Played on Windows
Available on Xbox One and Xbox 360.
I’ve tried to start this review a few times, and the fact is I haven’t come up with an opening line. I’m looking at Ori and the Blind Forest today and the fact is, I don’t know if I have the words that are properly worthy of the game. Ori and the Blind Forest is just an amazing game, and worthy of praise, probably far more praise than it’s received. I’m going to try to do it justice.
So I heard about how gorgeous Ori and the Blind Forest was. I’ve heard similar words on other games like Owlboy and didn’t like it that much. At the same time, I’ve seen pictures of Ori and I was curious about it. I’m not a huge fan of graphics though, as I feel a lot of times graphics allows games to ignore gameplay. However, when a game is great, graphics can enhance it. If you look at The Witcher 3, it’s a great game, but the graphics in it are fantastic and really add to the experience. But how great can graphics be in a 2D platformer? I feel there is a limitation to the graphics accomplishments to the point where they can fall into an over-engineered category pretty quickly.
Less than five minutes into Ori I understood the graphical hype, I was blown away by the graphics. The opening is very cinematic and well crafted. Ori is a child or a pet of Naru, a strange character who lives in the forest. We see quickly their lives together and what happens to them.
This entire prologue section is just a visual feast. It’s wordless and yet it shows time passing, emotion, and character growth. It’s incredible and just looks amazing while doing it.
Every frame of that playable opening looks this good.
In fact, the game looks so good, I played half of my 15 hours with the game at 1280×720 resolution. I didn’t even realize I was playing the game at less than 1080p, because the game’s graphics are that solid. I then switched it to the proper resolution and was impressed yet again. I can’t even explain how good this game looks especially in motion. Sadly I believe those techniques don’t translate well to screenshots, so I didn’t get many screenshots while moving but the game is impressive in the visual department.
So while that opening is very impactful, it’s one of the only points in the game to really have a strong focus on the story. The rest of the game steps back and develops into a Metroidvania style game. Which means you run around and get items that unlock new areas of the world and allow you to explore more, as well as backtracking and getting items a second time.
There is an ethereal voice similar to Bastion that delivers minor exposition as the “Spirit Tree”. Where Bastion was heavy with its dialog, Ori and the Blind Forest rarely uses the effect, but when it does appear it’s executed perfectly to drive the story in a minimalist narrative.
There is also the character of Sein, who is played similar to Navi from Legend of Zelda Ocarina of Time. Sein is a disembodied spirit who guides Ori through the game and helps him and the player know what to tackle next.
The narrative though does appear during some levels and tells a little more of the story as the game plays, and it’s always done well in the main game, but after playing the whole game it never rose to the level of the opening segment. Instead, it gave mere flashes of brilliance versus a solid narrative.
Yet, the look and feel of the delivery of the story is amazing. Even the villain looks unbelievably good every time they are on the screen. He’s on the screen enough, but I wanted to see more of him because he’s so vibrant. The experience of the story makes me love the game because while it’s not always the cleanest in its storytelling, it’s gorgeous as it does it, and is done with such style.
Glowing eyes, squinting. Clearly the villian, but an effective one.
If the story is that good, the question is, does the gameplay rise to the same level.
Well that question evolves into what type of game the player wants, Ori and the Blind Forest is a platformer, but it’s also one of the harder platformers I’ve seen in recent years. I played through the Definitive Edition, which I’ll touch on later, but I played on the normal difficulty which should be equal to the original game.
I died a lot. The final total was something over 500 deaths, and while some of them were silly, and a few of them were because of poor play, there is a lot of challenge here. I’ve said before that I hate the “Dark Souls” comparison because hard games have been here long before Dark Souls. But it tends to be more towards that difficulty than Limbo or Braid.
At the same time, I gave up on Hollow Knight, whereas with Ori and the Blind Forest, I could never put it down, and part of that is due to the style of failure in Ori and the Blind Forest. I never died because a challenge was too hard, or required too much memorization. Instead, the game always had a fair challenge and I constantly was required to build my skill up to the reasonable level the game demanded.
There is another important distinction between Ori and the Blind Forest, and other difficult games. Ori has a unique way to allow you to change the difficulty. You’re giving the ability to create save points in the game, and they persist. From there you can move forward and when you die you will always return to that save point.
This costs energy which the game gives away often, but never enough that you can save after every challenge. The energy is used for special attacks and save points, so the player has to decide if he wants to save or wants to use a solid (but not overpowered) attack. However, you can always return to a save point to save a second time if you desire. This system can allow players to create no-win situations, but the game doesn’t allow the player to save in “Unstable” areas, or when near a monster so it is difficult to get into a horrible situation. Maybe not impossible, but definitely harder than a save anywhere system.
Most of my deaths were caused because I forgot about the Save system, and would play for five to ten minutes to lose and realize I hadn’t saved, and then have to tackle the same hard challenges. However, I could have used the save system a lot more and made the game a little easier. There’d still be the hard challenges I had to overcome, but I wouldn’t have had to tackle them nearly as many times.
