Depending on if you’ve finished Xenoblade Chronicles 2 or not, Torna ~ The Golden Country could be a lovely, sometimes quite twee, 20-odd hour rpg(30 if you’re meticulous) about some likable folks making friends and having hijinks, on the way to saving the world. That, or it’s the most depresing, grim and foreboding 20 odd hours you’ll ever experience. And that’s real fuckin’ facinating to me.
The most recent Nintendo Direct called Torna a “perfect place to start” for newcomers, and I don’t think I can fault that, despite my initial scepticism. It’s mechanics are streamlined, dropping the micromanagement of the main game in favor of a set party, making it a more traditional RPG. There’s a lot of minor fixes I wish were in the main game too. And the focus on characters and relationships gives it legs outside of it’s connection to Xenoblade 2. It only really forefronts the plot side of things towards the end, and if that shift sits well with you, you’ll probably get along with the main game. But playing Torna first changes the way you experience the main game in a way I’ve not seen before.
Obviously it’s not the first prequel to do this, all prequels do, but Torna is the first time I’ve felt like the narrative was built with this in mind. By starting with Torna, you’re learning things before you would in the main game, sure. Character identities, relationships, lost histories, plenty. But an effort’s been made to ensure that these early reveals change the perception of the plot, not spoil it. There’s a version of Torna that makes playing through the main game a drag, as mysteries are set up that you already know the answers to, making for hours of characters very slowly catching up to you. Instead, by omitting certain details, you’re left with a different set of questions than the characters. You’re still going through an arc of understanding, picking apart of a mystery, just not the same one as you would be if you played the main game first.
And the other way around is just as interesting. Spoilers ahead for Xenoblade Chronicles 2, of course: There’s little done in the game itself to lend Torna the foreboding, bittersweet edge that permiated my 30 odd hours with it. The sense of dread that came from characters sharing close emotional moments wasn’t done through music or camerawork. It’s a flavor that comes out with the spice of knowing Torna’s fate.Outside of a vaguely threatening box/digital store page description, you’d never know how badly things would go. How doomed this place was.
It sometimes feels like the world of Torna was built to mock you. The Capital’s residents will gladly talk to you for days about how much they love their country. Torna is prosperous and peaceful while all you hear and see of other Titans is varying degrees of strife. There’s a whole mechanic centered on building up a “Community” through sidequests, establishing detailed interpersonal relationships between side characters. Side characters you, if you’re anything like me, will love a whole lot, and who will inevitably have their home destroyed. Such a huge difference is made by knowing Torna’s fate that it never left my mind throughout the entire game.
All this is to say that, obviously, I loved my time with Torna. I spoke little of the mechanics, but the streamlining works so well in it’s favor. I honestly I think I prefer it to the main game overall, though the two are different enough that there’s room in my heart for both. And I’m always here for shorter big-budget RPGs. Not everything gotta be 200 hours long(but also please port Xenoblade X, I need to put in another 500 hours). Absolutely reccomended weather you played Xenoblade 2 or not.
So anyone else enjoying the golden sands of Torna?