I really wish I could review these PS+ free games as they come out and make it a “thing”. But sometimes, it takes a bit longer to find the time to complete them. And sometimes, when you review a game too early, you can miss out on how it will ultimately makes you feel. And in the case of Stories: Path of Destinies by Spearhead Games, what started as elation ultimately turned to disappointment as the game betrayed the original concept that first drew me in.
Stories is an action adventure game with a “Choose Your own Adventure” style of decision making. The choices you make ultimately determine whether you live or, most likely, die. In fact, all choices lead to death except one. It’s up to the player to experiment with the choices, uncovering the truth in order to safely navigate the narrative and live to see the end. As a writer, there’s a lot to love about this. The idea that the story can’t be finished until you’ve gotten to the truth is very meta, and resonated with me. The game is also pretty funny, most of it being what I’d consider “Dad humor”. It’s full of goofy puns referring to popular memes and pop culture references. It’s silly, but endearing, especially since there’s only one voice actor between the narrator and all the characters. It comes off as a father reading a bedtime story, one that the child is allowed to navigate. I even really liked the gameplay, a rhythm based swash-buckling combo system reminiscent of the Arkham games. All in all, nothing revolutionary, but solid. Each time I played through, I learned something new, something I could use moving forward in pursuit of the ending that awaited me. I didn’t care about the repetition because, for a while, it didn’t feel like repetition. It felt like I was getting closer…
But then I relearned the same fact four times in a row. I’d played every level to death, my weapons long since enhanced to their max. What started out exciting became an incredible slog, as one wrong choice meant a doomed path, which meant another hour of gameplay, growing staler with each playthrough. Gameplay should be a reward, not a threat. Maybe you’re interested in seeing all the endings, and I get that. But after enough playthroughs, the battles were no longer exciting. I wasn’t trying new things anymore; I was rushing to conclude the game. And when I found myself skipping the same cut scenes over and over because I was tired of them, I realized the game had lost the thing I liked the most about it.
But I might have gotten past this if I hadn’t reached the end only to find that the clues I found and choices I made were suddenly meaningless. See, to reach the true ending, the game breaks its own rules. For example, throughout the game I’d learn certain things: this weapon corrupts the wielder, that another character is a liar, so on and so forth. I’d see these proven repeatedly, and immediately lose if I guessed that the holder of the weapon was too strong to be corrupted, or that the lying character, well, wasn’t lying. But once I got to the true ending, I had to make choices identical to those that had gotten me killed before, and this one time they worked out. Ultimately, winning the game is about making a guess that makes no sense in context. And that seems like a betrayal of the premise.
(In addition to all this, I thought the ending itself was unearned blahness that didn’t conclude the story in a satisfactory manner, making all my choices and frustrations for naught. So, there’s also that.)
Ultimately, I really want to recommend Stories for that first half I played of it. It was that good, that funny, that charming and inviting. But in the end, whether it was being crushed by the weight of its own premise, or ultimately not being able to deliver, I couldn’t recommend this game to anyone unless they got it like I did: free.