The Existential Joy of Girlhood: Reviewing ‘Toren’

Toren

Toren is the first game to come from the Brazilian indie developer Swordtales. In it, you play as Moonchild, a young girl who’s origins are mysterious. Caught in a strange tower, Moonchild feels compelled to battle her way to the top in order to defeat a dragon and save the world.

It’s quite clearly a budget title, given its simple mechanics and compact levels. It’s also a short game that shouldn’t take more than a few hours to complete. Still, there’s much within Toren that’s worthy of appreciation. The game looks sublime. Whilst the textures tend to be of a poor quality, the overall environments are glorious. In the confines of the tower, you’ll still travel through the blackest night, snow, sandstorms, and the ocean.

Actual moment to moment gameplay is fairly satisfying. Though Moonchild carries a sword, she spends most of her time solving some light visuospatial puzzles and platforming. She has an ability tree, as heroes tend to in RPGs, but it’s a very short, simple, fixed one. I often entirely forgot about its existence until I received another ability. Combat amounts to little more than pressing a single button. Those who dislike the idea of restarting sections—of trial and error gameplay—might find it frustrating. However, I found it involved enough to be engaging and not so taxing that it failed to be relaxing.

The controls can be finicky. To be fair, I played using my PC controls, something neither Steam nor the game itself recommended that I do. A controller is preferred for the experience, yet I found playing using a keyboard doable. The camera in this is fairly fixed, which I never find to be ideal. Still, fixed angles did not make for a major problem and hardly detracted from my overall enjoyment.

Without regard for the narrative, Toren makes for a soothing experience. The video game equivalent of listening to relaxing ocean sounds.

Toren

The story, however, is puzzling. It has all the logic of an ancient myth. The place seems timeless, statues frozen in place suggesting that Moonchild and others have attempted to find their way up to the top before. She ages suddenly at various points. She follows the instructions of a wise old man, who has since died. Great horns spring from him and he wears an animal’s skull atop his head. When you die, you’ll be presented with a short cutscene in which he will offer you an incomprehensible snippet of his poetic philosophy.

I have read other reviews of the game that say Toren deals with many interesting themes. Coming of age. Gender. Fate. The folly of man. It very well might. Still, I have no idea about what it all means. For some, the presence of a girl protagonist was, in itself, refreshing. Yet, I am of the view that Moonchild herself is such a cipher that it is difficult to call her either a good or bad example of representation.

At the end, I expected to find some satisfaction upon reaching a level of comprehension. Instead, I felt as if someone had pulled the rug out from under me. However, artistic vagueness in general leaves me feeling uneasy as opposed to inspired. I am sure that some will appreciate Toren all the more for its confusing nature.

IN SUMMARY

A beautiful, calming game that ultimately left me wallowing in a pit of existential despair.

ADDITIONAL THOUGHTS

  • Why did I walk unquestioningly into the burning sun?
  • Where is the sky inside of me?
  • Can the circle be unbroken?
  • … This game has had an effect on me. That, I can state with certainty.
  • Has a nice soundtrack.
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4 Comments on “The Existential Joy of Girlhood: Reviewing ‘Toren’

  1. I need this game like I need breathing. No seriously, it has so many things I want to see in videogames: a girl of color as the lead, a subversion of the ‘Dark Is Evil’ cliche that I am completely fed up with, beautiful design work and a lot of mystery. …And a dragon!

    It’s a shame it’s so short, but that doesn’t surprise me with smaller studios. Still, short but sweet has its place!

    Like

  2. Pingback: Sunday Loot: Top Tweets From This Week | FemHype

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