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Choose your fate

Immersion has always been a big factor for me enjoying not just games, but a lot of the media I’ve consumed over the years. So, it shouldn’t come as a shock to find out I was a fan of those “Choose Your Own Adventure” books while growing up. I found it particularly easy to insert myself directly into their stories, and it could take hours to repeatedly work my way through them, finding all the different endings. It’s no wonder then that I immediately fell in love with Stories: The Path of Destinies.

Stories follows a clever fox rogue named Reynardo who, through a series of unfortunate events, has found himself smack dab in the middle of a civil war between an evil king and his kingdom’s upstart rebellion. The events that led to Reynardo’s involvement in the war also saw a magical book find its way into his possession. This book allows him to see his potential fate based on decisions he has yet to make, and only by overcoming countless trials and errors will Reynardo discover the truth behind the war and discern what will be the one path he can take to victory.

While the story sounds simple enough, much of the charm of Stories comes due to its lone voice actor. The storyteller/narrator acts similarly to the one in Bastion, dynamically and amusingly calling out many of Reynardo’s actions, from the epic (fighting off a dozen enemies and not taking a hit) to the mundane (yes, smashing all those pots is necessary). Some of the writing misses the mark, but most of its mistakes can be forgiven considering the tone of the entire adventure. Plus, it should be commended as a whole, considering how everything interconnects.

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You see, just like those Choose Your Own Adventure books of my youth, Stories features 25 different endings for our hero, and only one of them can be considered “good”: the good guys live, the bad guys don’t, and the world is saved. The fun, though, is in collecting the clues to learn how to get to that good ending.

Each playthrough of Stories only takes about an hour total as you work your way through five chapters. Each chapter has a decision at the end of it, which branches the story off in different directions before culminating in one of the endings. With each “bad” ending you receive (Reynaldo dies, world is destroyed, etc.) one of four universal truths is potentially revealed. These are facts that never change, no matter what path Reynaldo takes, and which contain knowledge he can then use when he flips back to the front of his magical, fate-revealing book. The truths also unlock additional choice paths when you replay certain scenarios due to the new information our protagonist has gained.

Once you learn all four truths, you should have the pieces necessary to figure out how Reynaldo must navigate the book—like a magnificent meta-puzzle—in order to emerge a true hero. Of course, with 24 bad endings, there’s no guarantee that each ending will reveal a truth, but the fun is in course-correcting each time around, changing one decision—or many—in an attempt to uncover the information you need. So, at minimum, you’ll need five playthroughs (I admittedly stumbled and needed a sixth) to unlock the hero’s best path.

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My only gripe with how this was done comes from the fact that unlike a true Choose Your Own Adventure, you have to replay full storylines just to get to the one decision you want to change. For completionists out there who want to see all 25 endings, this will be particularly frustrating, because instead of being able to bounce back to a decision in chapter four, you have to go all the way back to chapter one each time and start all over, forcibly lengthening the game.

This becomes particularly bothersome when you realize there are only around eight different levels rotating in and out of the five chapters, so playing the game over and over again causes you to see a lot of the same areas repeatedly. Each level has a couple of alternate paths that you can unlock on subsequent playthroughs, but when you’re traipsing through the desert for the tenth time, the levels lose their luster.

One aspect that helps keep this repetition from bogging the game down too much is the gameplay. Stories plays like a relatively straight-forward action-RPG, but there is some surprising depth to the combat when you mix in the four swords Reynardo can acquire and level up, the hookshot that allows him to quickly close the distance to enemies, and counter attacks reminiscent of the “exclamation mark above the enemy’s head” system from super hero games.

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There’s also a deep leveling system, with perks that carry over from playthrough to playthrough. This way, by the time you’re trying to make a speed run for the good ending, Reynardo will be almost tank-like in his ability to mow down enemies and keep pushing the story forward.

There is a shortcoming with the gameplay, in that there are a fair amount of glitches in the game. I found myself stuck to certain walls, or half-submerged in the ground like it was quicksand, on several occasions, requiring me to restart the chapter. While no chapter is more than 15 minutes long depending on how much you explore, it quickly got bothersome after it happened more than a couple of times.

Stories: The Path of Destinies is a love letter to the Choose Your Own Adventure books of my childhood. It’s multiple paths and endings will keep you coming back for at least a few playthroughs as you attempt to unlock the best ending possible. It also acts as a solid action-RPG, with a surprising amount of depth to keep you engaged for at least as long as it should take you to uncover all the hidden truths. If you’re looking for a narrative-driven game that you can come back to again and again, then Stories: The Path of Destinies is a game you should probably choose.

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Developer: Spearhead Games • Publisher: Spearhead Games • ESRB: T – Teen • Release Date: 04.12.16
8.5
Solid action-RPG gameplay is elevated by the meta-puzzle that is the game’s branching storylines. The entertaining trial and error of trying to find the one “good” ending channels Choose Your Own Adventure books, and lends itself to a story that you’ll love playing again and again.
The Good Choose your own adventure-style narrative with over two-dozen endings for tons of replayability.
The Bad Level repetition can lead to fatigue, especially when needing to restart due to a collision glitch.
The Ugly Thinking too hard about a fox falling in love with a cat.
Stories: The Path of Destinies is available on PS4 and PC. Primary version reviewed was for PS4. Review code was provided by Spearhead Games for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.
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