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Slick’s Nit-Picks: Stories: The Path of Destinies

Stories: The Path of Destinies - cover

When I was a child in grade school, we used to get these order forms once a month. We could order all kinds of books aimed at children ages five to I think early teens. I really hope that program is still around because it really encouraged us to read with books that appealed to our interests. One of the series that was a favorite of mine were the Choose Your Own Adventure series. These were books that might feature popular characters or have an original story. You would read a few pages and then be given a choice. If your character chooses the first option, you go to one page or to another if you pick the second. A lot of the options would lead your character to a horrible death or a bad ending. There would only be one proper path to get the true ending and the fun was finding it. I have a feeling that the people at Spearhead Games used to read these books. Their new game Stories: The Path of Desinies plays very much like one of these books. The best part about that series of books was that there were so many different stories. There is no way that all of them would appeal to an individual. Now it is time to see if finding the true path for Reynardo the fox is worth exploring.

Friends. . . until the end.

NEVER TELL ME THE ODDS Reynardo the Fox has had many adventures in his life. Having been a sky pirate, he has been all over Boreas, faced many dangers and found many treasures. As the game begins, Reynardo is putting that life behind him to care for his mother. Both his mother and “the kid's” mother pass away, the latter of whom asked him to watch after the kid. Reynardo fails miserably at this task and is left with a special book. He holds onto it and several years pass. Times grow dark as the once benevolent emperor goes Darkseid on his people and a terrible war breaks out as a result. Reynardo has sided with the rebels and the time has come for the final battle. The rebels are severely outnumbered and the task of finding a game changer fall on our hero's shoulders. You are given two options and the story branches from there. after every chapter, you choose another option which determines the next level. You will reach multiple endings which cause the mysterious book you had to activate. Reynardo is sent back to the point where he had to find a game changer, but he retains the knowledge of the previous journey. It feels like a dream to him, but it helps him make new choices. This will be how you progress through the game until you reach the true path.

What makes this story great is not the plot itself; the story overall is rather generic. The enjoyment you will experience in Stories: The Path of Destinies comes from a combination of the magical book and the narrator. None of the characters speak in their own voices. The narrator (Julian Casey) is essentially reading the game to us as it plays out. He tells you the available choices and when you choose, he reads the new path to you. If Reynardo dies (which will happen repeatedly), the book takes you back to the beginning and the narrator presents you with options. However, he will remind you of the knowledge you have obtained to try and steer you the right way. I have to salute Spearhead Games because telling the story this way is nothing short of genius. Even if it has been done in other games, I cannot think of any off the top of my head.

This is light work!

WHAT COULD GO WRONG? Stories: The Path of Destinies is extremely unoriginal in terms of gameplay. Hold on before you think the game is bad. I said something similar way back in 2009 when a little game called Batman: Arkham Asylum came out. The core mechanic of the game plays very much like a Legend of Zelda title and even features an (angled) top-down view. The combat is actually somewhat similar to the Arkham series (which got it from the Spider-man movie games). Standard enemies can easily be dispatched with just the square button, but there are special enemies that require certain moves or skills to safely defeat. You also need to watch your enemies during combat as attacking enemies not only harm you, they break up your combo. The more hits you get in a combo, the better the XP payout at the end of the fight. Attacking enemies can be parried and kicked away so as to not interrupt your combo count. The camera is mostly static; you cannot move it around, even during combat. Initially, I found this to be annoying, but it was only because I am so used to being able to move the camera in games. This actually works out because you never find yourself surprised by something off-screen. Even when the ravens are off-camera, for some reason the combat flows in a way where you wind up beating the crap out of them before they could do any damage. The enemy AI is not brilliant, but it is pretty good. The various raven enemies always surround you and based upon type, they behave very much how you should in an RPG. The basic ravens will attack from anywhere and can rush in from great distances. Their shield carrying counterparts oddly will stay behind them but that is OK because you have to throw an enemy at a shield to make the holder drop it unless you have a certain move unlocked. Raven warlocks keep their distance and attack with spells from range. Explosive ravens will try to rush you and do not give you a whole lot of time to vacate when they are  about to blow. There are other enemies and hazards, but the ravens make up the bulk of attackers. Overall I think that most anyone would have fun playing this game, but it will especially appeal to those that like Zelda games. It will also appeal to fans of the Batman series who enjoyed trying to get the highest fight combos possible.

SOME WEATHER WE'RE HAVING The islands of Boreas are beautiful to behold, despite the war going on. Still images do not do the game justice because of the art style used. The game looks very much like the illustrations in a children's story book or even a comic book. It is only as you move through the world that you can really see how some areas are textured while others are intentionally left flat. I do not only mean that to describe how some areas are grassy and others look like moss growing on wood and stone. Dynamic smoke, fog and fire effects, along with the lighting, are what turn comic book pages into more of an interactive cartoon. The fantastic weather effects go a long way to sell the environmental backgrounds. At one point, the narrator remarks about Reynardo's paws going numb as snow falls. In another, he asks “What are you looking at?” as a predator eye (Goggler) approaches and lighting is used to indicate its visual (and attack) range. Fortunately, these effects more than make up for an unstable framerate. What moves smoothly at the upwards of sixty fps drops to below thirty in the weirdest of places. I will escape a raven ambush without issue only to experience choppy animation while breaking boxes. I hope that an update fixes this. The slowdown does not hamper gameplay overall, but it is like seeing smudges on a mirror after you just finished wiping it clean. I also hope that an update improves the long load times. While they are not nearly as bad as Just Cause 3 when it first launched, the initial load screen was long enough to where I thought something was wrong with the game.

Where the graphical end of the game has some slight imperfections, the music and sound effects are nearly flawless. Stories: The Path of Destinies has a soundtrack that would fit in a number of settings. It first made me feel like I was listening to the orchestra of a play; beautiful strings and woodwinds dance around the game as if in a ballroom. Even better, the composition follows the action of the game; tensing when need be and becoming playful when Reynardo does. In the “Here Kitty” chapter, the music sounds almost like something out of the early Star Wars films. The only minor complaint is that every now and again the audio clips out for a fraction of a second. Again, I believe that Spearhead can fix these issues and will update this section of the review if they do.

Shoulda brought some gloves!

If you cannot tell by now, Storeis: The Path of Destinies is an experience that gamers should be looking forward to. The narration by Julian Casey alone is reason enough to play it. Combine that with the game being a freaky mix of The legend of Zelda meets Batman meets Groundhog Day and it has the makings of a classic. If Groundhog Day is too old a reference for you (you whippersnappers!), throw in the anime Re: Life In a Different World From Zero (which you should also watch). The controls of this game are very easy to learn with smooth combat you don't have to be Daigo to master. The graphics and music come together like something out of Dreamworks, providing entertainment suitable for most ages. Despite a lot of backtracking, you will not find yourself bored. The way this game plays, every time you pass through an area, it is literally the first time. Unlocking all the secrets of the book and finally finding the path to Reynardo's destiny is worth your time and money. In my eyes, Spearhead needs to already be working on a sequel. After all, you know what Reynardo always says:

Famous last words.