Despite how Ori and The Blind Forest was instantly on my radar the moment I saw it, seeing as how it was shown off as a lavishly beautiful metroidvania game, it’s taken me quite a while to finally play it. It came out, was received well, but I never wound up buying it until over a year later, and after the release of an updated “Definitive” version. My reasoning behind this was that I knew just enough about the game to be worried about whether or not I personally would enjoy it, and for good reason.
Ori and The Blind Forest: Definitive Edition Review
Platforms: PC(Reviewed), Xbox One
Developer: Moon Studios
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
After being separated from her home and family during a terrible storm, the titular Ori soon becomes the adopted child of a motherly blobbish creature named Naru, who raises them lovingly and enjoy peaceful days together before disaster strikes the land. Trees of the wonderous forest they live in become barren, and darkness begins to encompass much of the land. In wake of this devastation, Ori sets off to restore the forest by recovering the light of the elements, helped by a forest spirit by the name of Sein, and whatever latent power Ori can recover throughout the forest.
Or to be reductive, the premise is to explore a series of varying environments in a metroidvania styled affair, collect the three thingymajigs at the end of each dungeon, and save the world from the encompassing darkness. It’s a pretty simple set up when you get down to it, and one that begins rather strongly with a ten minute introductory scene detailing the loving relationship between Ori and his adoptive mother that sets a high emotional bar for the story to meet, which is unfortunately doesn’t.
While the visual storytelling of Ori and the Blind Forest is compelling in the attention to detail placed in character animations and general direction whether it be through scripted sequences or genuine cutscenes, they are only a small portion of the game, and a lot of the story is conveyed through text. Text that I just found clumsy in its attempts at complicating things or dealing out needless exposition, whether it be directly from Sein, or ominously from the spirit tree that dwells at the heart of the forest. There is a lot of attention given to the background and world of this place, but it is so poorly conveyed that I don’t think I remember a single thing either character said.
The story is largely ignorable thanks to this, but is at least a serviceable justification for the game’s premise, which follows the core tenants of action, exploration, and character growth that have come to both define metroidvanias, and make up why I consider them one of my favorite genres. From a broader perspective, Ori meets this criteria by being a fluid action platformer in a world densely populated with secrets and upgrades that allow the main character to go from a vulnerable little woodland creature into a powerful force to be reckoned with. In theory, it sounds very easy to grasp, but I had a fair share of trouble with Ori early on.
My trouble stemmed from a lot of things, the immediate nature of some of the challenge, the unique manner in which Ori runs, jumps, and climbs up walls, and the concept behind an auto-aiming attack in what amounted to a 2D platformer. There were growing pains that were only made worse by the sudden rise in difficulty I encountered in my first hour, which was capstoned by a sequence where Ori needs to use an ability they just received in order to avoid a lethal target that unceremoniously begins coming after them while the players expected to indulge in rapid platforming when I was still getting used to simply moving Ori around.
This was admittedly an isolated incident, but there are plenty of sequences in Ori that manage to capture a high level of difficulty and challenge, even on normal. Precision is often required for some sections, as are rapid movements that can themselves be pretty tricky to perform without undergoing trial and error via a few deaths. The game would be utterly aggravating because of this, but the developers attempted to remedy frustration by giving players the ability to save anywhere in the form of Soul Links
They’re effectively save states that the player is encouraged to place every few minutes, and ultimately do help with game feel by allowing the player to immediately retry any challenge that was set before them. However, there is something about this ability that bugs me in spite of how beneficial it is. It’s a nagging suspicion that the only reason this ability is even in the game stems from playtesters saying that things were too difficult, to the point where the game’s publisher, Microsoft, told the developers to include a workaround, and this was the best they could manage in time. Or maybe I’m overthinking things. Either way, this is a very odd mechanic to include in a game of this genre.
Considering what I’ve been saying, it should come as no surprise that the sight of Ori’s demise as she bursts into a puff of light will be a common sight to most players of this game. Which I have no problem with, but I do have a problem with how the game keeps track of deaths, and prominently displays them on the pause screen, for seemingly no reason. It’s annoying, petulant, and causes my more obsessive tendencies to flare up.
