Toren Review – PC/Steam
Great game design
Immersive sound and music
2-3 hours just feels like a taste of something that could be so much more.
Toren is one of those magical games that blurs the line of art and interactive storytelling and does so with the same minimalistic approach as previous classics like ICO and Journey. The visual style is quite unlike anything I’ve seen before, blending some fantastic animation with watercolor environments that look like multiple paintings coming to life in a suspended 3D world not unlike Bastion.
The game puts you in control of the Moonchild, a young girl who is quickly thrust into a battle with a dragon and just as quickly defeated, thus setting up the mechanic of endless reincarnations when you reappear as a newborn infant crawling out of a pool of blood and struggling to take her first steps. Interestingly enough, the game doesn’t punish you for dying and in fact, often requires a scripted defeat here and there. The dragon you are battling can turn you to stone if you’re not careful, and future versions of yourself can use those “statues” to help get past tricky parts of the game.
As you ascend the massive tower you will encounter these stones that allow you to enter a variety of dream worlds that serve as their own mini challenge levels with unique puzzles. You’ll eventually obtain a sword that can be used in numerous battles against the dragon as well as these tiny Tribble-like critters. Puzzles are mostly environmental; even the one item-based puzzle that requires you to light a series of sconces so you don’t freeze to death. The best puzzle is reserved for the final battle where you get to mix combat and environmental manipulation and even some teamwork with an unexpected ally.
Toren sets an immersive and magical tone with its epic score, great sounds effects, and haunting narration spoken in some ancient subtitled language, as this old dead wizard recounts the past and foretells the future through flashbacks and visions. The audio and visual presentation would be impressive for a AAA release, so the fact that this is an indie title really blows my mind. This is award-winning content here folks.
Perhaps the thing that impressed me most about Toren was the simple fact that the designers just dumped you into the game with no history, no direction, and no clue as to how to play – aside from the initial button prompts. There are only three commands; jump, action, and look, and the look button will always show you where you need to go next, but in a non-spoiler way. Exclamation prompts indicate when you can interact with something and hollow exclamation marks indicate a level of progress is required, either by button mashing or in any of the puzzles that require you to walk and pour out salt in various supernatural symbols. I was amazed that not once did I ever not know where to go next – a true testament to great game design that can lead you without holding your hand. Even puzzle solutions are subtly hinted at if pay attention.
My only regret with the game was that it was over so quickly. From opening screen to final closing credit was just over two hours, although I suspect I missed a few dream worlds and I know I have three more achievements to unlock, so there may be another hour waiting for me on a return visit. So best expectations would be a three hour game for $10, which isn’t that bad if you compare to a movie ticket. And I seriously doubt this is a game that you will only play once. Toren is a magical experience that begs to be played again, or even watch as somebody else plays. There are so many clever and subtle nuances to this game that you are sure to find something you missed before in repeated sessions.
If you love charming adventure games with causal combat and logical puzzle-solving then I really can’t recommend Toren highly enough. It is a magical and immersive diversion into a world unlike anything I have ever experience in a video game. Currently available for PC/Steam and PS4 digital download, this is a must-own title for art lovers and adventure gamers alike.