The best bedtime stories for children are those that are entertaining, while the best bedtime stories for parents are those that put children to sleep. Stories: The Path of Destinies falls into the latter camp, with repetitive gameplay that seems designed to knock players out, where they can, perhaps, dream of a better game. (For instance, they might think of Bastion, where the on-the-fly narrative matched both the actions of the player and the world springing to life around them.) Here, the storyteller sounds tired from the get-go, struggling to juggle the voices for each character and to strike a balance between try-hard comic quips and the dark tone of the plot, which opens with the casual murder of a young rabbit and frequently ends with the entire kingdom of Boreas being torn apart.
The supposed hook of the game is that the choices made throughout each hour-long playthrough lead to different endings, but even the most inflexible children eventually grow weary of the same book. Granted, each playthrough tells an ostensibly different story, but there are really only four main endings atop the same basic plot, padded out by another 20 or so minor variations throughout. No wonder The Path of Destinies leans so heavily on pop-culture references (”’Rosebud,’ he said to no one in particular as he died” and “She can do the Kestrel Run in 12 furlongs”), as they help to distract from the relative emptiness of the gaming experience.
No wonder the game leans so heavily on pop-culture references, as they help to distract from the relative emptiness of the game itself.
There’s nothing particularly memorable about Reynardo, the reluctantly heroic fox that players control, and the overt storybook narration doesn’t have time to delve into what motivates his rival, the evil frog emperor Isengrim the Third, or his love interest, Isengrim’s adopted daughter, the stray cat Zenobia. In fact, a few of the secret scrolls found scattered across each island seem to contradict the game’s plot. Given how poorly defined everything is throughout The Path of Destinies, the toughest part of the binary decision between pursuing a recently unearthed artifact or saving an old friend is mustering up enough energy to care about it at all. Inertia isn’t normally a common issue in games with similar time-loop mechanics (see Zero Escape or GrimGrimoire), which means the fault lies squarely with the developer’s bland choices.
This sense of tedium extends to the combat too. The battles are adequately fluid, borrowing from the mechanics perfected by the Batman: Arkham series, but they never go anywhere. Reynardo doesn’t have an increasing arsenal or skillset; he just gets a hookshot that’s used for grappling enemies or crossing obstacles. Beyond that, he’s just swinging his sword. There are no unique bosses to put his moves to the test either. There’s just a mob of Imperial Raven enemies that come in a limited number of flavors: a ranged pyromancer, a ghost that buffs other enemies, and a foe that explodes shortly after being hit. Once Reynardo levels up the ability that allows him to break a shield simply by swinging his sword (as opposed to throwing an enemy into it, or hooking it away), combat is as mindless and thankless as the story.
The biggest “twist” that The Path of Destines offers for subsequent playthroughs is that Reynardo’s collection of elemental swords are persistent, meaning that they can be used to unlock new paths through each of the game’s floating islands. But these routes offer nothing but slight diversions that are even more minor than the differences between the slightly diverging narrative threads. Instead of leading to more difficult puzzles or combat, or giving players another way to complete a level (as in Super Mario World), these doors simply lead to additional treasures and sword-crafting materials. Considering how easy it is to become fully upgraded long before reaching the “true” ending, this is really just a waste of time, and while time might not be valuable for Reynardo, it’s at a premium for players.