Don't let Stories: The Path of Destinies' incredibly generic sounding name put you off – this is a charming and rather unique PlayStation 4 indie that is, more often than not, very enjoyable to play. It's an action role-playing game of sorts in which you take on the role of Reynardo, an anthropomorphic fox with a roguish attitude who's more eager than most to be a world-saving hero.
He may have dreams and aspirations of his own, but Reynardo's fate is left squarely in your hands. As its name suggests, Stories is essentially a big tangled web of tales, which are defined and altered by the choices that you make. Every storyline is made up of five chapters, and between each chapter, you're presented with branching options that change the flow of the current story.
You may be asked to choose between rescuing one of Reynardo's old friends from an evil empire or tracking down an ancient artefact that could turn the tide of an impending war, for example. They're not hugely personal decisions, but it's nice to see player choice used as neatly as it is here. Stories clearly takes most of its inspiration from 'choose your own adventure' novels, and that's reflected in the fact that everything's told through a mystical book which allows Reynardo to change his fate.
Indeed, most storylines conclude with our furry hero meeting an unwelcome end, but no matter how many times he fails, he's always brought back to the start of his journey, and retains all of the knowledge that he picked up along the way. In other words, you slowly but surely discover the truths of Reynardo's quest – different paths leading to new realisations that help you make the right choices later on.
Eventually, your accumulated knowledge will unlock a 'true' ending, and that's when the title comes to its real conclusion. Getting to that point, however, admittedly takes a lot of time, and sees you replay certain storylines again and again just to get to a point where you can alter their course for the better. Proceedings are fortunately streamlined thanks to icons that indicate whether a choice leads to something new happening, but there's still a lot of repetition to deal with.
Whether you have the patience to stick around or not will come down to how much you enjoy the rest of what the game offers, then. Gameplay consists of two components: exploration and combat. Exploration is relatively limited, with a few branching paths here and there leading to treasure chests, for example, but the environments are pretty enough and winding enough to keep you engaged.
It's really the combat that'll keep you trucking along. Fast paced affairs that take a lot of cues from the Batman: Arkham games and similar titles like Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, battles are very reactive, meaning that there's an emphasis on countering, dashing away from danger, and generally performing the right action at the right time in order to achieve victory. Like the aforementioned blockbusters, there's a rhythm and flow to be mastered, as Reynardo leaps from enemy to enemy, slicing them in half or blocking their incoming attacks with nicely timed counters.
When you're in the zone and making good use of Reynardo's various abilities, combat looks and feels great, but with only several different types of opponent to be found throughout the entire release, encounters do get a little stale later on. That said, the nicely worked skill and sword upgrade systems are rewarding, dishing out cool new abilities and statistic boosts every time that you level up or find enough raw materials. What's more, all of your character progression carries over to your next run once you've seen a storyline through, which makes even failed journeys seem well worth the effort.
Stories' core elements are rock solid, and there's a lot to like across the game's presentation, art style, and pleasant soundtrack – but the release comes frighteningly close to undoing a lot of what it gets right due to its shockingly shoddy performance on Sony's home console.
Frame rate dips are almost constant – even when there's no action on screen – load times can be far too lengthy, and we've stumbled across a number of annoying bugs. Twice, at the same point, we found ourselves lodged in the floor of a particular level, unable to move, and our only option was to quit to the main menu and lose about 15 minutes of progress. Another issue occurred when part of the landscape failed to materialise, halting our exploration entirely. Disappointing doesn't even begin to cover it.
We have to assume that Stories: The Path of Destinies just isn't optimised nearly as well as it should be on the PS4 – and that's an absolutely massive shame, because this is otherwise one of the most charming, original, and enjoyable indie titles available on the system. Branching storylines, cool combat, and rewarding RPG elements work in tandem to form a memorable adventure, but one that needlessly stumbles and falls over various technical issues. This certainly isn't the true ending that we were hoping for.