Ori and the Blind Forest – Review

Ori and the Blind Forest is a highly anticipated game for a lot of people and for good reason. It is an incredible platforming title that mixes in light RPG elements and, in some instances, some pretty brutal difficulty. While there are certain segments of the game that can be really difficult I never felt like it was an unfair level of difficulty. Ori and the Blind Forest is an absolutely stunning game visually and the soundtrack is definitely one of my favorites in recent memory. From the moment I started the game I was hooked from the engaging story to the atmospheric world and the beautiful sounds as I began my journey. Ori is definitely in the “Metroidvania” genre and you can tell some of its concepts are drawn from previous games in this genre only they happened to refine and improve on them.

As you begin the game you see that a powerful storm is wreaking havoc and it sets into motion events that you will encounter throughout the game. This is the story of a young orphan who is trying to figure out what is going on. After the events of the storm he is left alone until Naru takes him in and takes care of Ori until the forest starts to decay. It is a story about love, hope and sacrifice. With the assistance of a friend you’ll traverse the landscape and come across a number of different areas where you will learn different abilities. Each area is unique and has its own charm to it. There is one area, for example, where it is all about wind and you’ll need to hold on to this feather to glide up and around the area. It is similar to something like Wind Waker where Link is holding up a leaf and you need to negotiate yourself around a dungeon. Much like its predecessors there will be areas that you won’t be able to access at first and you will have to return there later on once you have learned the appropriate skill. The fidelity of the game is impressive with damn near pixel perfect platforming that will allow you to go to the absolute edge before you make that crucial jump or fire back at an enemy so you can take him out first. The game controls beautifully and it is wonderfully intuitive which should make it easy for anyone to simply pick up and start playing.

I mentioned up above that there are times when Ori and the Blind Forest can be pretty difficult. There are instances where you can walk around and explore and just enjoy the environment around you but then there are other times where you need to make a crucial jump with spikes both on the floor and on the ceiling and you need to hit that space in between them just right to get through. There are also a number of challenging puzzles that you will come across. These are the type of puzzles that have somewhat fairly simplistic solutions, however, it doesn’t appear that way at first and you will probably try to overthink it until you realize the solution is right in front of you. A lot of times puzzles will test out a new ability you have just unlocked where you need to navigate a rock through the environment so you can block a blast of energy that would otherwise fry you or bounce off enemies continuously at just the right angle so you can reach that ledge above you. Other times there might be a wall you can’t get through so you have to use yourself as bait and try to get an enemy to attack you and then dodge at the last moment so the enemy (or their projectile) crashes into that wall which allows you to proceed. The difficulty of the game is mitigated somewhat by allowing you to save almost whenever you want by simply holding down the “B” button. Saving your game uses up energy though so while you don’t have unlimited saves at your disposal it is easy enough to get energy so you can pretty much save whenever you want.

There are exceptions of course. You can’t save when you are near an enemy or when going through an “unsafe” area. I’m assuming this is to prevent any type of frustration from accidentally saving during a particularly hard moment and then if you die you get thrown right back into that moment with no warning. With that said you will will die in Ori and the Blind Forest…a lot. You will die so much in this game that there is an actual death counter you can look at. Fortunately you immediately respawn at your last save point so there really isn’t too much of a penalty for dying. Just remember to save often. There were many times where I would get taken out and realize I had not saved in five or ten minutes and so I had to do it again. There are leaderboards where you can see how many times your friends have died going through the game as well. A lot of the more difficult sections are trial and error although I never felt they were cheap and it was an amazing feeling when I finally got through it. With that said there is an achievement for going through the game without dying but it will definitely be one of those really rare achievements that the vast majority of people won’t be able to get. This will not be a game where you see a lot of people getting the full 1,000 gamerscore.

