Capsule Review: Stories: The Path of Destinies

An action RPG with a branching story and time travel gimmick. As dashing swordsman (well, swordsfox) Reynardo, attempt to lead the Rebellion to victory against the once-benevolent-but-now-mad Emperor. Make four plot-forking choices and fight through waves of imperial raven soldiers to accomplish your objectives - maybe you’re saving an old friend who’s in trouble with the Empire and claims to have a brilliant scheme for winning the war, or maybe you’re working to unearth a legendary superweapon that could instantly turn the tide of battle. The choices create twenty-four different stories, though some are quite similar. Each story ends in failure, but can reveal one of four truths before sending you back in time to the first decision point. Once you have all four truths, new options become available that allow you to use what you know to finally achieve success.

It’s an idea with a lot of potential, but there are flaws in the execution. The core problem is that the game can’t decide how long it is. Most of the game is well-tuned to be a five-hour experience. Collecting the four truths and seeing the true ending will take about this long, and you’re likely to exhaust the equipment upgrade system and get most interesting combat abilities by then as well. If the game encouraged you to consider yourself done after this, it’d be a solid romp. Instead, you’re encouraged to see all twenty-five endings both by an achievement for doing so and a repeatedly-shown screen listing which ones you’ve seen. There’s another achievement for maxing out the skill tree, which requires several more playthroughs’ worth of experience on top of that. If you do all of this, the game becomes a shallow twenty-five-hour experience that spends most of its playtime as a shadow of itself. You’ll travel repeatedly through areas you’ve already seen several times with no point in exploring them further because loot is now literally useless, interrupted by combat with no new depth or surprises.

It’s easy to speculate that the game was designed to be a five-hour experience and then artificially lengthened to twenty-five without actually increasing the content to match - especially given the other ways polish is lacking. There are a lot of bugs, at least in the PS4 version where I played - the most annoying of which are that some areas consistently fail to load terrain assets, leaving you to navigate invisible platforms, and some dialog clips play during the wrong stories, which can be really confusing until you’ve seen the story paths they reference. And the lack of ability to jump to already-reached decision points or skip all previously-seen dialog (though weirdly, you can skip some of it) starts as a minor annoyance but becomes an obvious and obnoxious deficiency over time.

It’s a shame, because there is a lot to like here. The setting (steampunk floating islands populated by anthropomorphic animals and legends of lost gods) and characters (the dashing swordsfox, a scheming rabbit gambler, a wise toad scholar, and more) have a lot of charm, and their dialog is delivered quite well by the narrator as though he’s reading you a storybook. Combat is frenetic and active with varied enemy types and player options. The skill and gear upgrade trees are simple but have noticeable effects on combat and your ability to explore the environment and find hidden paths with special treasure. It wouldn’t have taken much more tuning and polish (add decision-point jumping and full dialog-skipping abilities, speed up the skill tree, slow down the equipment upgrades) to make this a solid ten-hour experience. But as it is, the best case scenario is that you are not a completionist and can just enjoy the roughly five hours of quality experience on offer here and then move on.

I Stopped Playing When: Sadly I am a completionist, so I finished the game and all optional objectives. I’m hopeful that the studio learned the right lessons from this game’s reception and I still intend to check out their similarly-structured but better-titled followup, Omensight.

Docprof's Rating:

Three Stars: Good. I liked the game enough to finish it (or just play it a bunch, for games that don't end). I recommend it to most genre fans.

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