Replayability is always a huge selling point in the realm of video games. Whether it is a New Game + Mode, a variety of difficulties and side quests, or even just new outfits for our characters to wear, there are always different ways to add substance to a title. Multiple endings is another good way, with that being the focal point of Stories: Path of Destinies, which boasts 24 different endings. While each playthrough typically takes less than an hour and a half, you can only attain the true ending once you find four “truths” across your playthroughs. Using these truths, our mostly heroic fox Reynardo can stop the war once and for all. Do you have what it takes to piece apart the right path to salvation, or will you get lost in the mix, repeating your failures over and over again? Turn the page (figuratively, literally you only have to scroll down) and find out what destiny has in store for you.
Developed by Spearhead Games and published by our friends at Digerati, Stories boasts quite an impressive concept. At the start of each section in a playthrough, players will make an impactful decision that ultimately effects their route to a certain ending. These choices, and basically all abridging sections between levels, are shown and told through a powerful book, one that is the focal point of the game’s opening sequence. This very book allows Reynardo to play out these situations in search of the right decisions to make and save the war torn nation from itself. This book must have been written by Dr. Strange, considering the powers at hand here. With all the endings, and a self-boasted genre of action-rpg, one would think at $15, you are getting quite the bargain. Well, I can agree, to extent.
This game offers a lot of content, do not get me wrong, but there are some misfires here that keep it from hitting the potential it clearly has. Now hear me out, I played Storie’s spiritual successor, Omensight, BEFORE playing Stories, and it corrects some of the things I am going to mention. So Spearhead Games is clearly on the right path, but let’s start with a few of the cons that stick out pretty quickly for me. For one, I would not tout this as an RPG. It has some elements, like leveling up and a skill tree, but I do not call the Batman: Arkham series an rpg. It is an action-adventure series, and so is Stories despite its best efforts not to be. The genre title was dropped in Omensight, which has very similar gameplay and features. The other thing that was improved in the follow up was the combat. Though I love the style of combat present (simple upgrades, block and combo system ala the Arkham series or Assassins Creed,) it is boring and bland. Enemies kind of just linger around, and things do not feel graceful or smooth. While I like the PS2 era feel of the camera and environments, its lack of shock and awe makes me not want to replay 24 some odd times. There are a few varieties of enemies, which works out well, but another small remark is that their dead bodies disappear from the battlefield without any kind of animation, which seems like an odd choice. The other bit that bugs me is how uninteresting the upgrades are. They are pretty simple, like improved damage and slow motion activation, but some of the others just add damage to your existing abilities. Moves like grapple hook, dash, and grab already exist, and your upgrades just add damage to them. It is not really exciting to level up sadly. You also have four different swords, each with their own abilities too. One can heal, one speeds you up, one does frost damage, and the last does fire damage. Again, pretty basic. You have to gather materials to unlock them, and then from there using the same materials you can level up each sword a single time. Once. With all the playthroughs possible, you would think they would make material gathering last past five or six endings. The swords do have another use though.
Swords can be used to expand on exploration. Color coded doors need a certain sword in hand in order to be unlocked. Typically, past these doors is a chest with a gem that can be attached for a perk. These gems too can be leveled up when you find one of the same value, up to three times. The need for these doors and side areas pretty much dies off after you max out these gems as well as your swords. The game puts a strain on the exploration side of things by not only limiting your reasons to do so, but by physically preventing you from backtracking in most situations. I often would go one way down the fork in the road, and when I realized it was taking me to the next narrative portion, would attempt to go back and scour for anything I may have missed. This was halted by new found barrier that blocks any attempt at returning to unexplored areas. A lot of my complaints are minor in nature, but added up over the course of the game.
The narrative itself was actually not bad, aside from a horrid opening sequence. I liked Reynardo as a character even if he was a bit of a cliché “hero”, and there are some other interesting people to meet along the way, although it was harder to get attached to them since the entire narrative is read off by one voice, who does different voices for each character as if reading from the book. A sound and sensible choice considering the premise, sure, but one that makes it harder for someone like me to get attached to a character past face value. I liked having to figure out how to obtain certain truths, which was not too hard. Some endings made sense, while others were a bit goofy and came off as flat punchlines. What I really appreciate is the art and design of the world. The store descriptions list the world as fairytale like, and I appreciate how accurate that is. The score fits the bill perfectly too. It adjusts for the right situations, and often exemplifies that adventure feel to it. I did, however, feel at times that Stories did not know what it wanted to be. While the RPG labeling is the first sign, the game’s narrator whips a lot of tongue in cheek, 4th wall breaking anecdotes at the user that just do not fit the world at hand. While I appreciated a joke about finding a Superman #1 comic in the pots I was smashing while looking for health, I do not know what a fairytale world about human-like animals, floating continents, and air ship battles has to do with a Superman comic, or animal nudie mags, or other references have to do with the world at hand. I would have preferred a focus on the lore and characters, as opposed to an attempt at a “Shrek-Pool” (Am I the first to coin this term??) experience.
Stories: Path of Destinies has a great structure about it, and this structure may very well be what led Omensight to ultimately being the better game. But it feels, more often than not, that there is either too much or too little on the drawing board. While there are plenty of endings to explore, the core rhythm of the game offers too little in terms of expression and fun for me to actively want to seek out every ending. With my achievement hunting days now long behind me (Thanks full time work and Switch), I won’t dabble much more in the game’s world. However, I will hope that Spearhead continues to do what they do, because they are on the verge of greatness here, as both Stories and Omensight do a lot of things well, but it is up to the development team to use their powers or premonition to find the right formula for their next title.
*Note: A copy of this game was provided for the purpose of the review.
Final Score: 6.5/10
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