I really want to like Toren.
It has a lot going for it – an interesting premise, a promising heroine, gorgeous art direction, and absolutely fantastic music. But it falls flat in just about every other regard, making its missed potential the thing that stands out most.
Toren is described as a “dark fantasy” adventure, but really, it’s feels more like a fairytale or fable. A particularly dense and impenetrable fable, to be precise – the story didn’t make a lick of sense, to me at least. It follows a girl called Moonchild as she climbs a tower known as Toren at the behest of a certain Mage, while a dragon tries to turn her to stone, until she eventually meets a hero and together they slay the dragon.
The confusion arises from the fact that the links between these different elements are tenuous or non-existent – why is Moonchild climbing Toren? Who is this Mage? What’s the dragon doing there? Why does Moonchild keep dying and being reborn? None of these things are really answered, and so ultimately, you’re just going through the motions because that’s what the game asks of you.
It’s a real shame, because like I said, the art direction and music is phenomenal. It looks a bit like Ico; very surreal, with subdued colours giving everything a dreamlike feel. The soundtrack perfectly sets the mood of each part of the tower, building up to crescendos that underscore what would be some quite dramatic scenes if the plot made any sense.
It’s this artistry that compelled me to push through and see the game to its finish, despite its every effort to frustrate me into shutting it down and never looking back. Unreliable controls and a very annoying fixed-place camera make platforming more an exercise in luck than dexterity, and combat, though thankfully rare, is dull, clunky, and serves no purpose. Puzzles are either a tedious combination of obvious and time consuming, or equally tedious trial-and-error. I regularly got stuck on bits of the environment, fell through the world, or otherwise died for reasons outside my control, a matter made worse but checkpoint placement that forces a lot of pointless retreading.
Like I said, I want to like Toren. I don’t regret buying it, and I don’t regret my time spent playing it. Like so many indie games, it brings interesting ideas to a table that’s cluttered with the gaming equivalent of meat and potatoes. It’s just a shame that it falls so far short of its potential.
Toren is developed by Swordtales and published by Versus Evil. It came out for PC on May 12 and PlayStation 4 on May 14.
The PS4 version of this game was purchased by the reviewer from PlayStation Store, after its commercial release.