Stories: The Path of Destinies is a game about a book, and a fox named Reynardo who reads it. This literate fox is also a sky pirate, a soldier in a rebel army, and a very bad babysitter. But beyond all of that, Stories is a game about choices and the truth behind them.
I picked this game up from the monthly selection of free PS Plus titles. Normally I just grab all of them, assuming that at some point in time I will have nothing to play. However, when I saw Stories, developed by Spearhead Games, I was immediately captivated by its art style. It reminded me of Ratchet and Clank and Redwall; it’s filled with vibrant colors, anthropomorphic mammals with swords, and large chasms that fell to the bottomless abyss. And so, on a day that I had grown weary of the great war, I installed Stories.
And so the game begins with our hero, the aforementioned Reynardo, in hot pursuit of a boy. Reynardo must protect this boy, as he’s in possession of a powerful tool – a book that the empire desperately wants. The boy makes a brash decision that leaves him on the opposite side of a locked door, unprotected, and he is summarily vaporized. After getting through the door, recovering the now ash-covered book, and with a shiny weapon in hand, Reynardo begins his adventure. It is at this point that we are tasked with gathering the first of four hero swords, magically infused weapons that provide additional powers and serve as keys.
The world is a series of floating islands varying in climate and theme. Your journey will see you delve into an ancient temple in the desert, meditate at the top of a snow covered mountain, or consult scientists within a crystal cave. Because Stories is a game with a focus on replayability, there are many branching paths on each level, frequently locked behind elemental doors that can only be opened with the corresponding sword. These paths often lead to additional loot, more fights, and the occasional shortcut. But reaching the end of the level as soon as possible isn’t always the best solution, as you may miss much needed experience points, required for leveling up and unlocking new skills.
After traversing all of these biomes, our adventure culminates in a final battle between the rebel and imperial fleets – most of the time. Here, all of the choices made along way are made manifest. If we decided to go after the ancient super weapon, it’s here that it will be fired. If you let your heart lead the way, this is where the relationship is tested. And if you decided to skip the war entirely, the fate of the world is out of your hands. But mostly this is where you meet your death, and this is where the truth of the game comes in. After you reach the end, the pages of the book turn back to the beginning. Each path grants you a little more insight into the reality behind a choice you’ve made, and more intel on how to make better choices on the next playthrough. Armed with said truths, its time to dive back into the game.
Stories is an action RPG, which entails the usual modern trappings of skill trees, gems, and crafting. The main gameplay is combat with exploration from an isometric point of view. Combat feels like a combination of Hyperlight Drifter and the Batman series. While fighting flocks of ravens you focus on boosting your combo, building up style points, and zipping to and fro through the scuffle. Some of the skills you can level include a time slowing parry, hookshot, movement speed, throw range, and, of course, health and magic. Because the core feature of the gameplay and story is replayability, the skills that you unlock are persistent and remain with you for each additional run. There are, however no bosses to beat. Instead the narrative leads you from each enemy encounter to the next, either with in-engine cutscenes, narrator dialogue, or letters that can be found along the way. The final challenge of each stage is what decision to make next, however this can leave some levels feeling sparse or anticlimactic.
I’ve played through the game 7 times now, but there are over 20 endings. My main complaint is that it can feel very repetitive. There are only so many times I can ride an elevator and hear the same joke about installing guardrails before I get sick of it. The groups of enemies are also mainly static in their composition. With only 4 types of enemies – basic, shield, mage, and explosive – the groups were largely the same in each fight. Don’t get me wrong though, the writing and voice acting are very charming, as are the book illustrations paired with each of your major choices. However, there were also several choices that I made which immediately killed me and forced me to start the whole level over. Granted, they were interesting twist endings, but the fact that there was no checkpoint right before the choice means I was forced to replay the entire level from the start, which was aggravating. Something I found equally frustrating were the clipping bugs which got me stuck in parts of the environment, with the only way out being to quit to the main menu.
Overall I think that Stories: The Path of Destinies is a very charming, if flawed, adventure. The art, writing, and voice acting truly stand out among the slew of indie games developed today. The mechanics are solid and make it an easy game to pick up and learn quickly. Repetition and a lack of capstone fights to each area are its main flaws, but I think these are eclipsed by the better features of the game. I’d give this game 7/10, or a fire sword and 3 mana potions.
A solid story-driven, isometric, slasher from a cute indie studio – perhaps a little too repetitive. Played through multiple times on PS4.