Release Date: April 2016
Platforms: PlayStation 4
Review Platform: PlayStation 4
In a world full of handholding games that push you to the final hallway with linear game play, Stories: Path of Destinies sets itself apart by being none of those things. Stories is an action RPG with top down perspective from the independent Montreal studio, Spearhead Games. The game takes place in the fantastical world of Boreas, which is full to the brim with magic, airships, floating cities and swashbuckling anthropomorphic animals. In particular, Stories follows the fox Reynardo – ex-thief and now reluctant hero – as he tries to unravel his destiny through a choose-your-own-adventure style of play.
The first thing that really stood out to me about Stories was the vibrant colors of the world that practically popped off the screen. You travel across many different floating isles across the land of Boreas and each one is different and unique, but all of them are bright and beautiful.
The second thing that I noticed was how the story was delivered. A narrator spoke over your adventures as you acted, taking on different voices for each of the characters and even occasionally mocking you for doing menial tasks liking smashing barrels – most of the time accomplishing this in a very hilarious manner. The narrator adds a lot of depths to the game overall, making it feel more like a novel and video game intertwined than just one or the other. In that way Stories is very reminiscent of the 2011 hit Bastion.
The way the narrator set the stage for the story was what made him very memorable and enjoyable though. On many occasions he made pop culture jokes and references. In just the short amount of time that I got to play the game I heard everything from Lord of the Rings and Star Wars to Star Fox and Mortal Kombat. It doesn’t stop there either. There are plenty of pop culture references in the Trophies/Achievements as well, including a subtle nod to Sly Cooper and Kingdom Hearts. Personally I found that to be an awesome way to connect with the audience and stay down to earth about it.
The farther you get into the game the more skills you’ll unlock – or rather, remember as the game puts it – making combat more important the farther you dive into Reynardo’s destinies. The highlight of this is that the combat is extremely well done, very fluid in the controls and reaction to the player’s commands. In many ways it’s reminiscent of how the Batman: Arkham series does combat, which makes sense since Stories uses the Unreal Engine for their combat system as well. On top of how well done the combat is, there are also a variety of fun tricks you can learn as you level up and as Reynardo collects materials throughout his journeys he can create new and powerful swords – each with their own unique magical abilities. Stories also manages to deliver a variety of different enemies with their own strengths and weaknesses, prompting the player to approach combat with different strategies.
There are many stories within Stories. Each story is broken up into five chapters, shaped by the outcome of your choices, and at the end of each one there’s a chance for a ‘Truth’ of Reynardo’s past to be found. Once you finish the story the book goes back to the beginning and you can try to change your destiny with new choices. However, as Reynardo learns the Truth of various scenarios things begin to change in the way he perceives his destinies, giving him more choices to build upon from his last story.
With that story mechanic you can see how Stories has many overlapping layers of complexity that you would have to peel away in order to find Reynardo’s real destiny. Luckily, as you go through each of these worlds you’ll notice that there are many different ways to get to the final path, and as your skills and swords level up they’ll let you access different parts of the map that were unable to previously be reached.
Overall, Stories: Paths of Destinies was a very fun and thought provoking journey. It was great to have so many different paths to take instead of strictly linear game play and most of the time you had no idea what to expect from Path A or Path B so it never felt like you were losing out either way. This inspired me to make choices based on whim rather than reward most of the time, which is the polar opposite of how most games – especially RPGs – work. Throughout the entire game Stories maintains a nice level of whimsy and challenge wrapped up in an adventure that only you can control in the end, and that was a pleasant change of pace to what most games offer.