Ori and the Blind Forest

As you progress through the game there are powerups along the way that you will want to watch out for and grab. Energy cells can be found strewn about the environment and it is important to find as many of those as you can as there are attacks (as well as saving your progress) that take up energy cells. Vitality cells are also around in a lot of places to add another notch to your overall health which is also something you will definitely need. There is also Spirit Light that you will want to collect as this is what helps you upgrade Ori. Once you get enough Spirit Light you will earn an Ability Point that will allow you to unlock a different ability or skill. I mentioned above that you can save a game by holding down the “B” button. To get to the ability tree to unlock a new skill you need to simply tap the “B” button again where you saved. The Ability Tree has three different paths you can go down with “utility” skills, “efficiency” skills and “combat” skills. In the beginning each skill costs one ability point to unlock but as you progress you will get to the point where it costs three ability points for the more powerful unlocks. Different skills include being able to restore two life cells when you create a soul link (save spot), becoming a magnet so you will automatically absorb most pickups, being able to increase your attack damage, allowing your spirit flame attack to hit four targets at once, have the locations of life cells show up on the map and much more. There are a total of 28 abilities to unlock which should take you quite a while to do if you are a completionist. If you want to go the opposite way there is also an achievement for not using one ability point for your entire playthrough, meaning you go through the whole game with minimal powers and abilities.

Ori and the Blind Forest features hand-painted artwork with meticuously animated characters and it really shows as you go through this game. The game is absolutely gorgeous and it is a game where I have been using the Xbox One’s new screenshot capability pretty regularly. The environments were crafted completely by hand based on the gameplay requirements for each area. You will want to explore everywhere so that you can see and experience everything the development team put into this world. There are thousands of custom shaders that were written specifically for each area of the game which can help manifest in fog, water, sunlight, poison clouds and more. It can be breathtaking at times and allows for a really seamless experience as you play the game. Another factor that adds to that is the fact that there are no loading times at all. You might get one initial loading period when you first hit “start game” but after that you are good to go. Moon Studios said they created a custom content-streaming code for the Unity engine which is what allows for the seamless nature of the experience. The audio of the game received just as much care and it is definitely one of my favorite soundtracks in recent memory. Moon Studios used an orchestra with a 5.1 surround mix to give the game its sweeping score. The soundtrack does a great job of establishing the tone of each area whether it is supposed to be a scene with some emotion or an area with a lot of action where one wrong move will add another entry to your death counter. I don’t do it often but I can definitely see myself buying the soundtrack to listen to even when I’m not playing the game.

I’ve gone on and on about how much I enjoy this game and what a great job I think Moon Studios has done here. If we ever get a sequel (and I hope we do!) there are a couple of tweaks I know people would enjoy seeing. For starters there is no fast travel in Ori. What that means is there is a decent amount of backtracking in the game and the world is a decent size. The game is so well done and the environments are so great that I really don’t mind all that much but a fast travel option would be greatly appreciated if I just need to get a couple more collectibles or I just want to show off the different locales to friends. Additionally, once you beat the story the game is over. You can’t continue to explore the world or do anything. If you want to keep playing you will need to start a new game. I dislike when games do this as it has never really made sense to me. Wouldn’t you want gamers to keep returning to their file and exploring the world? What if friends come over and you want to show off all of the cool powers and abilities you have unlocked? It is for this reason you need to create a separate save file before you beat the game. There are ten save files so that isn’t an issue but be sure to create an alternate save file before you beat the game.

Ori and the Blind Forest is an exceptional title and Moon Studios should be very proud of what they have done here. Ori is the most fun I have had playing a platformer in years that doesn’t include Mario. It is beautiful in many ways whether you are talking aesthetically, the story that will pull at your heartstrings or the vibrant soundtrack that accompanies everything. Ori is a game that will unquestionably be in the discussion for game of the year in 2015 as far as smaller downloadable games are concerned, if not in the general discussion altogether. If you own an Xbox One, Ori and the Blind Forest is in the “must buy” category. Be sure not to miss out on this great game and, hopefully, we will get a sequel.

Score: 9.5/10

Originally posted on Gaming Target

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