Why Stories: The Path of Destinies' time loop narrative deserves to be explored in more games0 Comments
In this day and age, it seems like we've seen it all when it comes to video game narratives. Popular modern-day story tropes such as the amnesiac hero, whose past and identity is slowly uncovered over the course of the game; the hero who rebels against his family/kingdom; and the hero who was foretold by prophecy/legend to save the world, are used over and over. It's becoming much more difficult to create stories with a narrative that actually surprises the player, which is why Spearhead Games' recent Stories: The Path of Destinies is such a breath of fresh air.
While it doesn't necessarily subvert many of the typical story tropes, the way it goes about unfolding its story is fairly original among video game narratives, but it borrows a literary device that was famously utilized in the movie Groundhog Day. If you're not familiar with the film, its plot revolves around a man (played by Bill Murray) reliving the same day endlessly. While it initially feels like a form of hell to him, he begins to learn everything he can about everyone and everything in the town — all of their schedules, what they like, their personalities, — and eventually uses this knowledge to his advantage, ultimately making him a better person.
Similarly, Stories uses that same narrative technique, but to a somewhat different effect. Reynardo, the game's anthropomorphic fox protagonist, plays through the course of five chapters where, depending on the decisions he makes, he'll uncover various truths about different characters and the plot that aren't apparent at the start. In each playthrough, you'll see the story from different "what if" vantage points, giving it a bit more gravitas and weight to the overall conflict. When you finally have all the truths revealed, you can use that information to determine how best to make your choices next time in order to get the best ending possible for Reynardo.
Of course, multiple endings are nothing new. Many games, including RPGs, have included such an aspect going back 20 years or more — Chrono Trigger famously has some 15 different endings. The difference with Stories is that the character himself is aware that he is reliving the same experience with the knowledge he's gained by going through it over and over. Each time he learns a new truth about a situation, it changes his thoughts and dialogue on that same situation next time around.
However, Stories only goes so far with the mechanic, focusing mostly on just the four truths you uncover. If there were more pieces of information that you could learn about a story before everything starts to come together, imagine how that could affect the overall narrative. If the game took into account both your current choices and past consequences about those same choices, it could allow for a lot of variance to any one story sequence.
For instance, if you went through a playthrough where one of the characters betrayed you, the knowledge of that betrayal could then open up possibilities for your character in the next playthrough to examine conversation options with the betrayer that didn't exist the first time around. Or perhaps another situation that you weren't involved in the first time around could further augment the betrayal, such as acquiring a weapon beforehand and the like. A sort of branching effect upon many branches that the story could lead down; changing it in ways that you might not have even thought of from the start.
But beyond focusing on the actual changes that could occur, the time loop mechanic deserves to be explored for what it does to the central protagonist. How does experiencing the same plot but through different ways affect someone? How does it change them when they learn what people are really thinking, what their motivations really are, and whether or not they can really trust or even love them? The effects of such a concept are ripe for exploring in a thematic sense, and how it ultimately changes someone for better or worse.
Stories: The Path of Destinies begins to broach this subject to a degree, but it's ultimately more about finding out what happens to Reynardo among a number of different scenarios and the true path he can take to get to the best ending. It's well worth playing in its own right thanks to its different approach to the overall story, but the deeper nuances of the time loop mechanic and its impact on the gameplay and thematic elements remain largely unexplored. If RPGs and other story-driven genres can tap into this type of narrative device in the future, there are a wealth of intricate new stories waiting to be told.