Story driven games often have a determined end goal in sight for the player. Whether to set up a sequel, or to show you the varying outcomes for a group of beloved heroes, such experiences are usually upfront with how you can end your many playthroughs. Stories: The Path of Destinies unabashedly falls in this camp as well, and that’s not a bad thing, as it relies on conventional gameplay design with an unconventional length. Yet the game doesn’t burst off into the different destinies it promises. Instead, you’ll have to settle for a game that reliably hands you the end game revelation on a silver platter.
You play as Reynardo, a fox equal parts Han Solo and Redwall, a series of books featuring anthropomorphic animals brandishing armor and ruling kingdoms. He’s a part of a rebellion that is attempting to overthrow an evil empire, with a malevolent frog at its head who employs equally sinister ravens to do his bidding. In a failed attempt at defeating the emperor, Reynardo dies, but is suddenly brought back to life from a magical book, which continues to grant him more lives throughout the game. Armed with knowledge of his failures, it’s up to you to choose the correct path and stop the emperor once and for all.
The adventure Reynardo embarks on is grand, but the main appeal for Stories: The Path of Destinies is how short it is, allowing for multiple playthroughs that don’t require you to mortgage your soul out to Father Time. Such brevity is refreshing, but I don’t think it’s realized to its full potential. Depending on how you grasp the surprisingly fun battle mechanics, you’ll clear each full playthrough in 30 minutes. Besides going back and playing through different scenarios and making different choices, there aren’t a whole lot of in-game incentives to encourage replaying each level. You can use the different swords to unlock doors that correspond to that sword’s color, but there are so many branching paths to experience that players will quickly investigate each nook and cranny. I wish there was at least one or two more short chapters within each playthrough, since it’s just a fun game to play.
Stories: The Path of Destinies contains a main narrative that is both refreshing and disconcerting. Reynaldo has to uncover four “Truths” in order to come to the ultimate realization that will allow him to vanquish the evil emperor once and for all. When you beat the game, and come upon the ending that involves the four Truths, that’s it, that’s seemingly the only way to come to such a happy conclusion. Divulging into a considerable amount of hand holding while also telling you the story, it literally waves the correct answer in your face once you have the four Truths. Granted, the game isn’t meant to be hard, and it is supposed to celebrate the writing of a Choose Your Own Adventure story format, but I would have liked a little more challenge in discovering the correct ending.
In-game character moments are hit or miss throughout Reynaldo’s adventures, but the game’s writing is still very good. Clever narration will recite out loud your character’s actions, oftentimes chronicling an exciting battle or the beginning of a new chapter. The narrator will also remind Reynaldo how much he hates pots when you are scavenging for health, or end the story with a short eulogy when you fall in combat. Given the game’s top down presentation, Stories: The Destinies really does feel like a bedtime story, but one where the tone oftentimes betrays its own exhibition.
My main issue with the game is its overall tone. When the game begins, Reynaldo watches the son of a librarian rabbit he is hooking up with blown to smithereens from the ruling forces. Comically observing the book lay atop its ashes, Reynaldo then reminisces how he should have spent more time with him to bring more structure into his life. Talk about flipping a switch. Adult innuendos are interlaced with jokes which feel meant for children. The game then jumps right into the action, forcing you to fight ravens as it introduces the concept of counters. It’s possible for a tone to feel all over the place, and still not take away from a finished product, but it really hinders the narrative impact of Stories. If the game didn’t rely so heavily on its story hitting home so hard, then this wouldn’t be that big of an issue, but it really took me out of the experience.
The combat itself is surprisingly good. Reynaldo is armed with a sword, but will suddenly remember all of his skills and powers as the story progresses as you defeat enemies and gain experience points. You’ll unlock a dash ability, a time-stopping counter, and much more. These abilities also play into the game’s puzzles, however meager an amount, and it also provides exhilarating combat encounters. Will you dash through all your enemies, hitting and running to avoid getting hit? Or will you upgrade your counter abilities, freezing time with each well-timed hit of the triangle button? Stories also teaches players to not get hit, as there aren’t many opportunities to regain health, and you won’t automatically heal after each chapter. Throw in different, but all equally effective enemies to take down, and you have a surprisingly challenging combat experience to unfold.
I did encounter several technical misfires that slightly stain the pages of my time with Stories: The Path of Destinies. Several times Reynaldo fell through the world, just for no reason at all, and there was some occasional texture pop-ins. I also could not see the H.U.D., meaning my energy for special attacks, such as dashes, was left up to my own imagination. However, the world is very stylish, filled with bright colors to complement the mature tone of the stories.
The top-down perspective allows you to take in the entire world, but that doesn’t mean Spearhead Games’ slacked on implementing an impressive amount of detail in the character designs or levels. Reynaldo, his friends Lapino and Zenobia, as well as the ravens, all look and feel like they are their own characters. The fox’s eye patch and scarlet red cape depict him as the pirate he has the potential to be, while Zenobia’s neat clothing remind players of her royal upbringing. Ravens themselves, while simply designed with black and blue feathers, logically fall in half when slashed down. The land in the game is part steampunk, with zeppelins and mechanical structures, and part fantastical, indicated by its ornate design of ancient tablets and castles.
Squandering a fun combat system in a game that’s tonally off, Stories: The Path of Destinies has a very interesting gameplay hook that may not ensnare players the way it should. You may open the pages to an exciting battle, while championing Reynaldo until the end, but its refreshing brevity is perhaps too short and light on content to demand an immediate purchase.
+Reynaldo is fun to play as
+Surprisingly fun and attentive combat system, while remaining simple
-…but perhaps too short and light on content
Stories: The Path of Destinies has great ideas hidden within its pages, but perhaps plays it too safe
Liam Crossey is the Executive Editor of Features for The Game Bolt. Follow him on Twitter for too many retweets.