It was my mistake; I followed a path that I was sure would help the rebellion’s cause by abandoning my friend Lapino and, instead, going on a quest to find the ultimate weapon to defeat the Empire. Things didn’t go as planned, and I accidentally destroyed the entire world. But then I was alive again. Time rewound to the beginning of the story and I had another opportunity to make things right. Stories: The Path of Destines lives up to its name. It charms with its whimsical, The Stanley Parable-esque narration, spinning a new fairytale out of classic hero and villain archetypes.
Taking on the role of a fox named Reynardo, players are entrusted with keeping a magical book safe from the wrong hands – a book that can reveal the future. This book will be your record keeper and your guide throughout the game, which brings a new angle to the “choose your own adventure” genre. Stories: The Path of Destines not only wants the player to achieve the happy ending, but also encourages (albeit somewhat forces) the player to explore different versions of the narrative.
At a few points during each play-through, you will have two, sometimes three, plot-based options to choose from, and each affect the overall outcome of the story differently. The most interesting thing about this mechanic is that it leads the player to discover certain truths about the characters and the war. You will make important discoveries about your best friend, your childhood friend and adopted daughter to the Emperor, and about two powerful artifacts both dangerous enough cause mass destruction of the world or of one’s own soul.
There are four main truths that must be discovered before the player can reach the happy ending. The nice thing about this feature is that just before you choose what direction to go, a button will appear in the lower right side of the screen that will take you to summaries of the stories you have already completed. Players can use these summaries to strategize their next move. Retracing steps in the narrative didn’t feel redundant or unnecessary as a whole. Discovering each main truth took roughly an hour a piece, but grinding through each chapter and level loses its luster after racing through them multiple times; there isn’t enough of an enticement to continue on once the happy ending has been achieved.
There are also specific parts further into each individual storyline that will let you know you picked a bad ending by quickly summarizing the rest of the story, and then sending you back to the most recent checkpoint. However, skipping dialogue wasn’t an option. Players cannot skip through the narrator describing different plot-choices outside of the gameplay. Sometimes, when a spacebar icon would appear, prompting the player that a section of dialogue could be skipped, hitting the spacebar would do nothing.
The simple combat and crafting system compliments the narrative-driven game well. Consisting of four different swords that grant you different abilities, you can use the same swords to unlock special walls that lead to bigger and better loot. You will find gems that can be crafted into your swords that boost your attack speed or repel damage from enemies. One gem allows you to knock shields out of some Raven’s hands, an ability that I preferred over using the grappling hook.
However, at random points my character would glitch. I became stuck in the ground or frozen mid-air as I latched on to a post with my grapple hook, but the worst was freezing in the middle of combat. This happened a couple of times and was particularly frustrating when it occurred close to the end of a level. There was also what seemed to be a major glitch in the story line after finding the four truths and getting the happy ending. Starting the story from the beginning, I chose to rescue Lapino instead of finding the armature for the Skyripper. However, I started the chapter with Skyripper, with both the armature and core. I still had the option to get the core, even though it was already floating behind me, helping kill every raven I encountered. In the end, I was able to meet with the council at the rebel base. They tried to convince me to give them the core, (even though I wasn’t supposed to have it) but I used it against the Emperor’s fleet instead, killing myself in the process. I tried the same option again; the Skyripper was still there, even after I had sent Lappino to get the core and after the Empire stole it from him. I am unsure if this is a perk for completing the game, but if it is, its appearance breaks the immersion and logic of the narrative.
The detail to some of the smallest things in this game is remarkable. Some of the dialogue will change depending on if you have already traversed across as specific level for the sake of making the same information sound less redundant. The gogglers, when cut in half, resembled a chunk of ham – a circular white bone in the center surrounded by pink meat. The levels themselves are visually stunning.
There are also pop-culture references that add to the whimsical tone, yet are used sparingly so not to overwhelm the narrative. Many players will understand that the “kestel run in 12 furlongs” is a reference to Star Wars. Some may groan or laugh at a reference to the song “What Does the Fox Say?” Yet, the game uses one of the most famous lines from “Peter Pan” boldly: Second star to the right and straight on ‘til morning. This line was used during a sentimental moment between Reynardo and Zenobia, as they discussed where they would travel to get away from the war. While intended to be cute, the line felt incredibly out of place. It’s unfair to make a comparison between Avellone, where Reynardo and Zenobia wanted to travel, and Neverland, even for the sake of keeping the pop-culture references consistent. The same line was used again as an ending to the “Reynardo and Zenobia live happily ever after” storyline, further cheapening its use. That bit would have been able to stand on its own without the Peter Pan reference and, as a result, made the ending less confident.
Stories: The Path of Destines effectively uses its own narrative as a mechanic, reveling a carefully thought-out plot and meticulously designed world. The story is a fairytale consisting of simple dialogue and commanding voice acting, yet a little too adult at times to be completely considered a game for elementary-aged children (There is a reference to finding some scandalous photos of women in one of the chests, and another reference to having a bad hangover after a night of drinking). Its weakness lies in the reliance on pop-culture references to add to the overall tone, something that, if removed, would help the game to be able to stand on its own, confident in its uniqueness. In all, Stories: The Path of Destines is an example of great writing, technically and creatively.
Platforms: Windows PC | Developer/Publisher: Spearhead Games | ESRB: NR | Controls: Keyboard, Mouse
This review copy of Stories: The Path of Destines was played on PC via Steam and was provided by the developer.