One story can be told a thousand times, but what makes it special is how it’s told. The tale of Toren is special. Though you probably will find similarities between games like Ico or classic mythology you’ve read in high school, Toren draws you with an immediately beautiful world and an intriguing character destined to climb a solitary, mysterious tower.
Developed by Brazilian indie studio Swordtales, the artwork of Toren is striking thanks to its heavy Brazilian influence. The tower of Toren sets the stage for the game. It is desolate, cold, built from stone, and rises high into the heavens. You aren’t given a reason why, but the main character, Moonchild, is stuck here and even death doesn’t grant her escape. From birth to childhood, and to adulthood to death, she’s attached to this tower and it’s up to you to climb to the top and figure out why. The barren, bleak world of the tower seems to conflict with Moonchild’s elegance and brightness creating some striking visuals throughout the game. Inside Toren, you follow a tree that has begun to grow within the tower. This tree brings another aspect of life and nature to grey stones that surround your ascent. While there isn’t a ton of granular detail to be found in Toren, I was very pleased with the art style and direction.
The unpleasant side to the visuals is just how choppy it can all run. Throughout my three hours or so that it took to complete Toren, I found myself running into multiple sections where the framerate would drop, and certain scenes fell victim to massive screen tearing. I’m not even someone who normally notices or cares about these types of things, so long as it isn’t overly obvious; in Toren, it is.
Playing Toren isn’t a chore, though, regardless of its technical issues. I found my time with it light and breezy with a simple amount of engagement that kept me entertained while dolling out the story on a fantastic pace. Most of your time in Toren will be spent exploring the tower with Moonchild using light platforming skills and some basic puzzle-solving. Though the girl will eventually get a hold of a sword, there’s barely any combat except for her main adversary, an evil dragon that lurks inside Toren. In the few battles where the two confront, each scenario is set up a bit differently, which is something I really appreciated considering the game is only a few hours long. These fights range from dodging and attacking the beast, to hiding from it, to working together with a friend to fell the wyvern.
Though some of the mechanics of the game work well, nothing ever really stands out and shines. Some of the puzzles are as basic as looking up at the stars in order to see how a set of patterns need to be input. Another involves you leading a deer to an altar for sacrifice. These ideas all function and work well enough, but I couldn’t help but feel like some parts of Toren were underdeveloped. The game functions in order to tell a story, and that may be the whole point, but I still would’ve loved to see a bit more go into the gameplay.
Luckily, the tale is one that I still very much enjoyed. The story of Moonchild is interesting and fun to unfold, and Swordtales takes their inspiration from Ico and runs with it by introducing small pieces of the story at a time and slowly unfolding the entire tale. As you progress, so does Moonchild. As the tree in Toren grows, so does the girl, and so do you, earning new awareness and abilities to overcome to the obstacles forthcoming. It all just meshes together in a really amazing way that had me hooked. I wanted to know Moonchild’s fate, and I wanted to see it within the beautiful world of this game.
In a recent Retro Weekend — a regular feature article on Invisible Gamer — I wrote about Monster World IV and the culture that influenced the game. In Toren, Brazilian culture seems to shine through in a way that really makes it stand out. It continues my thought that developers should really dig into different cultures and unearth some of their tales, art, and soul to make compelling video games. Toren doesn’t have the tightest gameplay, highest polygon count, or run the smoothest, but it more than makes up for it by telling a tale that left a lasting impression on me.