Torn Tales Review – It’s No Fairy Tale

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Platforms: PC
Reviewed On: PC
Developer: Twistplay
Publisher: Chilled Mouse
Singleplayer: Yes
Multiplayer: No

Review code supplied free of charge by the publisher.

On paper I’m quite the fan of Torn Tales hokey premise; you take Robin Hood, Snow White and Dr. Jekyll, put them into one place thanks to some mumbo-jumbo involving a crazed writer by the name of the Bookbinder who feels like he never got the respect he deserved.It’s the sort of thing you’d expect to read in cheesy fanfiction, but cheesy fanfiction that sounds kind of awesome.

So here’s the idea; the Bookbinder seeks vengeance for being ignored by deciding to rewrite the classic tales, altering them in horrible ways. It’s up to the intrepid trio to save the day by defeating the Bookbinder. Simple. And to Torn Tales credit the story does prove to be mildly entertaining, told via narration by a single actor changing his voice to play the various roles. It’s like listening to an audio-book. It’s just a shame to see that the trio if iconic characters are never fleshed out, remaining resolutely mute during levels and only speaking during the narration sequences.

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It makes me a little sad to say that Torn Tales doesn’t live up to its own mad ideas. What we’ve ended up with is a lackluster isometric brawler with terrible audio, poor animation and a failure to use the characters well.

Here’s how the game plays; you spawn into a mostly linear, drab level with very small amounts of exploration, and proceed along the pathways where mobs of enemies have been placed.There’s the occasional boss battle. That’s it. There is nothing else.

Although Torn Tales claIms to be a tactical RPG it really isn’t. Combat basically boils down to clicking on the mobs of enemies and then waiting for either them or you to die. You can swap between characters mid-fight to control their use of special abilities, which can be advisable otherwise Snow White may not save her mana for a healing spell when you need it, but otherwise there’s absolutely no thought required. Enemies of all kinds will mindlessly charge at you, and the only important decision you’ll need to make is when to set Dr. Jekyll to evasive so that he doesn’t get himself killed by the damn exploding toads. Yup, there is exactly three programming options for your team-ma10and absolutely no control for when they use certain skills, which enemies to focus on or anything. It’s mind-numbingly boring stuff, and that’s a problem because 95% of the game involves fighting mobs of foes.

Curious to see what would happen, I literally tabbed out of the game several times during fights, venturing back to Windows to do a few things while the game ran in the background. After a few minutes I’d come back and the enemy were usually dead. It genuinely didn’t matter if I was “playing” or not, that’s how little there is to do.

The final nail in combat’s coffin lid is the atrocious animations and audio. Characters swing their weapons with about as much effort as me trying to get out of bed in the morning, and with little to no visible impact on enemies. The most comical is easily Dr. Jekyll’s whirling can attack where he lifts one leg and then proceeds to spin. It just looks so incredibly daft. Indeed, all of the special abilities feel lackluster, especially Snow White’s magical assaults which mostly end in a weak fizzle of particle effects. While the voice acting is actually quite reasonable, the sound effects are anything but.

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While the voice acting is actually quite reasonable, the sound effects are anything but. Amidst a bunch of stock sounds there’s Robin’s bow which sounds like…honestly, I’m not sure how I’d describe, other than perhaps a kind of clicking sound. Melee attacks sound utterly horrible like someone spent five minutes in an audio program without reading the manual and called it quits. There’s a host of technical problems, too, like audible crackles, sounds failing to trigger and all manner of others.

The levels don’t fair much better in their design than the animations and sound effects, looking as though they were cobbled together with no thought to cohesive design. Not only are the environments bland and lifeless, but buildings, fences and other assorted things seem to plopped down at random, creating the sense that this isn’t a real world. There are an embarrassing amount of floating trees, buildings that are partially stuck in hills, bridges that exist for no reason and other assorted daftness, like trees in rocks. That’s not to mention how characters frequently pass through bits of scenery.

These levels contain nothing of note, either. In the very first chapter you go through Sherwood forest, but aside from fences, houses, guard towers, and other assorted stuff randomly scattered around the terrain like God himself decided to drop buildings down there’s absolutely nothing to see. And then you just randomly run into the Sherrif of Nottingham himself, who picks a fight with you without ever uttering a word. There’s no attempt to actually build this world, and I find that so disappointing because of how fun the premise is.

At some point you might die, which brings another problem to the fore; so long as one hero is alive you can continue, and fallen heroes can be revived at checkpoints. See the potential issue? This system just encourages players to backtrack to a previous checkpoint so they can get the squad back to full strength before trundling all the way back to where they were. Not smart design there.

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As you murder your way through a variety of forgettable enemies, from tax collectors to wolves, you’ll be earning experience for your little group and skill points that can be used to unlock new abilities, such as an ice storm spell for Snow White or Robin Hood’s sniper shot. There’s little thought to be done since you’ll be able to acquire all of the character’s skills before the end of the game, though. One potentially novel twist comes in the form of runes which are unlocked at random for a skill by spending points, augmenting the basic ability with new effects. The fact that you never know which rune you’ll get for a skill is likely going to be divisive, though, since it means you can’t focus on what you want unless you get quite lucky.

Still, credit should be given where it’s due. The three characters do feel distinct and have unique roles; Dr. Jekyll only has the option to fight up close, but he can transform into Mr. Hyde for increased damage. Snow White is the purely long range fighter thanks to her magic, bringing things like a healing spell, poison apple grenades and more. Robin has both ranged and melee options, plus a few handy skills.

There’s loot, too, although if you were hoping for new swords, bows and other nonsense then you’re going to be sorely disappointed. What you instead pick up are some rings and amulets which characters can wear. At least here we get a touch more depth than the leveling system as amulets have activatable powers, with some even being able to summon up wolves or conjure shields. Choosing which two rings and amulet to equip characters with lets you hone their role, so in my case I gave Mr. Jekyll most of the health boosts in order to have him serve as a tank capable of soaking up damage. As for Snow White, I put the most effort into her healing spell first and foremost, while I boosted Hood’s ability to instill Fury in the group.

And did I mention that there are side missions? No? Because there shouldn’t be. Not only are these exactly the same as the main story missions, and therefore a bore to play, but they become almost mandatory thanks to the game’s weird take on difficulty. You see, Torn Tales is very, very easy, but after an easy mission or two it suddenly decides to ramp things up by putting you against mobs that are several levels above your party, mobs that can smash you seconds. This means you have to play the side-quests in order to level up to get through the story. There’s no skill in combat, so you can’t just get through by playing smartly. That’s just not how side-quests should be used. They’re supposed to be optional. Its premise of a tactical RPG with classic fairytale characters is alluring, but its

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Its premise of a tactical RPG with classic fairytale characters is alluring, but Torn Tales monotonous gameplay reveals very little in the ways of tactics or roleplaying. Combat is mindless, leveling is simple, the levels are boring, the audio is crap. What’s left?  The story? It’s kind of decent, but hardly worth dredging your way through the entire game for.

If you’ve been following this site you know I really hate being mean to independent developers. I don’t believe anyone ever sets out to deliberately make a bad game, and I’m sure Twistplay are awesome people who will hopefully produce some brilliant games in the future. Torn Tales isn’t that game, though. It’s not a fairy tale ending for the developers or for us.

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