Toren is an effortlessly beautiful game. Although it may not share the same visual fidelity as other PlayStation 4 titles, it carries an alluringly unique art style that pronounces itself the moment players arrive at the main menu. Environments are blessed with a muted pastel-esque look, giving the game an enchanting appeal.
Toren kicks off with a climactic fight between its nameless heroine and a menacing dragon atop a stone tower. Despite her efforts the young woman – also referred to as a warrior and princess – is bested in combat and the screen fades to black. After some brief exposition, players take control of an infant girl as she takes her first few steps in this perilous albeit magical world.
She doesn’t get far however, bound to the confines of Toren, an evolving tower that acts as the game’s central location. As in Fumito Ueda’s PlayStation 2 classic, ICO, players are tasked with escaping their prison, exploring a web of interlinking sky bridges and platforms. The comparisons to ICO don’t stop there however, Toren adopting a similar approach in the way it handles storytelling and gameplay.
It’s all a bit minimalist which sometimes works in its favour yet sometimes causes a hindrance. Details of Toren’s lore are given in dribs and drabs, outlining the feats of once gallant knight while also conveying themes of light, dark, and sacrifice. In truth, it’s pretty confusing and what’s worse is that it isn’t even needed, especially given Toren’s short duration of three to four hours. Although it’s great to see a developer flesh out their setting and background, in this case it leads to interference and bars the player from forming a genuine bond with Toren’s lead character.
Gameplay is fairly pared down with little to no hints or tutorials. Instead, Toren encourages players to search their environment for interactive objects which may be the key to solving a puzzle, helping them ascend the tower further. Aside from being able to jump, players can swing a sword yet there are no real combat mechanics to be seen. Much like the rest of the game, all inputs are contextual, whether moving statues, lighting braziers, or attacking enemies – of which there are three types.
It’s an easy game to say the least, made only slightly challenging by the occasional glitch and Toren’s plodding character movement. Bar one particularly clever puzzle, most will have players repeating the same actions, periodically introducing new gameplay elements. There’s nothing majorly wrong in the way Toren feels while in-play yet it lacks a certain amount of substance used to underpin the greats of the genre.
As we’ve said before, the game is propped up by some wonderful artwork. What few characters there are have a distinct look about them, as does the tower itself and the amalgam of dream sequences players will find themselves drifting in and out of. Unfortunately the audio side of things doesn’t hold up as well. Although we’ve no complaints about the soundtrack, Toren’s lack of voiced narration is somewhat of a let down. Having to read slowly emerging bubbles of text is not only annoying, it also breaks momentum.
There’s nothing majorly wrong with Toren. Although barren, its gameplay systems operate well enough, going hand-in-hand with developer Swordtales’ minimalist approach. That said, mechanically, it fails to do anything that truly immerses players any more than the game’s pretty visuals.
Version tested: PS4