Tale of Tales’s The Path tells the story of six sisters, each at various stages of adolescence, who must enter the woods to go pay their sick grandmother a visit. Their mother gives them one simple instruction: “Go to grandmother’s house. And stay on the path.” But that’s just boring. One by one, you will lead each girl on her own path . . .
By 2009 standards, the graphics are a tad awkward and have that same “walking through flowers” problem that most games of the early 2000s also had. But here, at least, the characters have more common sense than to walk through the trees. The sisters’ basic designs are not that bad overall. The youngest, Robin, comes the closest to resembling the Little Red Riding Hood with whom most of us would be familiar, both in her appearance and innocent personality. Rose also looks like a character straight out of a fairy tale. In fact, that’s the interesting thing about each girl’s appearance—the older she is, the further she strays from the original fairy tale. Scarlet, for example, looks like a working university student.
The usage of shadows and lighting is what makes the visuals work. Sometimes, just walking and running through the forest is a surreal, moving experience. The music is beautiful overall, but a special mention must go to the forest theme, which is an eery song fitting for a horror/fairy tale-themed game. If nothing else, this game is excellent at building atmosphere through its visuals and music alone.
Grandmother’s house is especially creepy and unnerving. Even when you successfully make it there in one piece, there’s still something unnerving about how calm it all is. In the beginning, I kept feeling like a wolf was going to jump out at me at any second. But that’s nothing to say of what the house is like once you go back after meeting the game’s requirements to “pass”: then, the house is modelled after something from a bizarre nightmare, with each section designed to evoke each girl’s encounter with her personal demon.
Overall, the visuals, while somewhat outdated by today’s standards—and certainly by the standards of 2009—are effective, and perfectly capture what the game is about. They’re simple enough to review. It’s the writing, however, that’s more difficult to cover.
The Path’s writing is not easy to review. For some, it’s easy to deem “art” or “crap” without actually looking beyond the fact that it’s an unconventional game. Because the game is heavily postmodern*, actually determining why the game’s story is art or crap isn’t a simple task. Postmodernism, as a school of writing and art, is very divisive and hard to fully grasp. The story is what you make of it; it’s in the eye of the beholder, so to speak.
*Scroll down to the Modernism vs Postmodernism Chart to get a more simplified idea of the tl;dr version.
I will admit that at first, it was hard for me to get into this game. I mean, I didn’t mind walking around the forest. Once, I played in the forest with the girl in white before going off to grandmother’s. What was the meaning I found in this? We make friends in life, but sometimes we must leave them behind to go forward. But I just couldn’t really GET into it. Then I thought that maybe I was being a bit unfair, and played through to the end, and attempted to read deeper into it. The best I can do is give an opinion and an attempted dissection. But even that is hard. “Subjectivity is the only possible approach to reviewing,” Roger Ebert said. “What is a review but an opinion?” He’s right, by all accounts, but it’s easier to have a subjective view of something that’s only partially subjective, which is what this game is.
My interpretation is that the story is ultimately about female adolescence and maturity. Each girl represents a different stage of emotional and physical maturity. Robin represents the beginning of a child’s understanding that the world is not always a fun and happy place. Rose stands for the realization that kindness can be easily abused and taken for granted. Ginger wants to stay a kid forever, but is forced to grow up too fast. Ruby epitomizes a teenager’s need to rebel against conformity. Carmen longs to express her sexuality. And Scarlet embodies the maturity that comes with balancing responsibility and passion.
The problem I have is that they’re more concepts than characters. I want to be invested in them. I want to actually see them as sisters and as individual beings. But when I try to imagine them as a family, it’s still too easy to imagine them as just concepts. Once in a while, you get a brief glimpse into each girl’s character. There are various items you can pick up or interact with throughout the forest, and sometimes, you’ll see a small description that varies depending on who’s looking at it. For example, Ruby, the gloomy goth, will compare something to death, while Ginger, the more adventurous one, describes the sensations associated with the item. These descriptions provide a little insight into each sister’s character.
(Warning: SPOILERS for this paragraph)
The basic idea of having the wolf represent something associated with each character’s individual demon is brilliant. But what the individual demon IS, however, is not always so obvious. In Robin’s case, she grasps the concept of metaphor, but doesn’t fully understand it yet. That’s why her wolf manifests literally. But as the girls grow older, their wolves take on a very different, more familiar shape that most contemporary players would describe as a “wolf in sheep’s clothing.”
In terms of story and theme, The Path represents female adolescence and maturity at different stages. The forest, I think, is enchanted to reflect each girl’s state of mind. Or it’s simply a narrative backdrop for each girl’s journey through life. But is there more to them than that? Outside of the game, the creators went the extra mile to give each girl a LiveJournal account where a bit more of her personality and character is revealed, but ultimately, I’d rather see these girls as characters.
There isn’t any gameplay to speak of since you just wander aimlessly until something happens. Your only goal is an illusion. You may have heard some people say, “It’s not a game, it’s an experience!” That’s pretty much meant to be taken literally. Games like Gone Home or Serena make it clear off the bat that this is, in fact, about exploration rather than gameplay, and even then, they still have some sort of goal in mind. But The Path creates the illusion of gameplay to entice the player to keep going.
One way it builds up that illusion is by giving you the option to find golden flowers throughout the forest, but the more valuable exercise is finding various objects the girls can pick up, add to their basket, and then comment upon. You can only interact with an item by letting of the mouse once the object’s image comes up on screen. Then the girls walk up to it. In other words, you play by not actually playing at all.
The problem with this mechanic is that it calls attention to how clever it is. Instead of just kind of being there, it makes you aware it is there. While it’s kind of neat at first, it gets repetitive, especially since you don’t have an actual map to tell you where you’re going. When I got to Ginger, I kept trying to find her “wolf” area, but I kept getting lost because there is no real clear sense of direction. You get something resembling a map after travelling a certain distance, but it’s not exactly helpful, and only appears on-screen for a few seconds. Once you figure out how to meet the wolf, the process becomes very redundant and tiring, not to mention a bit unsettling—in order to “win,” you need to lose by deliberately seeking out the wolf, thereby setting your Little Red up to be killed (or something) and scarred for life (or … something).
There’s no real correct way to sum up The Path. In the end, I would say that while there are some interesting and intriguing elements, and while it does an excellent job with atmosphere and presentation, the content itself is very hit-or-miss. I got on board with certain ideas and concepts 100%, but others didn’t grab me quite so much. It was easier to connect with the premise than the execution. If you’re interested in the game, I’d personally recommend waiting until this game goes on sale. If you buy it, take it in slow and easy, like a spoonful of medicine mixed with a little sugar.
Review: The Path
The Path: While it has some interesting and intriguing ideas, The Path on the whole tends to steep itself in metaphor, at times to its very best merits, at others to its very worst detriment.
- Story (6.75/10)
- Presentation (8.08/10)
- Gameplay (5.67/10)
- Replay Value (6.58/10)