Review: Stories: The Path of Destinies

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Picture Edge of Tomorrow (aka Live. Die. Repeat.) reimagined as a children’s fairytale storybook and then adapted into an anthropomorphic action-RPG. That’s Stories: The Path of Destinies in a nutshell. Let me explain how this all works.

Path of Destinies is presented as a fantasy storybook starring the dashing pirate fox Reynardo, who finds himself playing the role of unlikely hero (or anti-hero, depending on how you play) in a conflict between a secret underground rebellion and an evil toad emperor with his imperial army of ravens. The storybook has many potential outcomes, each resulting with the death of Reynardo and the book restarting from page one, with all level, skill, and upgrade advancement maintained for each successive adventure. So it’s like an endless choose your own adventure with a cumulative new game plus, which is a really neat idea. That neat idea is executed, by and large, very well.

Each playthrough–or “story”–consists of five chapters typically taking around 45 minutes to an hour to finish altogether. Each chapter ends with a decision point which determines one of many potential twists and turns Reynardo’s tale can take. Once you complete a story, the outcome is logged on an index board of sorts, where recaps of previous stories can be viewed so you know which choice sequences have already been followed. The choices are categorized by four primary plot lines involving a love interest, a shady friend, a demonic gem of immense, soul-consuming power (yeah, it’s basically the “One Ring” of this story), and the assembly of a legendary weapon to serve as a game changer for the Rebellion. To achieve the main ending, you need to uncover four truths by unlocking one outcome in each plot path, afterward those truths can be followed along the correct decision path to achieve the heroic climax. So, if everything is done perfectly, it takes five playthroughs at a minimum to reach the credits crawl–though you can continue replaying ad nauseam to uncover all possible decisions and stories. Personally, I’ve finished nine stories in as many hours, and according to the index there are 24 unique story endings.

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Naturally, the heart of the story is the narrator. Julian Casey, the game’s lone voice actor, delivers a standout performance, narrating the entire story and doing all the different character voices like a parent reading a storybook to a child. I was put off by him initially for some reason, but as time went on he grew on me more and more as I found his tone to hit the right balance between serious and snarky, dark and whimsical, with just the right amount of tongue-in-cheek humor to even things out. The developers wrote an immense amount of dialogue, and even though certain story beats are told the same way every single time, rarely does the narrator repeat himself. In fact, he’s seemingly been given a joke book full of one-liners and references to add fun commentary to common game occurrences like opening treasure chests and smashing boxes and pots.

What’s also neat about the live-die-repeat format, is the way each successive story sparks a memory in Reynardo’s mind, so when familiar events occur or certain choices present themselves again the associated narration reflects this with a new insight he has about the situation, helping to guide you along a different course on the path of destinies. Additionally, the levels themselves become altered, so one pathway that you took on a previous playthrough may be blocked off the next time around, forcing you to take a different path. Each level generally has two or three route possibilities, and the great thing from a visual standpoint is the way the floating island environments are layered so different parts of the map can be seen above, below, and in the background, incentivizing you to return to that place on a later run and take a different route to try to find the treasure chest that was previously visible far off in the distance but couldn’t be reached.

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Overall, the level designs are pretty straightforward, using a similar flow to action games like Devil May Cry where you follow a linear progression through a series of arenas that become fenced off until all enemies are killed, at which point the barriers lift and you’re awarded experience points based on combat performance parameters like highest combo and style. In combat, Reynardo’s sword fu repertoire borrows some moves from Dante for a more frenzied and stylish brand of hacking and slashing than the typical isometric action-RPG. At your disposal are a mix of sword slashes, grabs/throws, and timed counterattacks, plus abilities to dash (which requires stamina) and deploy a hookshot to pull faraway enemies toward you like Mortal Kombat‘s Scorpion. Up to four hotswappable swords can be crafted over the adventure as well, each providing a unique elemental effect fueled by an energy meter. Depending on the sword, a button can be held down while attacking to heal Reynardo, add an ice effect that freezes enemies, hit enemies with an area of effect fire blast, or hasten the speed of attacks and movement.

