Stories: The Path of Destinies

Let’s just get this out of the way: Stories: The Path of Destinies has one of the most generic sounding videogame titles out there. It sounds like a game that was made in the 90s and quickly swept under the rug by many people. With that fact aside, it’s worth noting that the game is filled with heart and character and does something other games are too often afraid to do: it experiments with new ideas. Most notably, Stories: The Path of Destinies turns the mechanic of branching story paths into a game in and of itself. That interesting twist, along with the game’s art style and gameplay make it an interesting experience that’s worth a deeper dive.

In Stories, players take on the role of Reynardo, a fox who just wants to be free. Reynardo is a simple mercenary that joined a rebellion in order to take down an evil emperor. Think of him as the Han Solo of this universe. The only strange thing is that, much like The Kid in Bastion, Reynardo has a narrator who explains how Reynardo feels, recounts his choices and motives, and provides snippy dialogue as Reynardo breaks boxes. This mechanic is leaned on heavily in Stories as the game is told in a storybook fashion. Big events are played out in a beautifully hand drawn style as the story progresses.

The story in Stories is fairly straightforward, at first. Reynardo is trying to save a friend who seems obsessed with a book that is said to help the rebellion. The rebellion wants to end the reign of the evil toad emperor and this book can do just that…somehow. One thing leads to another and Reynardo gets a hold of the book. Players then go through the game in a series of chapters that progress the story forward. At the end of a few chapters, something happens. In fact, that first something is quite shocking at the time. To avoid spoilers I’ll just say it’s something that kind of stops the story dead in its track. From there, players find out that Reynardo’s book actually shows him his possible destinies and how they end. Only by finding the four key truths of his story can he pick the right destiny and conclude his tale in a winning fashion. Reynardo can go through each path and die, find out truths about his friends, realize new opportunities, and hopefully end the war. To do that, Reynardo will need to make difficult choices, fight through armies of enemies, and make sure he’s in peak condition to save the world.

Stories is an action RPG at its core. Gameplay is reminiscent of Arkham Asylum or Shadows of Mordor in that you attack enemies, counter their attacks, and use the occasional special enhancement to do more damage. Counters and attacks are done with the same button and timing your attacks to leave room for a counter when you see the enemy start to attack is critical. The timing isn’t too difficult and when played out correctly, you can wipe out a slew of enemies without taking damage. When done right, the combat looks beautiful and fluid. It’s like Reynardo is dancing amongst his enemies, setting them ablaze or slashing through them without care. However, this simplistic and fun combat does have a downside.

When you’re not fighting enemies or watching the frame rate drop you’ll be upgrading items and making choices. The RPG elements in the game are light and reminded me of Bastion in a few ways. Reynardo has a sword and a gauntlet that can be socketed. His sword can be upgraded and there are a total of four different swords he can use, each one with a different special ability activated by holding R2. Your main sword heals you; others burn or freeze enemies and so on. Each sword you unlock is added to your inventory and you can switch to them at any time. These different swords are used to unlock doors in levels that open new paths, story pieces, or upgrade materials. I found the swords to be relatively similar and ended up using the main sword for healing as my primary weapon while switching to the others for doors that needed to be unlocked. I found myself wanting new and more differentiated weapon choices since the primary combat felt so fun, or see what would change if I had an axe, mace, etc. Sadly, the weapons are all swords and do little to change the already good core combat.

Gems, on the other hand, offer Reynardo the ability to upgrade himself in more diverse ways. Increased attack speed, more critical hits, and more damage with less health are just a few attributes you’ll find along the way. These gems can be upgraded and slotted into Reynardo’s gauntlet, leading to increased power and abilities. I found the gems to be a nice reward for getting through long stretches of gameplay and definitely saw the increase in Reynardo’s ability. Similar to that is the skill tree you’ll be filling out as Reynardo levels up. With more experience he can increase his health, learn new techniques such as slowing down time after a counter attack, and unlock new and devastating abilities as well. The skill tree, while straightforward, was surprisingly diverse in how it allowed me to build out Reynardo for my playthroughs.

It’s not all about combat and upgrades though, and there are choices to be made. After each level the narrator will present Reynardo with a two or three choices. You pick your path and play out that story. After the conclusion of that story, you learn new things about the characters involved and go back to the beginning. The repetitive nature of Stories seems like it would get old fast, but I never felt like I was replaying the same exact level over and over again. There are 24 total stories to see but you don’t need to see them all to see the ending. Besides, some of the stories end in almost the same fashion with a minor twist or change that isn’t really worth noting. The game does a good job of notifying the player when Reynardo knows something new that he didn’t know in a previous run through. The narrator will point out what Reynardo knows or what could end up happening if Reynardo doesn’t do XYZ this time around. I found some of that dialogue to be forced as the narrator reads the same line of story and then crams in another line about what Reynardo knows to be true now. I’m not sure of a more organic way of treating that but it certainly felt artificial at times.

This overall meta game of paths and choices is an interesting one. It doesn’t take away from the main game of combat and upgrades. Instead, it adds to that formula with an interesting game all its own. Players have to “play” the game on a different scale to see what needs to change, who can be trusted, and where they should go to figure out how to stop the emperor. This requires a higher level of thinking than run to this spot and fight the boss, it’s both refreshing and unique. While this type of mechanic has been done before in games with multiple endings, this feels like a larger, more complete realization of that mechanic as many of the branches can lead to funny endings you don’t see coming or tragic ones that seem a bit harsh. Either way, Reynardo starts at the beginning and learns from his mistakes. I found this mechanic, above all the others, to be the most interesting part of Stories. It’s a mechanic that I could see being really interesting and exciting if fully realized in every facet of the game. By that I mean, realizing the different dialogue and story changes to offer a truly different experience every time through. Instead, parts of this game felt like all I really saw change was a single line of dialogue that was forced in to make sure I knew this was “different”. It’s an exciting idea that I hope to see more of in other titles.

Also worth noting is the games’ odd leaning on pop culture references. By the time I heard the narrator say “they must construct additional pylons” I felt like I had sighed as many times as I could. While some of the narration is witty and enjoyable, a lot of it falls flat and doesn’t feel as interesting as other games that have this talking narrator mechanic. Bastion succeeded in this respect with a less is more approach but Stories seems to go all-in on the narrator and I found it to be tiresome and unenjoyably at times. Wishing for peace and quiet instead of having to listen to another joke about Reynardo diving into boxes and being ridiculed for it.

Overall, I found a lot to love within Stories: The Path of Destinies. The different story options and branching paths, while not always as different as I’d like, were varied enough to warrant a good chunk of time with the game. The combat and upgrade systems really shined in the game and the only times they felt bogged down were during heavy combat scenarios, and here’s hoping a patch can maybe fix those issues and make the game a bit more enjoyable in those spots. With a cheeky narrator that doesn’t know when to be quiet, different stories that are told in brief, bite-sized chunks, and a fun and fluid combat system, Stories: The Path of Destinies is worth checking out even if its clearly lacking the amount of polish other games of this nature have.