Growing up, choose-your-own-adventure books were a mainstay on my library account. I’d borrow them ad nauseam from my elementary school’s little library, and would look forward to getting home and digging into what each one had to offer. They were full of mystery, intrigue and choice, you see, and that added up to a lot of fun.
With Stories: The Path of Destinies, Montreal-based Spearhead Games has attempted to bring the choose-your-own-adventure formula to video games in a rather direct way. The result is an enjoyable experience that, despite some repetition and technical problems, is worth your time and money.
Dropping us into a conflict between an emperor whose megalomania has taken him off of the deep end, and the rebellion that wishes to stop him, Stories: The Path of Destinies centres upon a young and adventurous fox named Reynardo. A brave, hardheaded and generally helpful being, he finds himself in the middle of things after failing to save a friend’s son from danger.
What the kid was holding will forever change our hero’s life, you see, and there’s a reason why the world’s evildoers want to get their hands on it. While it may look like a book, it’s actually a portal into the future, and one that allows Reynardo to choose his own destiny as he attempts to stop the crazed emperor from destroying his kingdom.
The way this all works is rather simple: After the first level concludes, players are taken to the book’s first pages. It’s there where a short introduction gives way to two different choices, one of which involves saving an old friend from assumed danger and evokes the human need to help. The other choice, though, is much more selfless and has the chance to be far more dangerous, given that it involves searching for the first part of a long lost, god-killing weapon.
Whichever option you choose will propel your story forward, until it reaches a conclusion based on the choices you make whenever you’re presented with branching paths like these. It’s an interesting set-up, and one that will be remembered, although it’s not without its faults.
As you play through Stories‘ different pathways, you’ll find new beginning and new endings, which are called truths. In total, there are four unique truths, which involve the world’s inhabitants and its mythological weapons, and finding each one is the key to unlocking the true path.
That said, those who wish to see everything they can in all of the games that they play can keep playing over and over again, choosing different options, so as to experience all of the game’s twenty-something stories. Only five are required, though; one from each of the four truth paths, plus the correct and final, game-ending storyline.
What’s great about this design is that it positions Stories: The Path of Destinies as something unique, where your choices actually matter. The downside to this is that it creates a noticeable amount of repetition, which manifests itself in repeated levels, necessary backtracking and gameplay that remains similar throughout.
As a hero, Reynardo is presented as an expert swordsman. Although he begins with a basic sword, it’s not long before he’s able to use green essences and pieces of ore to create his first of four notable swashbucklers: the Hero Sword. From there, he must attempt to find and forge three others, including a flaming fire sword, a wet and icy water sword, and a purple-hued shadow sword.
Each sword has its own basic magical ability, whether it be setting enemies on fire, freezing those same foes, or healing Reynardo at a very slow pace. They’re all limited, though, and require energy for each use. Energy that drains quickly and can take a while to recoup. Don’t worry, though, as Stories isn’t all that difficult of a game (outside of several challenging battles during its final thirty minutes), and magic isn’t exactly required in battle. That said, I did use the healing skill relatively often, just to give myself a top up. It was hard to really refill Reynardo’s bar given how little energy you usually have, and how fast it drains, in comparison to how slow the health bar refills.
Those sharpened pieces of metal are also good for something else, and that’s opening elementally themed doors. Green doors are for the Hero Sword, flame doors are for the Fire Sword, Ice doors are for the Water Sword and so on. It’s a very simple design, and one that allows you to venture further into each level in search of new pathways and hidden chests. Be warned, though: As you progress, and return to familiar levels, the doors that you will unlock with your latest sword may hide challenging battles behind their glowing blockades.
The enemies, themselves, are mostly ravens, who comprise the evil emperor’s army. They’re not alone, though, and are joined by buff-giving elementalists, keg-like enemies that explode shortly after first contact, and magic-using totems. Most battles will send two to four different types of enemies at you at once, including a mix of basic and shielded ravens, and it’s your job to slice them all up while dodging and parrying their attacks.
Reynardo — whose skills can be upgraded via visited totems — can learn to slow down time whenever he dodges or barely misses an enemy’s attack, and can also equip gems that give him helpful bonuses (such as the ability to break enemies’ shields with normal attacks, as opposed to having to throw another enemy at said wooden protection). He’s also equipped with a hook shot that allows him to pull foes towards him, or, when not in combat, move from one platform to another by hooking onto poles.
Though it gets to be repetitive after a while, and doesn’t take full advantage of its swords’ unique abilities, Stories‘ combat manages to be pretty enjoyable throughout its five hour runtime. The key is to always be on the lookout for exclamation marks, which signal that an enemy is about to attack and needs to be hit or dodged.
Using Reynardo’s dash is also a great way to move in and out of conflict, although foes can sometimes become surprisingly adept heat-seeking missiles. Not always, though. Sometimes they’re easy to dodge. Then, during your next battle, that same enemy will seem to lock on and not give up, even if you move a decent distance away.
Dying isn’t a big issue, because you simply respawn at the nearest checkpoint. It’s not something that I did a lot, though, at least up until the final few battles, and staying alive throughout a story is something that is awarded by a shiny PSN trophy. The same is true of not being hit during an entire 10 minute level, which I did without even thinking, or knowing that said trophy existed. So, don’t fret if you’re a trophy hunter and you see such things on the game’s list.
Unfortunately, checkpoints aren’t always there to help when Stories: The Path of Destinies fumbles, and that can become frustrating. What I mean by this is that, if you encounter some sort of glitch during a level, you’re forced to restart the entire thing. They’re not overly long, which is good, but it’s still a pain in the ass.
The reason I bring this up is that I fell through the game’s map at least four times during my playthrough. The first two times happened in the exact same place, as I was ascending a frozen staircase and destroying inanimate icicles (which can house health and energy pick-ups) along my way. The others occurred during battle, and I was thankfully able to save myself by using the hook shot to latch onto an enemy and pull Reynardo closer to it, as an animation glitch had the fox fall over and over and over again.
These relatively rare glitches are joined by a frame rate that sometimes stutters out of the blue, making the PS4 version of Stories a bit of a problematic affair. It’s certainly very playable, and shouldn’t be avoided just because of these issues, but they do throw a monkey wrench into an otherwise enjoyable experience.
The aforementioned frame rate issue mars what is otherwise a nice-looking game, which presents a relatively unique and very colourful visual style. At times, Stories is beautiful, although its repeated environments can lead to mental fatigue that blurs that fact. Its character models are also interesting-looking and well-designed, for the most part.
Do keep in mind, though, that you’ll spend a decent amount of time looking at the book that houses this branching story, with its old time font and stylistic images. Those pages are narrated as one would expect, and so is a lot of the gameplay, in a fashion that resembles that of Bastion, especially since both games share similar overhead viewpoints. There’s a lot of humour to be found in what this quality narrator says, too, and he’s not afraid to mix in some homages to popular pieces of fiction.
As a sum of its parts, Stories: The Path of Destinies ends up being a good game that could have been great. There’s a lot to like here, don’t get me wrong, but repetition and certain performance issues keep this adventure from being something truly special.
This review is based on the PlayStation 4 version of the game, which we were provided with.
Stories: The Path of Destinies offers an interesting narrative, unique plot progression system and often enjoyable gameplay. However, it's held back by unfortunate glitches and quite a bit of repetition.