Spearhead Games’ Stories: The Path of Destinies is a fascinating jaunt through a more mature fairy tale setting that blends serviceable gameplay with remarkable wit.
It has been a notably strong 2016 for indie games with a penchant for telling off-beat stories thus far. Salt & Sanctuary managed to mimic Dark Souls favorably in keeping dialogue sparse and enemies plentiful, while Furi‘s story of moral consequences in a neon-infused prison world was supplemented by increasingly fun boss fights. Spearhead Games’ Stories: The Path of Destinies is yet another title released this year with a twist on an old narrative classic, and despite some strong competition, the reasonably short action RPG more than holds its own thanks to its strong, clever story and tried-and-true gameplay mechanics.
Stories begins with a fantasy gaming stereotype in a humanoid fox’s clothing: gamers play as Reynardo, a sky pirate with all the characteristics one would expect from a main character who is both a swashbuckler and one of the animal world’s slyest creatures. After a brief tutorial that also serves as a prologue, Reynardo is thrust into a global conflict between the inherently good rebellion and the traditionally evil empire, the latter of which is ruled by a toad Emperor obsessed with assembling an ancient weapon with the power to sunder reality. Reynardo is presented with a series of choices that will affect not only the world of Stories, but also the very fabric of time and space itself – at least some of the time.
One of Stories‘ greatest strengths is the way it weaves its choice system into the main narrative. Even some of the most compelling stories in gaming, like those found in the Mass Effect series, often suffer from trying to incorporate too many meaningful decisions into what is marketed as an open-ended adventure. These choices can often feel forced or inconsequential depending on how they are implemented, but Spearhead Games has found the perfect balance. At times, the way the story can potentially branch out seems insignificant, but each choice spirals out into a very different ending for Reynardo.
Stories‘ developers also ensure that players will experience at least five different narratives as they progress through the game, because regardless of the final outcome of a specific set of decisions, Reynardo is in possession of a magical book that enables him to re-do his adventure until he gets it just right. Each failure in Stories serves as both an amusing or heart-wrenching ending and the reveal of an important, game-changing Truth. These Truths allow players to make more informed decisions when they are replaying the game while sometimes opening up entirely new options, and once all four of them have been unveiled, Reynardo will finally be able to find his happy ending.
That Stories focuses so heavily on its narrative does not detract from the gameplay experience, however. The environments shift subtly depending on the paths players choose to embark down during any given playthrough, and new paths open up as Reynardo obtains upgrades to his sword that carry over through each tale. The world itself is also gorgeous, at times feeling as though it was lifted directly out of a fairy tale while other scenes would be more at home in an animated Star Wars game. The differences in aesthetic help make Stories an enjoyable game to replay, a quality that is vital given Spearhead Games’ approach to the RPG.
Of course, the best story in the world can still make a bad video game. Fortunately, Stories is a title that manages to support its lofty narrative ambition with some solid, if unexciting action RPG gameplay. The game plays more like a hybrid between a platformer and one of the older, top-down Legend of Zelda games than a true action RPG in the vein of The Witcher 3, and the results are mixed at best.
The best example of this is the grappling hook that Reynardo acquires early on, which can be used to hurtle him across sections of each map to find hidden treasure chests while also proving a useful tool in battle. The former feature becomes dull extremely quickly and never really evolves as a gameplay mechanics, while the hook during combat feels like it opens up many possibilities and can lead to some incredibly fun fights. More than a few gamers will be left wondering if the hook should have been a combat exclusive, with something else – perhaps a feature that could provide more variety to non-combat endeavors – being used to locate the game’s optional treasure chests.
The combat itself offers enough variety that it never grows tiring – after all, who could get tired of using a grappling hook to pull a hapless enemy towards Reynardo before hurtling him off a bridge into the abyss? Yet for all of its myriad options in combat, which includes different magical attacks with each of the swords Reynardo eventually unlocks via crafting, Stories is a very easy game to master. It doesn’t take much more than the barest understanding of the game’s counter system to survive nearly every fight, and instead of bosses Stories simply hurls increasingly large and arbitrary numbers of enemies at players. It’s one of Stories‘ few real short-comings, but it is one that may leave some gamers unhappy at never being truly challenged.
Challenging players through gameplay doesn’t seem to be what Spearhead Games is interested in, however. It’s hard to find a game released this year that is so deft at telling a story while giving players so many looking glasses through which to view it, and for a game that’s true ending can be reached in well under ten hours, that’s an incredible feat. While Stories: The Path of Destinies isn’t going to wow players who want flashy combat and wild innovations to the genre, its average level of gameplay keeps it compelling long enough to tell a tale that is well worth telling.
Stories: The Path of Destinies is available now on PS4 and PC. Game Rant was provided a PS4 code for this review.