Some video games are captivating because of the game mechanic, while others are able to bring emotional catharsis to bear. But Ori and the Blind Forest, by Moon Studios (released by Microsoft Studios), is a game that is able to weld breathtaking beauty with a minimalistic yet deep emotional pathos, all while continually improving upon its fundamental game mechanic.
You play Ori, a young Spirit Guardian of the forest of Nibel who has been adopted by Naru. There is a brief montage of their blossoming relationship, which while minimally narrated still manages to be evocative. Eventually something goes wrong with the Spirit Tree, and the forest of Nibel is thrown into chaos. On top of this, the loving adoptive mother Naru succumbs to the forest’s decay with the fading of the Spirit Tree’s light. Young Ori is left alone to retrieve the light and restore the forest.
Even though there is no dialogue between the characters to this point, the demise of Naru still has some emotional tug; as the forest visibly changes and begins to decay as the game starts, one begins to feel the isolation that Ori now faces. This experience lays the groundwork for all that is to follow.
As a 2D platformer, there are some fairly conventional platforming staples here, such as jumping over enemies, jumping onto ledges, etc. However, as the game progresses, Oriole’s gains new abilities that not only keep the gameplay fresh and unique from zone to zone, but also unlock previous areas to explore. In this sense it reminded me of playing any Legend of Zelda game- at some point you reach an inaccessible area that is tantalizingly just out of reach, but eventually you figure out that a new ability with allow access. In fact, it’s kind of fun to have the “aha!” moment when you realize just how you can get there now.
One of my favorite unlockable abilities is the Bash, which I actually thought was inappropriately named. The basics of this technique is that you can use enemies or- more importantly- their projectiles- to launch yourself through the air in a specified direction, or to send projectiles back at an enemy. This becomes not only useful, but quite necessary, leading to some fairly challenging yet satisfying maneuvering later in the game.
Another fun mechanic is the get-out-of-the-area-before-it-kills-you trope, where you have to, well, get out of an area before it kills you. My first encounter with this was in the Ginso tree; as soon as you bring it back to life, it starts to fill up with water, and you have to do some fancy platforming up and out of the tree before the water drowns you. (Thanks for nothing, Ginso tree!) These sequences are actually kind of fun, and generally involve both figuring out the correct path to take, as well as nearly flawlessly executing it.
Be prepared to die quite a few times.
The save mechanic works pretty well. You have to build up a certain amount of energy, and then you can spawn a save point at your location. This of course can sometimes be frustrating as you don’t always have a lot of energy, and of course the exact time you want to save is when you don’t have enough energy to save!
There are lots of collectibles and such to be had throughout the game, and with the definitive edition you can backtrack pretty easily to collect everything. However, it is one of those games where you have to 100% it before the last boss room to actually get the 100% completion. Fortunately, there’s a save point right outside this room. This gives the game a bit more oomph overall, and lets you build up your character more, although my guess is that through a normal play through you’d get about a 50% compete or so, which is more than adequate to finish the main story.
If you are going for 100% completion, it’s pretty easy to achieve.
My only real gripe is that since the map is so big it can take quite a bit of time to backtrack. There are warp points, but they are few and far between. I would have appreciated about twice as many. And while the controls were for the most part fairly tight, I sometimes got the sense that I had to press harder (which I know isn’t true) to get the response I was wanting, which made some of the more technically challenging sections a bit trickier and slightly more frustrating, as I felt that the game wasn’t responding as quickly as I was pushing buttons.
This is an absolutely stunning game, with a breathtaking art style. The art direction helps keep the pace moving by giving each area its own unique feel and style and even mood. As you progress it becomes a visual feast that seems to continually expand itself before you.
There is a lot of rich detail and vibrancy that really rounds out the experience, even in the little places that you can’t reach.
The animations are quite pleasing and there is just something endearing about Ori jumping and running around that doesn’t get old. There is also an organic sense of movement and life that permeates the game, and thus while there isn’t a ton to actually interact with or do outside of the main game mechanic, this all helps to make the whole feel much bigger than the sum of its parts.
A lot of care was obviously taken to make this an immersive visual experience, and it comes through in every part. I found myself going for 100% completion partially to be able to take in the beauty of every inch of the map.
The audio also forms a vital component of Ori and the Blind Forest. It is at times lilting, and at other times haunting. It weaves in and out of the visuals and gameplay rather seamlessly, and when appropriate provides added heft and depth to the experience. For example, when you are outrunning an area that is trying to kill you, the soundtrack picks up and adds the correct amount of frenzy and crisis to the moment, with the eventual catharsis as you emerge unscathed.
The only potential downside to the soundtrack is that the main theme feels like it gets taken up a lot in each of the individual tracks, which can begin to feel slightly repetitive. However, this perhaps may also be because I have been streaming the soundtrack on Spotify for the last couple weeks…
Yes, it’s that’s good.
Overall, Ori and the Blind Forest is a treat for almost every sense, with enjoyable gameplay, tight controls, stunning visuals and an evocative soundtrack. I am now eagerly expecting the forthcoming sequel, Ori and the Will of the Wisps.