With Steam’s Greenlight (now discontinued in favor of Steam Direct) program allowing so many developers put their titles and ideas onto the platform, it can be difficult to pick out the wheat from the chaff. Spearhead Games is anything but some incompetent indie dev looking to make some money off a quick Unity engine asset flip, though a cursory look at any of their games may understandably not give off the best impression. “Oh, another ‘Action-Adventure RPG’ in some nondescript fantasy land where ‘Choices matter’, joy!” one might say after reading the tags and peeking through the screenshots on Steam, but a deceptively ingenious game and narrative lies hidden beneath the admittedly unappetizing surface.
In Stories: The Path of Destinies, you play as Reynardo the fox, a reluctant hero who’s out to save the world in whatever way he can. Unfortunately, no matter what choices you make, whether to save a friend or gather an artifact, meet up with scientists or defend the rebel base, you fail, again and again. Thanks to a powerful book, Reynardo isn’t actually living out his choices, but rather divining into the future to see what would happen if he did this, then that. All the while the player is learning alongside Reynardo as the snippy narrator and sarcastic hero fill in the time between action sequences. One of the most impressive features of the game aside from the dynamic and perfectly voiced narrative and unique gimmick is that your choices actually do matter (something a lot of games seem to have trouble with), at least until you fail spectacularly and get sent back to the beginning. Each ending is unique, however, so you still get rewarded for failing.
The gameplay of Stories is, honestly, pretty darn weak. The set pieces you run through have a few scattered puzzles, some jumping areas, and other areas you can unlock once you get the right kinds of swords, but these are all industry standard when it comes to RPG ‘dungeons’ and thus nothing about them particularly stand out in this sense. As you run around the narrator will make short jokes, references, or quips based on whatever it is you’re doing or where you are, sometimes giving Reynaldo a line or two. You’ll either love or hate this. The combat is similarly stock-standard, giving you simple attacks that whittle away at an enemy’s health bar and tools you unlock through experience points that make your fights 5% more stylish with each upgrade. However, one would hopefully be able to pick up by the title of the game that you should only get the game if you’re in it for the story. It’s not terrible, but the gameplay by no means carries the game.
The presentation of the narrative is easily what makes Stories’ story so engaging. In order to stop the evil toad Emperor, you make whatever choices you think are best at the time, which in terms of the game sends you to one area or another. Rarely does a choice feel like it has an obvious answer. Your very first decision is whether or not you want to get a piece of a powerful artifact, one that could sway the tides of the war, or save an old friend who’s been captured by the enemy, and who probably has a way to help out the cause. As you go through each combination of choices (of which there are dozens), you discover truths about the situation. You keep your knowledge as you reset back to the beginning, as per the magic of the book, and can use that knowledge to your advantage. This changes the story and your place in the overarching narrative in overt or subtle ways, making previous paths branch off in unexpected directions or opening up entire areas to the player. The game does an excellent job getting the player invested in the story and constantly rewards them with new interactions and truths to discover, while also rewarding exploration with bits of lore not central to the main plot. Once you’ve gathered enough truths (takes about 5 or so runs, none of which should take more than half an hour), you finally know just what to do. Overall it is an extremely satisfying experience to see all your hard work be paid off in the end in a typical fantasy story ending.
As already stated, the narrator of Stories: The Path of Destinies (Julian Casey) does a great job. He narrates and voices all the characters, each voice being completely distinct from one another while still being emphatically and emotionally spoken. His delivery of the story really brings it all together. The game sounds and music both fit, not detracting or adding too much. They serve the game but aren’t worth any special mention. The game’s graphics are much the same, though there is something to be said of it’s unique style.
Stories: The Path of Destinies is one of the few games that can focus on the story and narrative at the expense of gameplay and still manage to make it work. It’s a risky feat to attempt, considering manners maketh man and gameplay maketh game, but a powerful narrative and unique presentation of story-telling through repeated attempts at saving the world to gain more truths really make the game one worth playing.