HIGH Finally getting a decent ending.
LOW Basically any fight after about the first three playthroughs.
WTF You have sky pirates, magic gems, floating islands, and an anthropomorphic fox hero and the best title you could manage was Stories: The Path of Destinies? Seriously?
At first, I thought the title Stories: The Path of Destinies was a terrible sin. This long, dull moniker obscures a game where the main character is a swashbuckling sky pirate and anthropomorphic fox named Reynardo! He plunders magic gems! He’s out to stop a mad emperor! It’s interesting and enjoyable! As I played through the adventure, however, I began to think the opposite. The long, dull title ended up describing my feelings about Stories perfectly.
Reynardo kicks things off by sneaking a book out of a burning city. As he starts to read it, a story about the future unfolds. In the story, Reynardo is offered four (or so) choices where he can change the outcome of the tale, and he has to fight his way through five levels worth of battles. It all ends in tears, as swashbucklers’ stories are wont to do… only it doesn’t actually end. Reynardo pops back to his sky-sailing ship with the book in his lap, with a chance for another go.
Now the player can make different choices for the fox and hopefully find one where Reynardo doesn’t stab his old flame by mistake or accidentally destroy the universe. Almost all choices still end in disaster, although this is often because Reynardo does something obviously stupid in addition to the choices the player makes, lending some tragic endings an air of narrative cheating.
Stories also cheats in a sense by hiding options from the player. Every possible story path reveals one of four “Truths”, but many choices aren’t available until some Truths have been discovered. Every narrative option ends in tragedy unless the player has uncovered all four. As a consequence, at least five trips through the story will be necessary to reach the “true” ending.
Fortunately, Stories makes it easy to find untried choices to speed the process of finding truths along, but a player who’s just poking around or dedicates herself to really exploring a particular decision tree might be mucking about for a long time before unlocking the path to a happy ending. This structure makes the storytelling get a little repetitious, and it makes everything else get really repetitious.
Though passing itself off as an RPG, Stories is really a third-person brawler in the vein of the Arkham titles, albeit with even more simplified countering. This battle system gives it relatively few techniques to provide variety in combat, and to go along with that, it lacks much in the way of enemy variety as well. This may be the only time in a game I’ve ever seriously wanted to have boss encounters, if only to spice things up.
While never very interesting, the combat was at least occasionally a challenge for the first ten chapters or so. This was in large part because healing items are extremely sparse and the game’s only healing magic is practically useless. As my number of story tries piled up, however, the combat became began to feel like padding that was wasting my time. This is especially true after reaching the real ending, because completing that gives Reynardo tools that make him absurdly powerful. Combat gets faster, but even more boring.
The backdrops have a similar problem. The sky-islands of Stories are beautiful, but there are only about 8 in total and some are fixed points. The game attempts to provide some diversity by changing the route that Reynardo must take to get through them, but each island only has a few configurations. It’s just not enough to keep the game fresh during the numerous replays the superstructure demands.
That’s not to say that Stories is totally devoid of charm. The color commentary by the game’s narrator is hit-or-miss, but varied enough that he kept saying new things even on my seventh and eighth stab at playing through. Also, though his shtick does start to wear thin, Reynardo himself did have enough charisma to sustain, at least for a while, my desire to explore a bit more.
Ultimately, though, the drudgery of actually playing this game outweighs whatever interest its narrative has to offer. I have to admire the ambition of the concept here, but Stories: The Path of Destinies falls short of having systems equal to that aspiration. Like its swashbuckling hero, this game’s reach exceeds its grasp. Rating: 6 out of 10
Disclosures: This game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PS4. Approximately 14 hours of play was devoted to single-player modes (completed either 7 or 1 times depending on how you count it). There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game contains violence, blood, and mild language. Some hard-core stuff happens on screen (a teenager gets turned into a pile of ash, for instance) but the really bloody stuff is relegated to black-and-white pictures. I think tweens could handle this without their parents having many regrets.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing: Everything is subtitled and there are no essential sound cues.
Remappable Controls: Controls are not remappable on PS4.
Colorblind Modes: No colorblind modes are available. Certain side-doors rely on matching the door color to a sword color and some trial-and-error may be required to match those up. However, no puzzles on the main path rely exclusively on color.
Currently Sparky works as a scientist in Rhode Island, and works gaming in between experiments and literature reviews. As a writer, he hopes to develop a critical voice that contributes to a more sophisticated and interesting culture of discourse about games. He is still waiting for a console port of Betrayal at Krondor.
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