By – Matt Camp

Toren Review 1

Sometimes a game comes along that provides a wonderful experience; a near perfect blend of action, exploration, storytelling, character building, and unique gameplay mechanics. Ico on the PS2 was one such game which saw you take on the role of a young boy trying to escape a castle with a mysterious girl in tow. Originally released in 2001, Ico is a game that still inspires to this day. After playing Toren for a short while it is very apparent that Brazil-based developer Swordtales has also been influenced by Ico.

Toren tells the story of a girl, trapped in a seemingly endless cycle. One in which she must attempt to ascend a tower built by mankind as they attempted to embrace the moon. At its top, she must then slay the dragon in order to restore time to the world. One of Toren’s more interesting ideas is that of the main character aging as you progress, and gameplay changing in response. You start as a toddler and end as a young adult, having transitioned through being a child and a teenager. In practice however, there is very little difference in the three main stages of the character’s growth. The result being that aging is merely a visual indicator of your current progress in Toren. Even in the short toddler section, the only real difference was the tendency for the character to fall over.

Toren’s gameplay starts in earnest when you are told of a tree which will aid you in your attempt to climb the tower. These initial moments of exploration while waiting for the tree to grow give the first hint of Ico’s inspiration on Swordtales. The climb up the ladder to the start of the tower proper exudes the same ambience found in Ico’s set pieces, as do many of the later areas found in Toren. That first climb makes you feel exceptionally small, and hints at the enormity of your task. Although Toren primarily follows a linear path, there are additional areas which can be missed. While such areas can exist as locations around the tower itself, the majority are in the form of dream worlds accessed via specific statues. These statues are rather small and can be overlooked if not careful.

Toren Review 1

The dream worlds provide the majority of Toren’s back story. Each of these stages require you to fill at least one sacred figure with sand, with one such shape always being located at the start. Filling these is done by holding down the action button and walking along its outline. Progress is tracked by the action symbol filling up. In most cases, filling these shapes is a relatively simple task. Only in one later level does this become more of a challenge. There is also a need to navigate a series of obstacles, such as enemies or jumps to reach the end. While this is an opportunity for Toren to provide some challenge, there is rarely any difficulty present. In the Emotion dream world, for example, it is entirely possible to skip the whole first enemy filled stage simply by running along the side. Its second water area provides a more enjoyable almost maze-like structure, navigated by a series of jumps. Although with only one chance to take the wrong path, this too could have benefitted from being made longer with more opportunities to become lost.

Toren uses checkpoints to save progress, but there is no visual indication of this while playing. If you do die, you’ll always be sent to the last checkpoint. For the dream worlds, this tended to be the start of the stage. As such, it was rather annoying that one particular dream will intentionally kill you towards the end. Thus forcing you to play that same level all over again. While the reason for this death makes sense from the viewpoint of the story, it still feels cheap as a one-off incident. Justice is a far more enjoyable area. The bulk of it clearly being a nod to Shadow of the Colossus. The stage employs a similar need to use your sword to prevent yourself from falling out of the level as you navigate a series of platforms to reach the end.

There are only three main enemy types in Toren. This lack of variety is a little disappointing given that two of those enemy types pose very little risk to the player. The human shaped enemies, which could be either mages or monks (it’s a little hard to tell) never directly attack the player. They merely move between two points in set locations, only causing harm if you come too close. Something I found difficult to do unless specifically trying. The second foe type seem to be over-inflated tadpoles primarily consisting of a huge mouth with rows of sharp teeth. While their appearance is threatening, they attack by clinging on to the girl. Hitting the action button when the prompt appears allows you to throw them off before they push you over a nearby edge. Like the human shaped enemies, these are easily avoided by walking around them or jumping away.

Toren Review 1

Although these enemies feel like a last minute addition that was never fleshed out, the final opponent is far more dangerous by comparison. A lot more attention has gone into crafting the dragon. This is your main adversary, and you will be pitted against it several times throughout Toren. In your first encounter you will be pitted against its primary attack: a growl which can turn living matter to stone. The first few encounters leave you powerless to do anything other than avoid the attacks by hiding. Once obtained, the sword can be used to block this attack, in addition to doing harm to both the dragon and the smaller non-human enemies.