The level design in Ori and the Blind Forest is as solid as the rest of the game. While there is a lot of challenge and difficulty in the game, the dangers are almost always clearly stated, and there’s a good variety to the areas of the world. There are quite a few areas in the game, with three major sections of the game played on the main map each leading to a dungeon for the player to trek through.
My personal favorite was probably the second section which took us through the amazing Misty Woods which had a constantly evolving level, requiring the player to backtrack and find new locations multiple times, this was followed by the Forlorn Ruins, which was gorgeous but had some interesting mechanics, that I’ll avoid spoiling here.
However I will provide a video that shows off those sections.
Every level was something new and different and I wanted to see what was coming next. However, each dungeon ended with a rather long “escape” section. These were all interesting but they probably are the hardest part of the game, usually requiring a near perfect run for about five minutes. Most of the traps for these runs are unknown so you’re likely going to die a few times just to learn the level.
They’re hard but I found them accomplishable with a number of deaths. It’s trial and error gameplay and if I had to complain about one thing in Ori and the Blind Forest, I expected better, since most of the game avoids that trial and error from the player, it’s strange that it falls into that routine for those big set piece escape experiences.
In addition, the game is quite linear. This is to be expected at some point, but you have to go through each dungeon and get all the abilities in a set order. The definitive edition does add two optional levels that can give you powers, but they don’t change the order you need to claim everything else in. Though by earning skills you can backtrack and earn more power-ups as some of them require a specific ability.
The powers in the game though are delivered perfectly. Just as you feel a mastery starting with the last ability the game starts to prepare you for the next one or takes you through an area which gains you that power. Each skill feels good, whether it be the attack that is given after about an hour and dodging a few enemies or the Leaf which allows you to float on the wind and completely opens up a huge portion of the map.
The only downside of the powers is that you can unlock some abilities in the game’s level up section before you have the ability to use them. I got the ability to “airdash” and was incredibly excited to try it out before I found out I could not. I got the actual ability much later, and as such, I had an ability I couldn’t use for almost all the game.
This isn’t a common thing, in fact, most of the game’s skills you get through the experience system is incredibly useful and doesn’t require a prerequisite skill outside of the level up trees, but when it does try that trick, it stinks a bit.
Even the ability tree has a great look and style to it.
While I said the level design is excellent there are also energy doors in the world, and while they’re a great use of the level design, I didn’t understand them and spent almost 20 minutes trying to open one, or farm energy until I could. The game doesn’t tell you that every energy door is optional but gives you access to power-ups. They lead to great rewards but they aren’t required to beat the game.
So that’s about all I have to say about the base game, but there’s still the Definitive Edition. I wasn’t sure what this meant as I never played the base game. The first two changes are major for quality of life. There’s a difficulty selection, including an easy mode, and the game doesn’t lock you into a difficulty or penalize you for choosing the easy mode. The big changes in easy mode are enemies do less damage and there are checkpoints during those escape sections I mentioned earlier. Making both changes would make this game significantly easier and more accessible to people, and I applaud it. There are also two harder difficulties, Hard which the player can die in two hits according to others, and one life, for people who want to prove their skills. Both modes are not for me, but I’m glad to see options being given.
In addition, the second change is the ability to warp between “Spirit wells” I’m a little shocked this is a change as it is so critical to the game, I couldn’t imagine living without it. At any time you’re able to go to a spirit well (a place to save for free that restores your life and energy) and switch locations. This helps a lot when backtracking and searching for items, so I figured it was part of the game.
Then the Definitive Edition starts to change the game. There are two new areas that I stumbled into early into the game without realizing what they were and left assuming they were made for later exploration. In fact, they can be explored at any time, later would give you more energy and life, but early means you get new abilities that can help quite a bit, as well as ways to gather a few upgrades that are locked behind doors you need them for.
These two levels are actually really good. The first level deals with light and dark and the second level grants an almost grenade-like ability that can be used for a number of solid puzzles. Both levels are top notch, and each ends with a small story that expands on the original game.
Unfortunately, that’s the one thing I felt was unnecessary in the Definitive Edition. I’m sure Ori and the Blind Forest fans wanted more, but I feel like the stories shared here were not as necessary as the base game, and as such could have been skipped. That’s of course just my opinion but it just doesn’t stack up against the amazing story that Ori and the Blind Forest already had. It feels like an afterthought and that’s soured my opinion on it.
So, how is Ori and the Blind Forest? Well, it’s hard, it has a few frustrating parts, and the story has a high note and only barely reaches it again later….
And yet, it’s one of the best games I’ve played. The graphics are beautiful and while that first section is the high note, it’s still gorgeous all the way through. The story is great, even if it’s not constantly in your face. The gameplay is solid, my failure was always a personal fault, and the tasks the game tells you to face are hard but achievable all the time. I continued to feel a desire to press onwards, to overcome the challenges, because I knew I could. Everything about this game feels good and so I thought long and hard about it, realized there are a few flaws, but ultimately I have to give Ori and the Blind forest a…
Final Thoughts: Ori and the Blind Forest is magnificent. It has gorgeous views, excellent gameplay, and a solid challenge. The entire game just flows natural and flawlessly and you will enjoy ever part of it.
Stats: 15 hours, 40/57 achievements