Stories: The Path of Destinies follows the branching stories of Reynaldo, a fox who finds himself thrown into a warring world between rebels and a crow-filled army. It’s up to the player to help navigate Reynaldo through various stories in order to find the correct path to his true destiny. The concept of branching story paths in games has always been an interesting one that has been implemented in video games to varying effects. How well is it implemented here? Well, let’s find out.
In a supreme case of “does what it says on the tin”, Stories: The Path of Destinies appears to be a fairly generic ‘choose your own adventure’ game with some solid fighting thrown into the mix. As the story begins, we find Reynaldo tasked with looking after a young rabbit; however, after an unfortunate mishap the rabbit dies, leaving behind a magical book. It’s here that Reynaldo, with the help of the magical book, has to make his first choice – either help his captured friend Lupino the rabbit, or track down a weapon called the Skyripper, which could win the war against the crow army. Whichever path you select will open up more narrative opportunities. It’s a novel idea, and one that provides the player with up to twenty-five different narrative paths to complete.
On paper, twenty-five narrative paths sounds exciting – think of the variety of gameplay on offer! Think of the narrative possibilities! And, for the first three or four playthroughs, it is exciting as you open up new narrative threads and visit new lands. However, the main problem arises when it becomes evident that although there are twenty-five narrative threads, there are only four possible endings. Sure, the path to reach those endings may be a little bit different, but the destination is often the same. The kicker is that to receive the ‘true’ ending, you need to complete all available narrative paths before the final ending opens up.
On initial playthrough, it’s exciting to visit wondrous new worlds full of beauty and sublime visuals; however, on the fourth playthrough, you’ll have explored all possible worlds. Each varied narrative thread then simply reshuffles the worlds that you visit, giving the illusion that you’re accessing a great variety of different levels. After the four possible endings have been reached, each subsequent playthrough will take about twenty minutes to run through when ‘cut scenes’ are skipped.’ As far as isometric dungeon crawler games go, this is as routine as it gets.
The Unreal 4 Engine has been used perfectly here, filling the screen with bright, beautiful colours covering worlds that appear to go on forever. It’s refreshing to be able to jump into a game that’s as brightly coloured and beautifully designed as Stories: The Path of Destinies is after so often playing through dark games.
The designs of the warring crows are imaginative, even though they do lack variety and quickly become tiring to defeat. After all, the main thing you will be doing within Stories: The Path of Destinies is defeating crow after crow after crow. On my first playthrough, the ending I achieved had me dying in a very unfortunate manner – because of this, I thought I’d missed out on defeating a grand boss at the end of the game. Upon my second, third, and fourth playthroughs, I discovered that there was no boss to conquer at the end, instead just waves of crows to plough through to progress the story.
The combat itself is quite intuitive, working as a more simplified version of Batman’s combat techniques in the Arkham series. All attacks are mapped to one button, making most battles a case of directional button mashing rather than requiring any kind of strategy. When an enemy is about to attack, an exclamation point appears above their head – point in its direction and hit the attack button and you’ll parry the attack. Kill enough enemies without being hit and the combo meter will build up, multiplying available XP. Gain enough XP and you can then upgrade certain abilities, such as being able to dash or use a hook shot to remove a shield from a protected enemy. These upgrades do add some variety to the combat, as little as it may be. Given the fact that the combat takes cues from the Arkham series, it is as cathartic and rewarding as the combat is in that game – albeit, quite repetitive.
When enemies die, they drop various treasures, which can be collected to upgrade your sword, or even to create a new sword. While this sounds fantastic, it didn’t take long before I was able to own and fully upgrade all four different sword varieties – healing, fire, ice, and magic – thus removing any ability to unlock further items. Treasures and gems can also be found in chests hidden around the environment, making exploration a key aspect of the game – well, that is until you max out your weapons. Alongside the levelling up of the swords is the ability to implant powerful gems into the gauntlet on Reynaldo’s arm. These add a buffer of sorts to Reynaldo – such as the ability to increase the odds of finding a more powerful gem or to increase attack strength.
To help encourage repeat playthroughs, some doors are shut off until you have the applicable sword to enter it. Videogame logic usually dictates that there is going to be something unique or difficult behind a door you have to work to open. Sadly, that’s not the case here, as behind each locked door is simply a bigger chest containing the same sort of gems you find out on the main map.
If it sounds like I’m being too harsh on Stories: The Path of Destinies, then it’s true, I am. But mostly because this is a game with so much potential. Those stunning visuals are a joy to look at, and for the combat is quite immersive, even if it is very simple. The stories are where the game stumbles, however. Stories: The Path of Destinies takes a cue from games like Thomas Was Alone, where the actions of Reynaldo are dictated over the on-screen exploits; however, most of the forward-pushing narrative takes place on static cut scenes. It’s thankful then that the narration is wonderfully delivered by voice actor Julian Casey, and for a game that’s so repetitive with its core gameplay, it’s great that in my many playthroughs, I’ve not heard the same line of dialogue twice.
For the most part, I did have fun with Stories: The Path of Destinies. It reminded me a lot of the ‘choose your own adventure’ books I read as a kid – and that is most likely the audience that will get the most joy from the game. Those who can tolerate repetition may also enjoy it – for others, it’s worthy enough to play for a few tales at best