Toren (PC) Review

By Athanasios 27.05.2015

Review for Toren on PC

There is a certain breed of video games where terms like gameplay, replay value, et cetera, come second to the emotions that these can evoke, with some good examples being Journey, Flower, and the critically acclaimed Ico. This indie cauldron of myths, which goes by the name of Toren, is a new and particularly interesting addition to this weird family, but, unfortunately, somewhere along the road of trying to be emotive, captivating, and dreamlike - and succeeding in doing so - a lot of rough edges have been left behind, something that detracts from the positive aspects of this otherwise enchanting fable.

This is nothing more than a classic hero's journey-type of saga, with a mysterious girl called Moonchild, who must ascent a Babel-like tower in the middle of nowhere, and slay a terrible black dragon. Constructed by a long-dead civilisation, this tower was used to steal the moonlight, forcing the Sun to punish humanity's hubris by remaining forever in the sky and wiping out everything from the face of the planet. Now, despite being a combination of a variety of mythology tropes, which are as archetypal as the symbols on a Tarot deck of cards, this tale manages to actually feel refreshingly unique.

Instead of boring spoon-feeding, some short "poems," along with an impressive amount of symbolism, are used to tell this pretty intriguing story, and while this form of narration may be baffling for some, it's actually what makes this adventure worthwhile. Most events are open to interpretation and as abstract and surreal as in a dream, yet players are given enough material to ponder over, and in such a good way that it's hard not to get invested, and, for some strange reason, emotionally attached to the silent - and very cute - protagonist.

Screenshot for Toren on PC

This mainly feels like an allegory for the "cycle of life," with the best metaphor - amongst the many - being Moonchild's "death" and rebirth at the very beginning. Her, approximately, two-hour quest will start from infancy, and then go through all the stages up to adulthood, parallel to the growth of a gargantuan tree that will help her reach the tower's top. No matter how interesting all this may sound, though, gameplay-wise they don't really matter much. In fact, as much as Toren is a wonderful piece of art, as a video game it has some serious issues. The reason is that all of Swordtales' ingenuity has been spent in making this an engrossing, and indulgingly enigmatic trip, something that resulted in a somewhat sterile, oversimplified title that feels like a sample of something much bigger.

Being an action-adventure, a little bit of fighting, and/or platforming, along with some puzzles are expected, however, "a little bit" is too generous a phrase. Compared to Toren's platforming, Atari 2600's Pitfall looks next-gen, since skill is rarely a requisite. Furthermore, fighting is either dull (when encountering the normal enemies) or above average (when confronting the dragon), and the few available puzzles tend to be so easy that they feel like the part of a tutorial rather than the main thing. Finally, the heavy focus in storytelling means that even the rewards tend to be nothing more than fragments of the plot, like in the completely optional dream sequences, which are just a bunch of simplistic mini-levels, whose only purpose is to explain what's going on.

Screenshot for Toren on PC

An even bigger problem, which has a lot to do with this game's tiny length, is that most gameplay elements are used only once and are never reprised again, making it all feel more like a demo than a completed product. A bizarre design choice, though, is that one particular "puzzle" gets repeated more than 10 times, although it just involves the heroine spilling salt on a shape on the ground, something that is neither challenging nor exciting, just time-consuming and tedious.

Even those mechanics that deviate from the norm and are more interesting are one-use only. For example, there is a part where Moonchild must move from pillar to pillar to avoid the dragon's omega attack, which can turn her to stone. Dying, however, leaves a statue behind, which can be used as an additional pillar when she gets respawned a few steps further back. Sure, Toren isn't exactly brimming with innovations such as this, yet, it would be great if those few available were used more often.

Screenshot for Toren on PC

A lot of people have criticised the visuals of having a very low quality, however, that's not true. This is one of the few fully 3D indie titles, and it actually looks rather good. Another common complaint has to do with a couple of annoying bugs - visual and game-crashing ones - but, fortunately, most have been fixed after the very first patch. In conclusion, while some polishing would certainly be welcome, this is, for the most part, a decent and good-looking piece of software.

To recap, this is an extremely short and, undoubtedly, far from challenging action-adventure, where, unlike most video games, gameplay comes second to the plot and the feelings that can be created. In some strange way it manages to be very entertaining, but it's also extremely rough around the edges. It could be the obscure, indie version of The Legend of Zelda, but instead it looks like the first - and half-done - chapter of a title with a much longer duration and far better, and fine-tuned gameplay mechanics.

Screenshot for Toren on PC

Cubed3 Rating

6/10
Rated 6 out of 10

Good

It's a pity that this is just an average title, not only because it's clearly a labour of love, but mainly because many of its aspects are nothing but average. Beautiful to look at, with a magnificent musical score, and a distinct narrative style with a heavy focus in symbolism, which, although not flawless, is quite captivating. Is it worth a try? Actually, it's worth several, as long as those that will give it a shot can enjoy a video game that favours feelings over gameplay, and can stomach the fact that this is like a glimpse of something much grander. The rest can safely pass Toren by…

Developer

Swordtales

Publisher

Versus Evil

Genre

Adventure

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  6/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date None   Australian release date Out now   

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