PS4, Steam | 2016 | Highly Recommended
Reynardo, Reynardo, what has thou donst (besides stolen my heart). Stories: The Path of Destinies is a brief but enjoyable hack-and-slash RPG that wraps simple-but-compelling combat, progression, and story mechanics into a bundle largely elevated by fantastic art direction and unique storytelling.
This action RPG sets itself apart by providing all the basics along with its uncommon approach to storytelling. The standard systems are here: snappy, fun combat; upgrades throughout; different weapons, enhancements, and techniques; and light exploration with crafting loot as a reward. Layered on top of this well-executed mindless fun is a choose-your-own-adventure narrative with all characters voiced by a single actor, lending a fairy tale aesthetic to its wonderful cutscenes and omnipresent narration. Characters are enjoyable, quipping at each other with an endearing rapport. The obvious love and polish coating the more basic elements of the game were more than enough to draw me into the world and story the creators wanted to tell, and the oddly-satisfying combat and systems kept me hooked well beyond the culmination of the main arc.
Each choice made in the story funnels the player to different worlds and outcomes, with each ending uncovering a “truth”. This truth is intended to help steer future choices closer to the critical path, with each play-through uncovering more and more until the “true” path is completed. It’s a fantastic and interesting mechanic; I just wish there were more “truths” to uncover and that I hadn’t found the critical path as quickly as I did.
The art throughout is amazing. Each gameplay sequence is book-ended by these emotive, lithograph-stye illustrations depicting Reynardo, the swashbuckling, dreamy, confident hero fox, adventuring into his fantasy world. The character icons accompanying subtitled narration smile, frown, and smirk while the narrator layers bedtime-story inflections over each one. Each world is bathed in color and style, and while most are short (each five-world playthrough is 20-30 minutes long), each defines itself with a unique palette and aesthetic. The blow-by-blow swordplay is accented with explosive particle effects and time slowdown, delighting visually as it does functionally. The visuals and voice work elevate Stories from good to fantastic.
There are some (but few) sour notes. Load times are long and frequent. The game suffers (at least on PS4) from some fairly major pop-in problems, both for textures and in some cases entire slabs of geometry, forcing me to navigate blindly to the next piece of the level. These minor issues never seemed to detract from the enjoyment, however.
The game design also seems to fizzle out past several playthroughs, despite the game’s hook being the intentional repetition of its story. While having tens of endings, individual choices don’t alter much of the story thread or have a large impact on the gameplay. It’s hard to knock the game too much for this, though; it seems to know it only works for as long as it needs to, and that’s mostly fine. Just know if you plan to grind out every achievement and ending, the mechanics will likely lose their appeal.
In all, Stories is just about a perfect package of RPG junk food, and I mean that in the best way possible. It’s charming and original while keeping things short and to-the-point. Highly recommended for anyone looking to have some highly-polished dumb fun.