Spearhead Games’ Stories: The Path of Destinies takes the Choose Your Own Adventure book formula and spins it into video game form, keeping in mind that the audience has aged a bit. As Reynardo, the dashing fox with an eyepatch, we choose our path in helping the rebellion take down the sinister Toad overlord! Stories promises the player exactly that…stories. With approximately a couple dozen endings to earn, players will be compelled to wonder, what ELSE might be in store for Reynardo?
Developed by: Spearhead Games
Published by: Spearhead Games
Release date: April 12th, 2016
Platforms: PC, PS4 (review platform)
Price at time of review: $14.99 USD
Stories: The Path of Destinies Features
- Ever Changing Game: Not only will your choices impact which ending you achieve, they decide which areas of a level are accessible, which music is playing and more
- Bite size accessibility: With a “complete” story taking less than an hour, players can take a quick dive and come away with a full taste of Stories
- Intense narratives: Floating effortlessly between action, comedy, romance and more; Stories highlights short but fascinating tales with excellent narration. Few are child friendly
Story and Setting
There’s no way I can adequately do this justice, but I’ll do my best…
The overall plot is incredibly simple. Reynardo is a bit of a rogue and made a fateful promise involving a book and a loved one. When things go awry, Reynardo finds himself in possession of the book and aligned with a Rebellion tasked with overcoming a tyrannical toad hellbent on achieving immortality. The “twist” is that the book allows Reynardo to essentially trial run different choices in his quest to aid the Rebellion and see the outcome. Reynardo experiences the choices as if they were actually happening, but failure leads to the pages turning in reverse rather than…permanent and gruesome death.
This is where the hard part begins in trying to describe the enchantment of this game. Each story is divided into 5 chapters. Within each chapter Reynardo must make 4 decisions. Most decisions are between two options, with one notable exception and a couple less notable ones.
Be prepared for almost all the “endings” to be some version of failure. While they’re represented by illustrations and narration rather than cut scenes, know that grisly deaths are common. If you compared the game to the movie Groundhog Day, you wouldn’t be far off. Reynardo must go through a long list of repeated failure to arrive at his “happy ending.” To this goal, there are four truths that Reynardo must uncover to unlock the path to the true ending. Every other ending is associated with a specific truth, and each truth has multiple stories that will unlock it. This means that you can unlock the path to the true ending without having to go through all of the other 24. Unlocking truths will also open new areas, skills for Reynardo and story choices.
The commitment to this system is superb, as revisiting old choices with a truth unlocked will generally include new dialogue when relevant. For example, two truths are connected to main characters. When making a decision related to that character, if “their” truth is unlocked, additional dialogue or narration is present. It creates an incredible level of coherency between a vast amount of options.
The available stories range from noble hero to Reynardo’s descent to madness/villainy. Despite a wide range of “Reynardos” you can become, they all stem organically from the decisions you make. While the main story is simple and straightforward, Spearhead makes the relationships of main characters to Reynardo complex. This allows player choices to nudge relationships in one direction or the other. The real beauty of this becomes apparent with time as you witness the variety of Reynardos play out. Despite the vast differences in endings, I didn’t come across a single instance where I felt, “Reynardo wouldn’t do that.”
Stories delivers on it’s name, and provides a masterful range of available tales that keep the game compelling choice after choice.
Stories is a bit old school with button mashing combat that’s easy to pick up and play. What I mean by “old school” is that you could map the necessary buttons to win to an old NES controller and come out alright. There are a good amount of techniques that can be added into the mix to keep fights interesting and raise your score/experience awarded at the end of each one. But button mashing “attack” is a viable strategy. A hook shot that also is used to navigate between platforms can be used to bring enemies close for instance. Counter attacks and grab attacks round out the main offense. Dashing to evade and special abilities based on what weapon you’re holding are also present (light enemies on fire, freeze them, heal, rapid attacks). There’s enough variety for somewhat advanced gamers, but anyone could jump in and have success.
