From the first build I played, Toren has held my attention. The minimalist storytelling and unique art style are captivating. A lot was on Swordtales shoulders to deliver as a new developer out of a country with a developing gaming industry like Brazil, Toren succeeds spectacularly as an example of what they are capable of.
Toren is a third-person adventure game with action and platforming elements, and a major focus on the presentation. Toren’s action and platforming elements actually serve as the games only major weaknesses, but luckily, it doesn’t rely on them very often. Apart from a few brief moments of frustration, you won’t notice that the camera angles can sometimes make platforming difficult, or that there aren’t very many different enemies to fight.
Combat still manages to drag Toren down a bit however. The animation for swinging your sword is quite frankly terrible, it’s so small and low impact that it looks more like swinging a toy. That detail stands out in a game that is so otherwise beautiful. Hitting a specific target with the controls the way they are also proves frustrating, and can sometimes leave you swinging around strangely trying to hit a target (usually unsuccessfully). This makes the battles less exciting, because not only is the combat not very functional, the few encounters in the game aren’t very challenging and usually boil down to simple puzzle-solving. The final boss is particularly guilty of this, as it is basically just a block puzzle with a repetitive twist.
The puzzles of Toren aren’t especially compelling either. The solutions are all obvious, sometimes even clearly pointed out to you by text or the environment. In general, the game doesn’t have the greatest gameplay and actually feels incomplete in a way. You collect items to help you with combat, like chainmail which helps you against small enemies and a helmet which blocks magic attacks, but you don’t really use these items, and even if you did the combat is so boring and unsatisfying it would just get in the way of Toren’s strengths.
The game has a gorgeous soundtrack, with both grand sweeping pieces and low-key tracks. The best part is how the game beautifully blends that soundtrack with a unique art style and extremely well-done cinematography. The way the camera moves during cutscenes is fantastic, showing you what you need to see while also offering interesting context. This is really one of those games that makes you think, as a lot of Toren’s story is veiled under mystery and wording that leaves you to interpret everything. In fact, it’s entirely possible to miss a good deal of the story if you don’t hunt down the optional dream sequences which allow you to piece together more of the background.
Toren isn’t for everyone. The amount of enjoyment you will get out of this experience is directly dependent on your ability to connect the dots. It’s very wellput together, but sometimes Toren can be unnecessarily confusing. Usually it strikes a good balance between what details it gives you, and what it leaves you for you to figure out. Sometimes it doesn’t though, and the true meaning of everything can be hard to decipher. In fact, even though Toren is short (clocking in at about three hours long), I wholeheartedly recommend that you play through it more than once just so you can grasp the big picture of the epic tale it presents.
What is the meaning behind the name of the protagonist? What really is the terrifying dragon that pursues you as you climb up the tower? Why does your character keep changing age at seemingly random times? Figuring this out relies a lot on your ability to piece together what little you are told to find answers. I love that about Toren, but I don’t think everyone will. Your ability to interpret everything will directly impact your ability to enjoy the game.
The graphics are also great. This is mostly due to the art style, but the environments and lighting help everything come together. The game has few deficiencies when it comes to that area, and there are some places in Toren where I literally just stopped moving and stayed where I was because everything came together so well in the moment.
In some ways, Toren is special and a masterpiece. Using the great presentation, soundtrack, and story, Toren manages to engage through creating a mysterious yet epic atmosphere. It’s a game that needs to be experienced to be truly appreciated. In other ways, it’s a poor example of game design. The gameplay drags down the game from what it could’ve been, but considering how engaging the game is otherwise, there’s no reason to pass on this ten-dollar gem. It’s a beautiful game, and I highly recommend that everyone should give it a shot.