To the point where I was able to discover an exploit for the death counter (It does not save until Ori actually respawns), and was able to finish the game with zero recorded deaths, when in actuality, I probably died over a hundred times. The process may have involved returning to the main menu hundreds of times and copying save files in case of any error made on my behalf, but it was preferable to having a ticker of failure constantly following me throughout the game.
Returning to the Soul Links, they are also used to house a key feature of this game that I genuinely wish did not exist. A skill tree. I am admittedly not the biggest fan of this mechanic at the best of times, but the one in Ori is just bizarre in how it restricts what feel like should be discoverable upgrades in the game’s world, or just activated by default. These upgrades include an incrementally better basic attacks, a triple jump, an air dash, damage reduction, and the ability to see specific collectibles on the map, and by specific, I mean the ability to view specific collectibles on the map must be unlocked… In a metroidvania game.
I cannot begin to explain how frustrated this made me, not knowing whether or not I unintentionally skipped past an upgrade whatever the value, and how the entire purpose of a skill tree, that of giving the player choice in how they build their character is so restricted by this downright stupid design decision. If the player wants to find everything, they pretty much need to see everything on the map, as there are plenty of goodies strewn about the world and many of them are hidden in spots that I would not think to look in if not for the inclusion of a map marker.
It’s all the more annoying because the hidden items and upgrades throughout the world are fun to discover, and have the same rewarding quality to their discovery that all good in-game collectibles have. I actively enjoyed getting them all, examining the world map and its design, and, most importantly, going through the world. After getting past a steep learning curve, I started to grasp the fluidity behind Ori’s movement, with my control and understanding of the cute little wingless nimbat only growing stronger as new abilities were added to their repertoire.
These abilities rang from the basic, such as a double jump, gliding leaf, and simple dash, but have enough variety spiced through them as seen in the ability to bash off of enemies or enemy fire and lob projectiles that can be further used to better mobility. In many ways, the mobility available to Ori is one of the greatest features of the game, and can lead to some truly invigorating maneuvers. The process of doing a super jump, double jump, glide, bash against enemy fire that deflects the attack back at the enemy, destroying them and propelling the character forward, followed by a double jump, triple jump, air dash, bash against another enemy, air dash, glide, and finally another wall grab is genuinely euphoric in a way that I don’t think I’ve truly seen from any other game.
As such, it’s natural that most of the game’s challenges do focus on maneuvering around enemies as obstacles, rather than directly fighting them. Heck, the boss for the game’s three dungeons are running sequences. Though, I’m sure at least part of the reason behind this is how Ori only has four moves. The stomp, reflective bash, rapid homing spirit bullets, and an area effect attack that I actually never used for combat, as it just seemed unnecessary. It can be tricky to adapt to this moveset, but just like with movement, the results are well worth whatever learning curve exists to get there, as there are some genuinely nifty slices of combat throughout the latter parts of the game.
Moving on, I should mention how gob-smackingly beauteous this game is. The amount of effort and talent that went into creating this vibrant and gorgeous world is nothing short of awe inspiring, and while I can certainly point out certain areas for having rather simplistic visual design concepts, that really does not discredit the spectacle that can be seen in every environment, enemy, or even every animation. Even when mixing 3D and 2D elements with its character models, which I think rarely if ever looks good, Ori still manages to retain a level of visual spectacle that I’m struggling to compare to another title other than a Vanillaware game. I’m actually upset that I forgot to configure my Steam screenshot settings to take high quality images, as this game really does deserve the highest image quality reasonably possible.
While my initial bitterness and still standing bitterness towards some of the earlier points in the game (points where map markers are still hidden) dissuades me from dubbing Ori and the Blind Forest with a high level of unfettered praise, I actually had a pretty good time with it. Yes, yes, the save system put me in quite a tizzy and I admit the learning curve it a bit too steep in general, but I ultimately had an enjoyable time exploring its spectacular looking world and undergoing acrobatic feats while doing so. It’s not up there with my all time favorites as I really, really wanted it to be, but it’s still pretty darn good, just far from the majestically marvelous masterpiece that it has every right to be.