It may have the dullest name in gaming, but this imaginative new PS4 download has one of the best story gimmicks of the year.
One of the thrills of modern story-based games is knowing that you’re being watched. Having a game accurately react to your decisions can impress even when the dialogue and plot does not, whether it’s a random character commenting on what you’ve done or changes you’ve made to the game world impacting everyone else. Stories: The Path Of Destinies even has its own narrator to comment on what you’re doing, but that’s actually the least of its storytelling tricks.
Before we continue, we must take a moment to congratulate what is the blandest and most generic name for a video game we’ve ever come across. Although incredibly it actually changed its name quite recently, from Stories: The Hidden Path. As if the developer felt it still wasn’t quite dull enough. We dread to think how many people are going to ignore this purely because it’s got a boring, non-descriptive name. But when we feel like we’re dicing with sudden onset narcolepsy just by typing the name we can’t really blame them.
Thankfully the concept behind Stories is far more interesting than the name, and goes well beyond just the gimmick of the narration. The idea is that you’re playing as Reynaldo the fox, who’s part of what seems to be a typical schmaltzy fairy tale… until the bad guy abruptly wins and the game ends in disaster. Presented as an isometric action role-player the idea is to work through the game making different decisions until you get a proper happy ending.
That really is a great idea and in terms of the plotting and alternatives decisions it’s presented as if you’re navigating a maze of parallel dimensions to get to the one you want. Playing the game from beginning to end takes less than an hour, with the default ending leaving the evil emperor triumphant. Choosing different paths doesn’t necessarily get you any closer to the best ending, but it does often expand a plot element or give you a clue as to what the optimum path through the five chapters is.
Conceptually it’s a vastly more interesting idea than the thematically similar Quantum Break, but in terms of gameplay Stories has some very obvious failings. The most important being it’s not a very good action game. The stilted, unexciting combat is bad enough as it is, but the bland set pieces and level construction don’t amount to much more than sealing you into an area and not letting you out until you’ve killed all the enemies.
That’s fine in something like Bayonetta, where the nuanced combat is the whole point of the game, but in Stories it’s just joyless busywork. The role-playing elements are less derisory though, and include a crafting system, a relatively complex skill tree for Reynaldo, and a range of different elemental swords that can also be used for puzzle-solving. It’s still not much to get excited about, but it is at least better than the combat.
The other big problem with the game is more mundane: it’s often crippled by slowdown and frame rate issues, and there are a lot of quite serious bugs. Most of the time you can cope, since the difficulty level is usually quite low, but we’ve not seen a finale so ruined by technical issues since the original Halo.
Stories: The Path Of Destinies is a poor execution of an excellent idea. And as much as we were impressed by the narration and the story paths we didn’t really enjoy any of the actual gameplay.
Since the dialogue is often quite witty we’d suggest that the whole idea would’ve been better realised as a Telltale style graphics adventure, without any action elements at all. We certainly hope someone does something like that, as this is far too good an idea to waste on such a mediocre game.
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