During Rezzed 2015 I played a few minutes of the Toren demo and since then I’ve had my eye on the title. I finally got my hands on it, read on to find out what I think about it!
Genre(s): Adventure (Point & Click)
Publisher: Versus Evil
Release Date: April 2015
Played: Main Story (3 playthroughs)
Platforms: PC, PS4.
Toren, developed by Brazilian studio Swordtales and published by Versus Evil, puts you in the bare feet of the Moonchild, seeking to reclaim her memories, her sword and make it to the top of the eponymous tower to confront her greatest enemy, the Dragon, guided only by the ancient Mage, a figure who speaks in riddles and takes her on dream journeys to help her grow.
When I say grow I mean it literally. After a prologue in which the character seemingly dies, she reverts to a small baby, crawling on the floor and later taking her first steps. After waddling a bit she falls unconscious and wakes up a young girl. This is where the adventure truly starts, at the bottom of the tower. The Mage instructs us to push forward and reclaim our memories and sword, but to do so we must plant a seedling and help it grow in any way we can.
Toren’s plot is a Sun and Moon myth mixed with hints of the Tower of Babel (or some similar story). Exposition comes in fragments, sporadic and often cryptic, though the backstory of the Mage’s tower, how he ripped the Moon from the heavens and put it in a child’s body, and the Sun’s knight are at the core of game’s premise. Completing tasks in each dream journey gives you another message from the Mage, an advice, a warning or a bit of storytelling as well as aging the Moonchild a bit more until she eventually regains her former self. In the real world there are small fragments of lore, but they’re very few and very far in between, such as the one with the telescope that gives you fragments of Solidor’s story. Finally, when you die, it triggers a vision in which the mysterious horned sorcerer imparts his wisdom on you.
The plot itself is very simple and quite straightforward, but both the nature of the story or myth and the way it’s told open it to perhaps multiple interpretations, especially on what it all represents. You can see it as a Sun & Moon myth with some lessons on mortal hubris—the Mage—or you can see it as the journey of life, how everything seems a dream and we stumble and fall and learn from our mistakes. You can also see it as the constant struggle to defy fate, to impose our will on the world. Or you could even look at it as Light versus Dark, Good versus Evil—no pun intended on the publisher. The great thing about this kind of story is that everyone will find different things in the same plot, different lessons, which is the point of a myth in the end.
When you first launch Toren it recommends playing with a controller, but I played it with my keyboard & mouse (yes, I’m a rebel!), and the controls are extremely simple with only three buttons: jump, interact and look. The latter is available at all times, to look at important details in the tower but you’ll rarely need it. Interaction can be anything from moving a pillar or clinging to one in a strong breeze to attacking with the sword.
Jumps feel odd in Toren. There is no weight to them. The character leaps as though she were on low gravity and I often found jumping was faster than walking, especially considering you don’t need a running start. With the way they work it’s sometimes difficult to measure jumps and I often overshot the distance and fell down the tower. There’s also some issues with the controls, as I often found myself mashing the jump button but still the character fell of an edge.
Swordplay is clumsy, but as you control a girl with an oversized sword, I don’t mind it. Combat itself, however, is pointless except when fighting the Dragon. The few enemies you face you don’t even need to kill as jumping makes you somehow invincible to their attacks. If they do manage to latch on to you, a small round of button mashing (or furious mouse clicking for me) will take them off you. You don’t have any health to speak off so an enemy clinging to you is more an annoyance than a hazard.
I wish the dream sequences had varied game mechanics, as it would’ve helped the surreal and highly conceptual presentation. But instead, they all boil down to these three steps: trace symbols on the ground with salt, do some platforming and listen to what the Mage says. The salt pouring in particular gets old very quick because the character moves at a snail’s pace while performing the action. Only the first dream sequence offers a nice change of pace with some underwater platforming. It’s not a big change, but the physics work differently enough to make it refreshing.
Overall, the game lacks challenge. Only the dragon provides a hazard…sometimes. If you do die, you’ll respawn at the nearest checkpoint and get to go again, no penalty or anything. At one point in the game, in a dream sequence, you need to die on purpose to the Dragon’s petrifying breath and respawn to make use of yourself as a pillar to avoid the beast’s attack. I found that a novel idea, each death helping you overcome the challenge, but you only see it used that one time. Some checkpoints are considerably far away from where you’re likely to die, making the trek back a tad annoying.
Movement is one of my greatest gripes with the game, not just jumping. This game loves to put you in forced walking segments. What I mean by this is that you might be running (and as she ages, the Moonchild runs faster) but then reach a scripted walking segment and things will slow down to a crawl and it hurts the game’s pacing and drops the fun-value considerably. You know a mechanic is annoying when you sigh and say “not this again.”
The tower is surreal, rock and metal coexisting with grass and a growing tree. It looks amazing. Sadly, the Moonchild’s models don’t have the same level of polish. Her hair is stiff and moves like a thick rope. Worse still, the character’s body will often poke through the clothes. The character also looks extremely stiff in cutscenes. One example is right at the start, the room with the well, the character looks in awe at the structure and looks like a doll with its mouth open instead of an amazed girl. The expression doesn’t feel natural.
The rest of the limited cast, including enemies, look very good. I particularly liked the druid-ish look of the Mage–though he too is as stiff as the Moonchild–and the amazing cape Solidor wears. The Dragon is especially good, as even if it looks like a dark World of Warcraft Faerie Dragon, it’s convincing and intimidating. The way its breath petrifies things and spreads like darkness is really cool.
The music is perhaps the best part of the entire game. There are calming melodies, some more mysterious, the prerequisite action tunes and some with chants and other wonderful vocals, and they all have a tribal vibe to it that matches perfectly with the game’s style and plot. I particularly love the ending theme, which plays during the credits. It’s perhaps the most memorable song in the entire game. Voice acting beyond the Mage is nonexistent and the man speaks in a made up language (I think) so it’s difficult to judge how good or bad the acting is. What I can judge is that the voice acting for this character will often cut out mid-sentence and sometimes the environmental sound effects will drown out his voice.
Toren isn’t a long game. I finished my first playthrough in one 3 hour sitting. But, as I finished it, I saw a cutscene where the Mage speaks of “changing fate” while showing I still hadn’t found all dream sequences. At any point in the game, you can take a look at the Papyrus in the game menu to read up on previous ‘conversations’ and you can also take a look at the Tree of Life, a diagram showing you eight possible dream sequences. I’ve found four or five, and I’ve played through the game three times. So while the game is short, the search for all the sequences keep you playing–unless you find them all in one go, in which case that’s all you’re getting out of Toren.
Toren’s story or myth is wonderful and amazingly told, opening itself to multiple interpretations. Sadly, some bad design choices, a lack of challenge and an unpolished protagonist model keep it from reaching true excellence!
3.5/5 – Good