I didn’t know anything about Toren when the press release arrived in my inbox.
It feels a lot like Fumito Ueda’s Ico and Shadow of the Colossus: melancholy in its ruins of monumental architecture, its sound and its pace. But where those games were about Boy saving Girl and destroying a massive castle or an entire land in the process, Toren is the adventure of Moonchild (not a Zappa), a girl who, in the intro cinematic, bears a not-so-subtle resemblance to another young woman with a large sword and a penchant for violence. It’s the stuff that videogames are made of: a prophecy, a hero, a giant phallic symbol that needs to be destroyed.
Except the prophecy isn’t about an ostensibly un-gendered hero (who will almost always just happen to be a guy): a young girl will do the saving, freeing all those trapped. By destroying the phallic symbol, naturally. There was a knight that saved her once before. He’s not around anymore.
There is a sense that developer Swordtales paid very close attention to the imagery they use in Toren. Tarot and Kabbalah and Videogame, all their own systems with their own iconographies. Nature blends with architecture; there are antlers and giant swords and sacrificial altars, giant faceless statues and dragons.
Motifs repeat – a druid-like antlered man in a robe and hood sends Moonchild on her quest. You run across a stag feeding peacefully later on: the game doesn’t stop and shout, “Hey, look, we’ve got symbolism here!” No text dump spits out the exact interpretation you are supposed to come up with. It lets the images work on your imagination.
As Moonchild jumps and climbs her way up the tower, she has two major kinds of interactions: instant and sustained. Instants are indicated by a solid exclamation point above her head – hitting the indicated button when this displays triggers some small event, like petting the aforementioned stag. Sustained interactions are indicated by the outline of an exclamation point. You hold the indicated button down and the exclamation point fills as you complete tasks like pushing blocks or tracing patterns with salt.