You’d be entirely forgiven if, when perusing Steam or the PSN store, your eyes glazed right past Stories: The Path of Destinies. Though exactly what it says on the tin—an action-RPG with a nifty Choose Your Own Adventure mechanic—the title is as narcoleptic as it is concise. When sifting through the deluge of new titles, a game called Stories: The Path of Destinies gets your blood pumping in much the same way as Ronseal Quick Drying Woodstain or Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes. Which is a shame, because it absolutely deserves both your attention and purchasing pennies—proving to be a charming little game with surprisingly big narrative ambitions.
While those narrative ambitions aren’t exactly Shakespeare—drawing inspiration instead from a popular range of children’s books—Parh of Destinies uses its Choose Your Own Adventure structure in a variety of inventive ways. The set up is simple—as Reynardo the fox (recalling those Charles Perrault fairy tales about cats in boots) you’ll be fighting for the Rebellion against an evil Emperor. Who is a toad. But when Reynardo finds an enchanted book, he’s thrust into a sprawling, multi-layered adventure with many, many different outcomes. It works like this: after working your way through five chapters of gorgeous vistas, slick combat and chucklesome narration, you’ll have reached the end of the game. It’s been deftly written, with tongue firmly in cheek, but ultimately it’s a hero’s tale that leans heavily on sugar and schmaltz. Right up until Reynardo clashes with the dastardly Emperor and gets stabbed to death.
Which is quite embarrassing really, because again, the Emperor is a toad, while his army is basically just a flock of crows (Reynardo really needs to git gud at the whole “Darwinian imperative” thing). But wait! Suddenly our gallant fox is sent back to the moment when he first opened the book. Everything plays out as before, but you can nudge the story in wholly different directions. Despite him directly experiencing it, the book is not showing Reynardo a future set in stone, but a possibility of what could transpire. It’s up to him (and you!) to find a future where he preferably doesn’t die, and the Emperor is defeated.
So you’ll start again, making different choices at the end of each ten-minute chapter, until you swoop majestically into the finale and….get beheaded. Dang. Okay, so, this time, you journey to entirely different locales in a bid to construct an infernal super weapon. As before, you swashbuckle your way to the waiting Emperor—leaping between giant airships and countless henchmen. But depending on how you chose to build your fantastical MacGuffin, disaster could be afoot. Instead of blowing a hole in that stupid toad’s face, you might instead blow a hole into the sky—sucking up the Emperor, his army and then Reynardo. And then the entire world. Hm. Back to the drawing board. In Stories: The Path of Destinies, Reynardo loves, lives and ultimately dies as his choices lead him to his doom, again and again. It’s like that movie with Tom Cruise, but much cooler, because there’s a talking fox and absolutely no Tom Cruise.
And unlike other games with narrative choices, each choice doesn’t just lead to a different ending, it leads to an entirely different story—with no single choice folding back to the outcome of any other choice. It’s with this crucial distinction that Path of Destinies trumps its Choose Your Own Adventure roots. I don’t know if you, dear reader, are old/young enough to remember these books, but they were certainly a staple of my childhood. Without them, I may have had to actually pay attention in class and get a well-paying job as an accountant, or something. The rules of Choose Your Own Adventure books were pretty straightforward: You, as the second-person protagonist of the story, made choices to guide the plot. Making the right choices led you to the best ending while making the wrong ones led you to one of myriad horrible and agonizing deaths. Sounds fair, if a bit Dante-esque for a children’s book, right?
And while the same is true with Path of Destinies—the script is rife with Douglas Adams-style black comedy, tragic irony and a singular “happy” ending—the difference being that all the various stories are anchored by emotional truth and character consistency. Just because there are 22 ways that poor Reynardo can ostensibly fail, it doesn’t mean there are 22 narrative duds. The stories are unique, each with very varied themes and tones, ranging from romance to dark Lovecraftian horror. So while Path of Destinies is a game about a dashing skypirate fox who rescues his lapine friend from the clutches of an evil, oppressive empire—it’s also a game about how the same fox betrays and kills his old comrade in order to save his own hide. At the same time, it’s a game where the fox stands alone as he faces down overwhelming odds, no rabbit chum in sight.
Reynardo can get the girl, or the girl could very well not even make an appearance. In perhaps my favourite tangent, our roguish corsair decides to become a peace loving hippy. All these stories are true in their own way, with Reynardo remaining aware of all these outcomes, growing and learning truths from each story. The enchanted book is not just offering clues on how to survive, but also a roadmap for the type of hero he could be. Is he a compassionate hero? A headstrong hero? A romantic hero? Or even an anti-hero?
But this is Choose Your Adventure with an emphasis on “adventure.” Reynardo collects loot, levels up to gain new abilities and spells while engaging in an excellent rendition of Rocksteady’s Arkham combat, where momentum and timing are key. The skill progression is geared towards each playthrough being faster and more intense while the levels are riddled with multiple paths, shortcuts, and secrets. If you’ve been sitting on your hands and waiting for a spiritual successor to SuperGiant’s Bastion, then Path of Destinies is going to scratch many of the same itches. Both have stylishly vivid worlds set on floating islands high in the clouds. Both have dynamic soundtracks that give spectacular weight to every sword strike and dodge maneuver. And both games incorporate omnipresent narrators who tie the whole experience together with an aural coup de grâce.
If the dulcet vocals of Bastion’s Logan Cunningham had you wanting to jump into bed with him, then perhaps Julian Casey’s multi-faceted performance would be ideal for those talking Japanese toilets, the ones which gently soothe as you take a giant sh*t. Casey switches his inflection for multiple characters and scenarios, peppering in snarky wit, heady philosophising and pitched theatrics that dynamically adapts to whatever you’re doing in-game. It’s like being read an old bedtime story by a spirited grandparent—only here, you get to live out all the fantastical fights yourself. The Spearhead writing team should also be commended for making the transitions appear seamless and organic while maintaining a certain self-aware charm. As a team founded by notable ex-AAA developers, I got a kick from noticing all the sly winks to Assassin’s Creed and the like.
So yes, you should check out Stories: Path of Destinies. If you can get past the innocuous title, there’s a lot of fun to be had. When I spoke to Spearhead Games (the interview can be found here), I was flabbergasted to discover that the entire game was conceptualised and developed in eleven months. Eleven months! While not without flaws, the moment to moment experience is incredibly appealing, one that is easily worth the paltry $15 asking price. As for me? I’ve still got five remaining stories to uncover—I’ll savour each and every one. What kind of hero will Reynardo be this time?