Through the first half of its six-game slate, Sony’s Launch Party 2016 has put together a lineup that would rival anything Xbox Live produced during its heyday with Summer of Arcade. Our journey down the home stretch begins with Spearhead Games’ Stories: The Path of Destinies, which is like a fantasy version of Edge of Tomorrow… only with a swashbuckling anthropomorphic fox instead of Tom Cruise.
Outside of some rudimentary puzzles and exploration, Stories‘ gameplay elements are focused on combat. Fights are triggered God of War style with enemies springing into existence while barriers appear to constrict the action to a smallish area. The similarities end there, however, as neither hacking nor slashing will get you very far.
Instead, your goal is to build up your combo meter by striking enemies and fending off their attacks. An exclamation point will appear over their heads when an attack is imminent, meaning you’ll need to shift your attention to them. Successfully stopping the blow will momentarily stun the enemy and, more importantly, keep your combo climbing upward where your stronger attacks activate.
There aren’t a ton of maneuvers in your repertoire with sword strikes, a rapid dash and a hook shot constituting your options. Their effectiveness will grow as you spend upgrade points, earned each time you level up, to increase potency or unlock new tricks (i.e. using the hook to snatch shields away or slowing time after a successful block), but things don’t fundamentally change.
Ultimately combat ends up taking on a very rhythmic feel to it as you time out strikes, transition to blocks, dash through foes, grapple them with the hook and so on. Where you’ll take most of your damage is after a blow lands to break that rhythm, as the computer has a nasty habit of chaining hits together once one gets through.
At times that effect feels kind of cheap, and it makes it tough to classify how difficult the game actually is. I breezed through dozens and dozens of fights, but no matter how powerful my character became I was always susceptible to one or two mistakes derailing an encounter. It would’ve been nice for a more even challenge, rather than one that is so thoroughly predicated on the computer’s ability to overwhelm you with sheer numbers.
There’s lots of detail in the colorful world of Stories and, at least initially, some pretty good variety in the environments. Since the nature of the game is to revisit areas repeatedly, however, it starts losing its impact the more you go back — and given the linear nature of levels there actually aren’t that many locations, period. It’s more of the same on the character front as well, where ravens comprise roughly 99 percent of the creatures you encounter.
Voice acting here is, well, odd. The narrator handles pretty much everything, from laying out the story to delivering the characters’ lines of dialogue, and does so fairly effectively. He’ll also make a number of “off the cuff” remarks as you play the levels that are meant to be funny, but I never thought they fit at all (among the more random references are Jon Snow and the Ant-Man film). The music is pretty good at least, as are the sound effects.
In Stories: The Path of Destinies you are Reynardo, a sword-wielding fox and reluctant participant in the ongoing conflict between the evil Emperor (a toad) and a resistance group. After a raid, Reynardo ends up with a book that contains magical properties, allowing him to keep resetting a series of events until he can decipher the correct set of decisions to reach a favorable conclusion.
Each “story” unfolds as a series of five chapters, four of which are based on your decisions — the fifth is always the end result of those choices. Failure is the only option initially as you must learn what doesn’t work to figure out what does. To do this you’ll need to uncover a set of four “truths,” and in doing so you’ll unlock additional story paths to take.
As you progress you’ll collect materials to create and upgrade swords that can open element-specific doors and feature unique abilities (like healing or setting enemies alight) as well as gems that augment your skills (such as boosts to physical/elemental defense). Many of the large chests can be found behind the doors unlocked by your swords, and once you have all four you’ll max out your equipment long before you finish unraveling the story.
On the other side of the spectrum is your level, which is the gateway to more and better skills. The experience needed to move up grows exponentially, and by the time you’re into the 20s you can run a whole five-chapter story without leveling up even once — so you’ll need to plan out how you want to develop your character as unlocking everything will be left only for the super devoted.
What ends up hurting Stories is the lack of diversity, particularly in combat. It’s always you against some number of ravens, and while the game changes up certain elements (like wizards that are capable of making standard enemies stronger) it’s not enough to keep the all-important battles from becoming a perpetual case of “been there, done that.”
It’s also a bit disappointing that there are no boss fights. Instead, each time your storyline winds to a close it does so with a large-scale raven battle followed by static images and narration detailing the outcome of your effort to topple the Emperor.
Stories: The Path of Destinies uses an interesting concept in clever ways, blending in satisfying combat with a visually appealing setting. While it would’ve benefitted from more variety in some areas, most notably the enemy forces, there’s still more than enough here to offer a strong recommendation.