The combat is fast and fluid and visually spectacular (the particle effects in this game are pure eye candy), with a fair amount of depth and strategy as far as timing button presses for maximum combo impact (or just button mash if you like), mixing up different elemental attacks, hookshotting enemies, and using grapples to hurl ravens over cliffs or into one another. However, over the long haul the lacking variety of enemy types eventually turns combat encounters into samey diversions that only seem to exist to fill time until the next decision point. Some of the levels introduce simple stealth sections, trap avoidance, and rudimentary lever puzzles, but not nearly enough to counterbalance the routine nature of the swordplay that inevitably sets in.

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Another issue that I began to notice pretty early on is that the majority of the game’s lite RPG elements are really only balanced out for the short term. The game features a crafting system by which materials are collected to build and upgrade the aforementioned elemental blades, as well as a gauntlet which allows any combination of three magical gems to be equipped for bonus attributes like faster attack speed, energy restoration on kills, boosted elemental or physical defenses, higher chance to inflict critical damage, or a shield break modifier that causes regular sword attacks to penetrate shield-bearing ravens (otherwise the hookshot needs to be used to pull the shield away before they can be attacked). Before even completing my fourth full story, though, I had already crafted and upgraded all four swords, collected all of the gems, and upgraded most of them to maximum level. After that, all of the treasure chests became useless and there wasn’t much else to look forward to as far as exploration and character growth.

Fortunately, the game does have a rather extensive skill tree for leveling up and then spending the awarded skill points to bolster health, energy, and stamina pools, learn new combat moves, and expand the capabilities of the hook and dash mechanics. I still have quite a few skills left to learn even after nine playthroughs, but at the same time I don’t feel like I even need to bother any more because the combat encounters no longer seem to be scaling upward as they had been previously, and the amount of experience earned through combat has become almost inconsequential to the point that putting in maximum effort to chain long combos isn’t suitably rewarded.

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Other areas could use some extra optimization. From minor kinks, such as achievements not tracking properly and chest contents getting stuck with no way to be collected, to more serious bugs, such as Reynardo dashing over an edge into perpetual free fall and elemental enemies glitching out or teleporting outside the boundaries of a walled-in combat arena with no way to be killed to end the combat scene, the game needs some post-launch spit polishing. For the PC version in specific, mouse and keyboard controls are supported and functional, but feel clunky and imprecise compared to the recommended gamepad control scheme. Even aspects of the gamepad controls could be further optimized. For instance, swapping swords is currently mapped to the D-pad while, to my preference, the unused left and right bumpers would be a more natural configuration. Hell, just the option to remap the controls would be great.

While there is ample room for improvement and polish, I can’t say enough how much I enjoyed Stories, and how enthralled I was by its choice-driven narrative. Its fascinating, branching storyline is set off by a delightful storybook presentation and some of the most vividly scrumptious Unreal Engine 4 graphics to date, as well as charming narration and an impactful score that changes tone to match the choices being made, and hits all the right notes expected from the soundtrack of a grand fantasy adventure. The combat and role-playing elements are functionally sound and round out the experience with enough depth to entertain through the completion of the main hero path; however, certain limitations gradually bubble to the surface and lessen the desire to sink upwards of 20 hours or more into fully uncovering all of the story’s outcomes and secrets. So while completionists may grow weary of the rinse-repeat replay process over the long haul, for its intended duration anyone who values rich storytelling and flashy hack-and-slash will find a new favorite bedtime storybook companion in Stories: The Path of Destinies.

BuyIt

Pros:
+ Engaging live-die-repeat narrative structure; each story has true meaning and impact
+ Spot-on storybook presentation, highlighted by Julian Casey’s narration
+ Beautifully detailed environments layered with multiple paths
+ Fun, flashy combat

Cons:
– Lacking diversity of enemy types and environment interactions gradually wears thin
– RPG elements lose purpose fairly quickly
– Still some bug fixing and optimization to be done

Game Info:
Platform: Reviewed on PC, also available on PS4
Publisher: Spearhead Games
Developer: Spearhead Games
Release Date: 4/12/2016
Genre: Action-RPG
ESRB Rating: Teen
Players: 1

Source: Review code provided by publisher

Buy From: PlayStation Store, Steam, GOG.com

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!