You are Moonchild, a little baby born in blood at the base of a tower. Moonchild is an innocent with no idea why she exists, except that she has been doomed to live, die and be perpetually reincarnated in Toren Tower. Her only escape is to climb the tower, kill the dragon and save all of humanity. Sounds like your commonplace fantasy tale, but Toren is anything but ordinary. Moonchild’s life is a poetic mystery and it’s beautifully mirrored in the cryptic and surreal gameplay. This isn’t an experience for platformers or hack ‘n slashers. Toren is for the deep-thinkers among us. It’s for those who wish to ponder life, death, purpose and spirituality. If that’s you, light your incense sticks, clear your minds and enjoy.
Toren comes to us from newbie Brazilian developer Swordtales. This is their first game and I find that absolutely staggering. Toren is beautiful. The graphics have a dream-like quality I can barely describe. Just look at some of the screenshots here. While they’ve safely steered away from anything cartoony, the environments are so colourful and vivid. Rustling green grass and the crumbling drab tower seem to ground us in reality but the addition of pinks, oranges and reds seem to exist to bring an otherworldly feel. Think No Man’s Sky and you’ll get an idea of some of Toren’s colour palette.
Little Moonchild must find her purpose and to do this she must climb the huge tower she’s imprisoned in. As she makes her way onwards and upwards, the seasons change and Moonchild begins to grow, her experience aging her from baby to toddler to wee person to teenager to young woman. You’ll need a weapon and you’ll also need to do a spot of gardening. A tree that grows up through the centre of the tower is central to the storyline and Moonchild’s metaphorical and physical journey. Using the tree, the ruined staircases and outside environments, Moonchild will slowly climb and uncover her destiny. Along the way, the dragon will swoop down to challenge her, but the question is, when will Moonchild be truly ready to face him and her fate?
While you are primarily climbing, jumping and puzzling out routes and strategies against the dragon, I wouldn’t call Toren a puzzle platformer. It’s much more of a very spiritual adventure game. Moonchild will collect sacred scrolls and receive knowledge and wisdom from a long-dead elder who sits at the base of the tree. Jump in and out of her dreams to experience trials and further understanding. Death will also further Moonchild’s experience of her world. When she dies, caught in the dragon’s blast, Moonchild will turn to stone and be reborn elsewhere in pool of blood. Returning to the same spot after her reincarnation, it’s unsettling to walk past her old stone-dead self. That is the version of Moonchild who failed. The newly born Moonchild will need to learn from her mistakes. Suddenly all the stone statues dotted around seem very chilling indeed. How long has she been trapped in this tower?
Unusual cinematic camera angles add further uniqueness to this unusual game. Never think you are in control of that camera. While at first it may feel weird not to be able to scroll around your environment at will, it doesn’t take long to get used to it and you’ll soon relinquish your urge to control. Like Moonchild your freedom is very limited. As she can only climb upwards towards escape and release, you can only exist in her space. It’s a nice touch.
But what is Toren really all about? Loss of childhood? Coming of age? Feminism? Death? Sacrifice? Growth? The cycle of life? That could be up to you to decide. Toren is poetry in the form of a video game and the narrative is open to interpretation. As a writer, that certainly floats my boat. The story of Toren is the game’s main puzzle and an immediate second playthrough is awfully tempting. There is a level of depth here we rarely see in video games. While the gameplay is relaxing, very easy and simplistic, Moonchild’s story is incredibly complex. It’s all about the story and failing to see that is doing the game a massive disservice.
Toren is a short experience, running at only a few hours. It’s best played in one sitting with a nice cup of tea and a bar of Dairy Milk. As I said at the beginning, Toren isn’t really for people looking for a juicy platformer or a kick-arse battle with a monster dragon boss. It’s deeper than that. This game is all about what’s beneath the gorgeous graphics and poetic narration. If you could hang a video game in an art gallery, Toren would be dangling pride of place in the main foyer. I think this is just a snapshot of what’s around the corner from this developer. If this is their first game, only the Moonchild knows how wonderful their second, third and tenth game will be.
Hugely metaphorical, Toren is like no other game on the PS4. It’s a cryptic and haunting journey that is so much deeper than Heroine Slays Dragon. Toren feels like a hand-crafted and understated experience crafted by passionate people. Beautiful graphics, touching story, Toren is a unique indie title that’s worth several hours of anyone’s time.
S J Hollis Rating – 8/10