Why Games Matter – Ori and the Blind Forest Review (PC, Xbox One)

I must admit, I originally picked up Ori and the Blind Forest solely because of its art style and soundtrack. I knew nothing about the actual gameplay of the game, but its presentation caught my eye immediately. Luckily for me, underneath the animation and charm is a fantastic Metroidvania experience that only disappointed when I had to let the credits roll.

Taking place in the mystical forest of Nibel, Ori is a forest spirit who was thrown from the Spirit Tree during a storm and adopted by another spirit named Naru. The two of them had a fun and exciting life together, until a cataclysmic event destroys the forest, killing Naru in the process. Ori is left to explore the forest alone when a light spirit named Sein asks Ori to help stop Nibel from dying by restoring the three elements of the forest. Ori must face creatures that have been overcome by darkness from the cataclysmic event, including Kuro, a giant owl who has sworn vengeance on the forest for killing her children during the event. It’s a simple-enough story, but it really tugs at your heart strings at times. The intro sequence itself set the scene for an incredibly melancholy adventure that truly connected with me. I was compelled to keep playing solely due to that bond that was created in the opening moments, and that emotion remained strong until the very end. A minor gripe is that the pacing in the middle of the game felt subtly uneven. The scenes involving Kuro often made little sense in the context of the experience until the very end, and her development felt a bit rushed.

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The Forlorn Ruins is an ice dungeon that shows off just how bright the colors pop in the game.

As previously stated, the presentation of the game was what drew me in. Ori and the Blind Forest sports a gorgeous faux hand-drawn aesthetic, and it’s certainly a sight to behold. Environments are detailed in a painted style that begs description that cannot do it justice. It’s a living, breathing world that the player gets to experience. My favorite aspect of the art style is its use of strong colors. Areas are distinct in the way that the environment’s color palette draws the eye. The Forlorn Ruins dungeon brings bright, clean light blues of ice, while the Misty Woods brings a darker tone and darker colors of purple and blue. The art is just incredibly hard not to stop and take in at times. Equally so is the soundtrack. Gareth Coker’s past work includes the dinosaur action game Primal Carnage and the sci-fi freerunning game inMomentum, but Ori has a special, secluded feel to it. The orchestration work is absolutely gorgeous, with no real focus on any instrument but a showcase of them all, from powerful pianos and strings to soft woodwinds and voices. The tone of the entire soundtrack feels melancholy and somber, and the desperation of the forest itself is felt within. It truly pushes the world to its potential of feeling real, and as a player I was fully drawn in.

The gameplay of the game is probably what surprised me the most, but that may be due to the fact that I had no idea what it would be going into the game. Ori takes on Nabel’s evil forces in a Metroidvania-style action platformer with heavy puzzle and platform elements. The Blind Forest is usually completely open to exploration as one solid area with no loading screens in between, and as with the aforementioned style of gameplay, gaining abilities allows easier traversal of the world, as well as access to new areas. The controls and physics of the game feel incredibly fine-tuned. Playing with a controller is a must. Ori felt fluid in the forest throughout the entire game. She starts off incredibly limited in her repertoire of maneuverability options, but slowly gains traction over time as she can start jumping off walls, climbing, bouncing across projectiles, and gliding through the air. By the end of the game, the only thing I felt could kill me was my own arrogance.

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The obstacles in the game are challenging, but never so much that I became frustrated.

In fact, that feeling was apparent throughout the run of the game. Never did I feel like enemies or hazards were unfairly placed. My platforming skills were the only excuse I could find when I died, and that shows how fine-tuned the actual mechanics of the game and the levels are. The platforming was challenging, but you were also given the chance to ease into new situations and figure things out on your own. Handholding was incredibly limited. The platforming and puzzles were also very rewarding. When I got to a new location or completed a puzzle, I felt accomplished, like I had overcome some great impasse. Saving in the game was also a neat touch. Sein holds a certain amount of energy cells. These can be used either for a burst attack to break certain walls or hurt enemies, or to create a save spot. These save spots can be created on any stable ground and are your spawn points when you die, allowing you to create a strategy of where you think you need to have save spots in case a hard challenge is up ahead. .The action of the game, however, is not as overwhelmingly brilliant. Sein sends balls of energy at nearby enemies, and so bobbing and weaving as you mash the attack button is about the extent of killing most enemies. The enemies, however, don’t just pepper you with attacks. Sometimes their job is to simply make your platforming more difficult, such as sticking dangerous barbs to walls around you. Other times, you may need an enemy to get to certain areas. It’s an exciting change of pace that benefits the shining gameplay mechanic, the platforming, rather than trying to introduce unnecessary other ideas. Completionists will also have a reasonably good time searching the world for every hidden upgrade, 100%ing each individual area.

My favorite sections, by far, were the dungeons. While exploring the areas and finding hidden secrets was as exciting as I always find it, the true crux of the experience for me were the challenges set forth in the game’s three dungeons. These areas truly test your platforming skills, as well as your ability to adapt to the new puzzles that make use of your new abilities. I felt truly tested here, and came out feeling incredible. The end of each dungeon was the most taxing yet exciting part, however. Here, you must make it through a rigorous and fast-paced platforming trial without the ability to stop, take a break, or save. You will die multiple times trying to escape the oncoming threats such as lava, but trial and error keeps pushing you until you finally make it out. Finally escaping gave me one of the most accomplished feelings I’ve ever had in a game.

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I loved every second of this game, either playing it or just admiring the art.

Playing Ori and the Blind Forest was an unforgettable experience. The game was extremely balanced with a nice difficulty curve and a sense of adventure and challenge unlike any game I’ve played in recent memory, and I never became so frustrated that I gave up playing. The game was probably very easy in comparison to other platformers, but the precision and varied gameplay was perfect for my skill level, letting me feel challenge when I was failing but accomplished when I succeeded. Everything came together to give me an adventure that I honestly feel like replaying would ruin. I want to remember the game as it was my first playthrough. And the way I will remember it is truly amazing. If you’ve got a decent computer or and Xbox One, this is a must-have title. With that said, I’m giving Ori and the Blind Forest a rating of “adored it”.

Pros

  • Absolutely stunning art style and soundtrack
  • Tight, challenging platforming
  • Sense of adventure and exploration
  • The dungeons and escape sequences

Cons

  • A bit of clunky backtracking
  • Pacing of the plot
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