After slaying your way through hordes of enemy crows, pulling one towards you to throw at three others, avoiding the imminent pyromancy of the possessed phantom warlocks, you're given a choice. In your quest to aid the rebellion in bringing down the narcissistic toad Emperor, do you opt to save your friend, a trusted rabbit, but one with a touch of the Lando Calrissian’s about him, or go straight for broke, embarking on a quest to hunt for The Sky Ripper, a legendary stone that could easily wipe out the toad’s entire sky fleet?
Stories: The Path of Destinies is a top down adventure game plucked straight from the shelves of teen fantasy, offering the player the opportunity to shape their own tale. In a steampunk world populated by anthropomorphised animals and a series of vibrant isles, you take the role of Reynardo, an eye-patch wearing fox, determined to be the hero of the story. When the child he swore to protect is turned to ash by the menacing crow army, the last book in existence comes into his possession; though Reynardo discovers there is more to it than meets the eye. It has the ability to shape the future, play out certain decisions and reveal the truth, meaning that through trial and error, our overzealous hero can discover exactly what it is he needs to do to save the day.
Unlike the ‘make your own decision’ style adventure games popularised and repeated by Telltale, what developer Spearhead has achieved is a purpose to play time and time again. Instead of a second playthrough to collect trophies or to take the alternative path through the narrative, every playthrough gives Reynardo more insight, getting him closer to discovering the ‘true’ ending. Each playthrough lasts no longer than around 30 minutes of simple hack and slash combat, bookended with basic platforming and puzzle solving. This results in Reynardo discovering one of four possible truths - the book’s way of telling Reynardo things that will happen, regardless of the path you take to get there. Once all four truths have been revealed, you have enough information to be able to the take the true path to completion.
Each time you reach the end of the relatively short levels, the gameplay freezes and transitions back out onto the pages of the all-seeing book, and it is on these pages where you make your decisions that are then played out. You are given up to three choices presented as ink sketches upon the aged paper, each with an in depth description, beautifully written and read by a soothing voice over. Luckily, Stories keeps the player well informed, choices that you are yet to explore are labeled with a helpful exclamation point, and when there are still truths to be found, you are advised to take one path over another.
The initial handful of playthroughs of Stories is a thrilling adventure in a beautifully imagined world which reminded me of The Edge Chronicles series of fantasy books. After three or four run throughs, you’ll quickly become familiar with each level and each path you need to take. But it is after this that you’ll quickly realise there is no more to the world than the five maps you traverse each time; a pastoral farm village, a futuristic metropolis, a hidden temple, a fleet of sky ships and a labyrinth of underground caves. With each playthrough carrying over the previous endeavour’s stats and rewards, it’s more like a New Game +, but without the any increase in difficulty or reward. The only difference may be that you can open a gate with your newly crafted sword, a minor detour which only takes you on an alternative path to the same destination.
Each environment offers something new to look at, from the breathless final encounter miles above terra firma to a dwelling of twisting paths and overlapping staircases that wouldn't look out of place in an MC Escher painting, all brightly coloured as if ripped from the pages of your favourite childhood story. And like the best children’s books, there is also something in here for the adults. Everything you do in game; smashing pots, dying or anything in between is commented on by the voiceover, making your playthrough feel that bit more personal. There are literally hundreds of pop culture references, from all mediums and genres. Star Wars or Dark Souls, you name it there are references, suitable for most shenanigans Reynardo gets up to. This, twinned with the core story, read by the same voice, you’ll find yourself wanting to explore every possible avenue you can. Aside from the narrative itself, I don’t think I heard the same thing twice after multiple playthroughs.
Stories is beautifully presented as a bright and heart-warming adventure. It’s inspired by those choose-your-own adventures books of your childhood, and ripped straight from the pages of classic fantasy tales. Characters are likeable, the narrative is strong and the writing appeals to people of all ages. With a grounded start in their own story, Spearhead have the formula to create a rival to Telltale’s multiple adventure series, albeit with more reason to replay and some light and effective RPG systems.
Stories: The Path of Destinies (Reviewed on PlayStation 4)
This game is great, with minimal or no negatives.
A different take on the choose-your-own-adventure genre, Stories is fantastic breath of fresh air. Though environments will soon become repetitive alongside the general gameplay, there’s no reason why this can’t become a series of it’s own.