Way back in the dark age now known as 2015, a little metroidvania was released that would go on to receive countless accolades, nearly unanimous critical acclaim, and glowing praise from practically everyone who gamed within a mile radius of it. That title, of course, is Ori and the Blind Forest. After being on my radar for years, the definitive edition finally made its way onto the little console that could--meaning that I... would finally get to experience Ori. If you haven’t played it yet, you’re in for something special. If you are one of the many that has, and you’re just here for my thoughts, let me explain to you why the game fails on every level imaginable.
Just kidding, of course. Ori and the Blind Forest is undeniably a game of pure beauty, in every imaginable sense.
“Beautiful” is a word that myself and others throw around quite a lot when discussing video games, especially when considering various soundtracks and art styles. There aren’t a lot of words to replace it with, and it is mostly accurate all around. Be it the vistas set across every hill within Breath of the Wild, the nuanced storytelling in Night in the Woods, or the nostalgic passion found on the first day of Stardew Valley’s spring. All of it is undeniably beautiful and of course, we have Ori. Come on, just look at it. Every single screen of the game taken out of context is a work of art in its own right. The artistic style it presents is on another level, with gorgeous color, lighting, and particles, all of it is so incredibly beautiful that it might cause an emotional reaction before you even start playing. So many games that have been released in the past decade have great, completely solid visuals, but it's an all-too-common critique that styles have too much crossover and feel “samey.” Ori defies that by being completely unique-- a feat that could only be achieved with bucket loads of resources and passion poured into and from the art department.
On the other end of the senses that we use to consume these little “games”, we’ve got the music. As I’ve stated before, I unfortunately do not feel strong opinions towards almost any games’ soundtracks, but I can tell you when one is above passably good. Ori’s music is far, so beautifully far, above “passively good.” Each area's tune has a distinct feel that reminds you where you’ve been before you can even recognize the scenery, and every story beat is supported by music that connect you to the world, even if you don’t know what’s going on. It's an utterly sublime orchestration of music that perfectly compliments the visuals and emotion within.
You will greatly enjoy every inch of the artistic talent on display, and if you don’t, feel free to discuss it with me over a match of Rivals of Aether, because apparently Ori is in there too.
Ori, at its core, is a metroidvania, but it plays more like a traditional platformer than many others in the genre (think Hollow Knight or Super Metroid) do. So while the world can be freely explored and is loaded with secrets reachable after gaining new abilities. There is a linear, scripted flow to the game and I absolutely loved that. I believe that Ori achieves a balance of linear platforming action while still encouraging exploration that is just sublime. Being this way makes it a bite-sized, low-commitment experience that will be accessible for platforming enthusiasts while giving completionists something to chew on. As I said before, this is no Hollow Knight, but it isn’t trying to be. It doesn’t draw out the journey by sending you back and forth, Ori shines brightest through its restraint--that of which is contrasted in the adventure’s most epic moments. And yet, the world design is only half of its excellence.
Before I had even considered the prospect of actually playing Ori, I had seen gameplay here and there where it was immediately obvious that Ori’s movement looked fluid. My assumption was that it was all for show, perhaps being form over function. Upon playing it for myself, I was greatly pleased that I was very wrong--mostly. The moves found throughout are generally straightforward. There’s a wall jump, big jump, attack, ground pound, wall climb--all the basics that have essentially become genre mainstays. Everything just works. It is probably due to the character’s buttery movement and feeling of fluidity once again, but the core is simply enjoyable, if a tad basic. However, I don’t think Ori would feel as good as it does if it weren’t for the magnificent “bash” move. It overpowers the moveset by allowing the reflection of all projectiles and enemies in slow motion, sending Ori flying through the air. Once again, it feels good. After obtaining this move, the game transforms from a fairly traditional platformer into a journey that could only be made by a true force of nature. It opens up so many options of chaining attacks that makes every enemy encounter feel artistic, as if you alone orchestrated its demise with the precision of Mozart.
The gameplay, structure, and design of Ori and the Blind Forest is essentially perfect (or as close to it as a Metroidvania can get). But the icing on the cake for me was the way it handles saving. At almost any time, and with enough energy, Ori can summon a “Soul Link” that acts as a mobile save point with skill tree access. It is absurd how adding a non-gameplay based mechanic can still contribute to the rush of power, as it puts the player in control of save locations. The player controls where they respawn. The player controls how often they lose progress. It is a breath of fresh air from many games in the genre where death can potentially mean losing hours of progress in a single play session.
Last, and potentially least, there is a story within Ori. It’s pretty good. I just don’t have much to say on it. It absolutely serves its purpose as a driving force, but I didn’t connect with it much as I hoped, or even understand it, until nearly the end. Make no mistake, it is certainly not bad and I’d go as far as saying its a good story, but it lacks significance beyond its emotional value that is rich nonetheless. It reminded me of Fe, with its metanarrative quality that conveys a natural conservancy message without coming off strongly, and even leaves some concepts to the imagination.
Yes, I absolutely loved Ori and the Blind Forest. If you are a platformer fan of any kind that has somehow not picked it up yet, just play it. It is a sizable, yet easily consumable, experience that you should not miss, no matter your platform.
Upon my completion of Ori, I went back to check out the E3 trailer for Ori and the Will of the Wisps with the context of the first game, and my goodness does it sometimes pay off to play games late. Ori’s sequel appears to be a masterpiece of a video game if I have ever seen one, and I am inordinately hyped for February to see how it turns out.