Ico’s influence on Toren becomes apparent once again in later encounters with the dragon. In one such fight, you need to manipulate moveable statues found in the environment to block the dragon’s attacks as you search for your sword. This bears a similarity to the final boss fight in Ico. It’s also one the stages of Toren that really shines as an example of enjoyable gameplay. It’s a shame that such moments are few and far between. In addition to the sword, there are three other items for the girl to collect. Unfortunately, I could not discern any significant advantage to having the items equipped. So searching for them felt rather pointless.

Whereas Toren’s gameplay is rather lacking for a game being marketed as an adventure, the artistic direction rivals that of games with a far higher budget. This is clearly Toren’s strongest point. Swordtales have shown that you don’t need big budget, life-like visuals to craft a stunningly beautiful world. The attention to detail despite the lower quality models and textures does its job very well. Coupled with the ambient sounds, this design portrays a tower that is old, dilapidated and definitely unsafe. Likewise a lot of attention has been given to the model of the girl. The manner in which she moves, for examples, differs as she grows older. Some of the set-pieces and cutscenes can be visually breathtaking, such as the initial growing of the tree and interactions with the dragon. There is some occasional texture flickering but this rarely detracted from the beauty of the area.

Toren Review 1

At times Toren feels very much like poetry in motion. This includes the use of poetry in an early section of the game while the girl is looking through a telescope. The pause menu keeps track of most of the dialogue experienced in Toren, yet unfortunately, this poetry in the telescope is absent. I would have liked to have seen its inclusion as the viewing through telescope is not only timed, but it is difficult to work out the correct order in which to read the text. Additionally, the text is very hard to read.

Many of the locations in Toren fall victim to the game’s greatest enemy; the camera. The majority of my deaths in Toren were caused by the placement of the camera, which made it impossible to see many of the sudden drops. Although the girl will tend to grab the edge when falling, this is not always the case. It is entirely possible in some stages to accidentally fall down to a lower platform, but for the camera to remain focused on a higher one. This causes the player to lose sight of the girl, the result of which is often death. There were also some cases where the camera changing caused enemy related glitches. For example, I was unable to shake off a grabber due to the action icon no longer appearing. While in one of the dream worlds the camera became stuck on a zoomed out view making it impossible to complete the stage.

There were a few areas where I became stuck on scenery, but jumping would fix that. Although, when jumping I often felt like I was floating further than I should. I also had one serious crash during my time playing Toren which locked up my system. I am uncertain as to the cause of this crash, but suspect it was Steam related. However, it did cause my save file to be lost. It is worth noting that Toren is exceptionally short. While I don’t feel this is bad as such, I do think Toren could have been a better game had some elements been expanded upon, such as more challenging dream worlds. Further, progress is not fully cleared should you start a new game. As such, the in-game map indicates areas visited over all sessions, and not just the current play though.

Toren is fairly light on configuration options. Quality can be set to one of 5 presets, but no details of how those differ is provided. In addition a motion blur effect and SSAO and can be toggled. Toren can be played windowed or fullscreen in a range of resolutions. Playing fullscreen my framerate was a stable 60 fps. Only a master volume setting is provided. Although the developers recommend that Toren be played with a gamepad, it is also possible to select a keyboard only or mouse and keyboard set up. Although movement keys cannot be redefined – jump, action, and focus keys can be.

Toren Review 1

Conclusion – Is It Worth Your Money?

Toren has left me divided. On one hand, I feel Toren is a poor game. Yet on the other, it’s an experience worth having. The problem is that Toren is described on store pages as an adventure game. In that respect, Toren has a lot of interesting ideas which are unfortunately let down by the overall quality of the final product. There is a potentially great game here, but it lacks the content and direction to truly shine in that genre. However when approached as a poetic experience, similar to Dear Esther or The Path, Toren is definitely worth playing.

Toren Technical Summary:

Toren Review 1

  • Time Played – 4 Hours
  • Widescreen Support – Yes
  • Windowed Mode – Yes
  • Resolution Played – 1920×1080
  • Bugs/Crashes Encountered – Crash using certain online features
  • DRM – Steam, DRM free
  • System Specs – 3.50 GHz i7 3770K , 8GB RAM, 4GB GeForce GTX 960
  • Control Scheme – M/KB, Controller (Recommended)
  • Game Acquisition Method – Review Copy
  • Availability – Steam, GamersGate, GOG
  • Demo – No
  • Saved Game Location – Steam\SteamApps\common\Toren
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