Toren is a beautiful journey that brings together poetry, action, and some coming of age themes wrapped in a kind of Tower of Babel mythos. You play as Moonchild, a young girl tasked with reaching the top of a massive but crumbling tower - which is named Toren. But a number of obstacles stand in the way, including a dragon with the power to turn living things to stone. It's also clear that this isn't the first time you've tried to reach the top of the tower, as it is littered with the petrified bodies of your past lives. The cycle of death and rebirth is just one theme in a game that's as much a work of poetry as it is interactive fiction. But, like some poems, it can be difficult to fully understand, and some parts don't completely work.
Poetry in Motion
The story is told in a poetic style,where solving puzzles reveal reveals additional stanzas. So, it can become a little hard to follow, even with the straightforward trip up the tower. It's not so obscure that you can't make out the basics, like how the tower was built to reach the sky, but it brought about woe, the destruction of the moon, and the wrath of the sun - but it has its moments. The tower also attracted the petrifying dragon and ruined the surrounding world.
Aspects that aren't as clear include a multitude of questions. For example, Where did the ancient knight came from, and how is he still around? What exactly is the contract between Moonchild and Mage? Things get a little murkier when jump between incarnations. One minute, you're a warrior painted in camouflage, then you'll switch to a woman in a red dress soaked in blood, next you're the main incarnation, gathering up weapons to make your way up the tower. Elements of resurrection and eternal reoccurrence are are mixed in with coming of age themes and reaching adulthood. Even in the short section where Moonchild is a baby taking her first steps, the first thing she reaches for is a sword. There are lines that echo the theme of abandoning or sacrificing childhood in order to grow up and attain your destiny. But the concept tends to get a little lost in the storytelling and how the it embeds a lot of different metaphors.
A Treacherous Climb
The trek up is kind of like Jack and the Beanstalk, as Moonchild makes her way up the ruined tower alongside an ever growing Tree of Life, with branches that can be sometimes walked on. The graphics are generally serene, despite the broken staircases, monsters, and how Moonchild always wakes up in a pool of blood. I love the tree's gorgeous colors and the desolate landscape Moonchild traverses to reach the top.
Moonchild equips herself with some armor and a sword that prevents petrifaction, but combat plays a very small role in the gameplay. Lesser enemies are easily dispensed, and you usually end up having to avoid them anyway. The sword is for the dragon, and you need to figure out a series of puzzles to get to it.
However, the puzzles themselves aren't very difficult. The fixed camera, which can only be moved a little to the right or left, is a pain to work with and sometimes blocks puzzle solutions, but it didn't take me very long to figure things out. But the most annoying parts of the game are where the game tries to be too clever for its own good, like navigating a map and pouring sand into outlines in the dark, using intermittent lightning flashes to show the way. Then there's a dragon confrontation where you have to move in tandem with an oppressively slow shield-bearing soldier. You have to solve puzzles between dragon attacks, all while keeping the soldier from being turned to stone.
In addition to the awkward camera angles, the gameplay also suffers from a few minor quirks. Moonchild seems a bit floaty when she jumps across gaps. Reloading to a checkpoint when death is imminent will take you back to the very start of the puzzle instead of placing you nearby, the way dying would. The game also gave me interactive icons for things that can't be interacted with. None of these quirks wreck the game, but they do get in the way with of being fully immersed in the experience.
I enjoyed my time with Toren, despite a handful of frustrating sections. It is an example of art and poetry told as a video game. Yet, I can't say that I feel the need to repeat the climb, even with the hope of getting further insight into the story or the promise of somehow overcoming an ending that somehow manages to be both beautiful and gloomy at the same time. Toren is an experience that's worth at least one run. Then, it gets put up on a shelf like a nice book, where it ends up disappearing alongside the other novels.
- Beautiful art style
- Poetic story
- Awkward camera
- Very easy puzzles
- Jumping is a little floaty