For equipment, Reynardo is your classic swashbuckling sword user. He starts with one sword and gains access to four in all, after forging the other three. Upgrade materials are scattered in the levels and can be rewards for certain stories. Each sword can be upgraded once. There are gems which can be placed in his gauntlet to boost abilities. Swords also double as keys, so some doors will remain locked until Reynardo finds enough materials to forge the correct one. Reynardo gains experience and levels, which adds some RPG elements into selecting what your Reynardo will learn.
There aren’t a ton of unique levels, but the addition of routes based on previous choices, and which sword you have, keeps them from getting boring. Partially as a result of each having several paths, levels are somewhat short. As noted, a single story should take less than an hour. Once I got humming along, I was taking about 40-45 minutes. There is a trophy associated with getting Reynardo to max level, so I was taking my time to get in as many fights as possible. If you don’t care about the trophy, you can progress faster (I did one story in 25 minutes to test).
There’s enough variety of things to unlock and changes in the environment to keep the gameplay fresh through about 10-12 stories I’d wager. I had fully upgraded swords and top end gems of every type well before that myself. By about the 10 story mark I had leveled up enough to where I didn’t feel like more levels would add anything new. They just made fights quicker with stronger versions of skills. At some point the needed experience to level maxes out at 30k, which you can generally squeeze into one story.
This results in a well balanced character development for players that will only run through half the stories or so. It’s hard to knock the thought process as I’m sure most players can’t be counted on for the tenacity to run through the game 25 times. The story supports this notion as well, as I mentioned you can get the true ending rather quickly. Similarly, there’s basically only five enemies. Raven. Raven with shield. Exploding raven. Raven that casts AoE fire spell. Raven that buffs other ravens. There aren’t any bosses. The count and exact formations vary a good deal, and new permutations start to occur as you progress. Like character development, it serves the game well for about halfway through. However, so much time and thought went to encourage seeing the stories. I can’t help but feel that they dropped the ball by not having a few incentives for the tenacious players to look forward to. High level techniques that you won’t get until late game, super secret fifth or sixth sword, new enemies…something. There is one “perk” for getting the true ending, which makes wrapping up any missing stories easier, but still doesn’t provide a more robust gameplay experience.
Audio & Visual
Stories is a wonderful illustration of the gaming Renaissance we’re currently experiencing. The ease of entry for smaller studios has encouraged a lot of creativity. This combines well with more varied and powerful resources than ever before. The gaming world has seen many developers use this climate to choose art over graphics. From a mechanical perspective, Stories could be seen as an updated version of Gauntlet or Legend of Zelda. Yes, there are differences, but at at the core it’s a game type that’s existed for a long time. What is currently possible from an artistic standpoint though allows for an older style to keep up with modern conventions. There’s not a large number of levels, but they do encompass a broad range of settings. Set up as series of small islands in a coherent path, there’s plenty of room for scenery in the backdrop. Levels and decoration from background to foreground blend into a single visual treat. The usage of a more “cartoony” style, similar to what one might expect in a tome of fairy tales, provides a flexibility to tell the wide range of available choices. Stories is a clear demonstration that a game can be an artistic achievement without the need to also be technical wizardry.
Music is similarly excellent with a wide range of tracks considering the brief nature of the game. Music varies by standard conventions like levels, but doesn’t always follow strict guidelines. The underlying “Reynardo” you’re playing at the moment might force a new song into a familiar level for instance.
The real star of the show here is the narrator. The various stories encompass an incredible array of possible emotions and situations which are all executed nearly to perfection. The presentation is that of being read a story, with the narrator performing all the character voices in addition to his narration. The dialogue trees and combinations that are dependent on other choices are mind boggling. It’s a true delight to hear appropriate dialogue, narration and even intonation and emotion based on exactly what’s happening. And if that weren’t enough, during gameplay there will be the occasional quip or reference to what the PC is doing. Swinging your sword around in the air aimlessly? Smashing pots? You’ll chuckle when you get the canon explanation of that via the narrator. Self referential humor, and references to other games and works show up with impeccable timing (there’s even a Dark Souls quote). To platinum the game, I completed about 30 runs and was still finding bits of in game narration I hadn’t heard before.
There’s nothing short of an astounding number of combinations of scenes. Stories delivers time after time, in no small part to the sights and sounds, and carried by the narration.