor of the rebellion. Both lead to different outcomes (generally bad ones), known as truths, and open up additional areas and storylines on your next attempt. Following my gut on the first go saw Reynaldo rush in to a suicide run, which ended as you’d expect, but it unlocked an entire sub-plot on my next attempt surrounding a mysterious stone that promised unlimited power — and we all know where that’s headed.
Had I chosen differently, I’d have missed out on a significant sub-plot entirely. Sure, Reynaldo died, and sure, it was my fault. But bad choices or not, they were mine. They mattered. For the first time in a while, my decisions in a video game weren’t predictable and I felt encouraged to explore them from all angles — even if it meant accidentally killing a man by poking him in the chest with a sword “for emphasis.” It was awesome.
Accompanying a fairly memorable ensemble of characters is the witty narrator, who dips in to his bag of tricks to not only voice the entire cast, but provide snarky quips and comic relief during actual moments of gameplay. The narrator knows what truths you’ve experienced and doesn’t hesitate to remind you of your less than desirable outcomes, but he also steps back to take jabs at Assassin’s Creed, makes nods to Star Wars and Tomb Raider, and questions your every move with his lovably dry English humor.
Each playthrough lasts about an hour, largely depending on how much time you want to spend exploring the game’s variety of beautifully designed, cel-shaded environments. While this doesn’t sound like much, it was the perfect length for Stories’ gameplay hook. There are nearly 25 different endings, so trust me, you don’t want to go through that in 5-hour chunks. An hour allowed me to choose a few different paths, learn a thing or two, level up Reynaldo, and immediately hop back in for another go in hopes of a better outcome. In fact, I found myself so enthralled by Stories’ method of choice-driven storytelling that I “beat” the game straight through four times in one sitting.
By my 5th playthrough though, I had gotten so tired of the opening sequence that I wish Stories allowed me to skip the dialogue for moments that I’ve already witnessed before. Some sequences do feature additional dialogue from the narrator, reminding me of what happened the last time I made the same choice, but there are a few that are the same throughout (especially if I wanted to re-play the game the same way, but only choose a different path near the end).
I also ran in to an issue with the game’s default aspect ratio, and it cutting off my stamina meter completely. It didn’t affect the graphical fidelity at all, but it was as if the outer inch of the screen was zoomed out beyond its border. There’s no in-game option to alter the border of your television, and with my HDTV being roughly 3 years old I’ve yet to come in to contact with a game it doesn’t agree with, so I’m not sure what the issue is.
Combat is fairly well done, featuring an Arkham-style combo system and a counter mechanic more akin to Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance (pressing toward an enemy and attacking, rather than having a dedicated counter button). Different enemy types require different strategies, like removing shields from the defender ravens, or dodging the blasts of explosive ravens who detonate when struck by Reynaldo’s sword.
Speaking of swords, there are four in total, and each act as both a magical weapon and a key to open their respective doors while exploring. Swapping between them is as easy as pressing the d-pad, so it was simple enough to go from bathing enemies in bursts of flame with my fire sword, to increasing my attack speed with the void sword. Should my health drop, I could switch to the wind sword to cast a healing spell. The hand-to-hand combat is fluid and accessible, and collecting crafting materials and enhancement gems rewarded additional playthroughs with stronger weapons and helpful passive benefits, like increased item drops and faster attack speeds.
I genuinely had a good time with the combat, although it failed to provide anything new and exciting. It was a pretty dry version of the old Arkham system, where well-timed presses of the attack button were woven between counter attacks and evasive maneuvers. Had this been the central focus of Stories, I doubt I would have stuck around longer than necessary, but I’m thankful that it works as well as it does while allowing the choice-with-consequence storytelling to take center stage.
When you’re not out scouring for crafting materials or battling against an unkindness of ravens, Stories: The Path of Destinies is a lot like Bastion-meets-A Link to the Past, with a visual dash of Torchlight. There’s even references to the Zelda series’ hero breaking pots, and Reynaldo can swiftly ascend to nearby platforms using his hookshoot.
There’s a variety a really neat islands to explore, featuring lava caves, the inner workings of a castle, and mystical areas smothered in protruding crystals. I had a lot of fun zipping between floating airships and exploring the remains of a forgotten temple, and my enjoyment was propelled by my desire to improve Reynaldo’s weapons and see what misadventure he ended up in next.
Dashing about and exploring each of the floating islands was a blast, but I found it odd that Stories’ combat was seemingly flawless while something as simple as breaking objects in the environment triggered a distracting amount of lag. It was never, ever an issue in combat. Not once. But if there were crystals or pots nearby that could be housing valuable materials, breaking them infrequently dropped the framerate to a crawl for a short amount of time.
Despite its similarities to other games in the genre, Stories: The Path of Destinies is a pleasant surprise, filled with humor, charm, and a lot of heart. I loved its characters, its vibrant visuals, and the fantastical floating islands on display, and I was excited that my choices always seemed to matter, no matter how unkind and unfortunate they were to ol’ Reynaldo.
It’s an action RPG for fans of The Legend of Zelda, Bastion, and Transistor, or for anyone who just wants to experience a pleasant fairytale.
*So where’s the final score? There isn’t one. I did spend a lot of time conveying my opinion in the above text, and I hope that’s worth more to you than some arbitrary number or a sequence of shaded-in star shapes. Basically, I’m not a fan of scores so I no longer use them. Read the review and judge for yourself if it’s worth playing.
Full disclosure: This review was done using a PlayStation 4 copy of Stories: The Path of Destinies provided by the developer’s PR company, Evolve PR. I pride myself on providing unbiased reviews to fellow consumers and constructive feedback to hard working developers. Whether or not I pay for the game is completely irrelevant.