The game follows the adventures of the titular Ori, a small white being of light who is tasked with bringing life back to a dying forest in the realm of Nibel. The Tree Of Life which sustains balance in Nibel has become disconnected from its three elements of Water, Air and Warmth, and darkness and death have consequently spread to the land and its inhabitants. The story line is actually quite touching and manages to transcend the light vs dark cliché upon which it is built. The story revolves around four main characters: There is Ori, Ori’s adoptive mother Naru, the capricious Gumo and a massive bastard owl creature named Kuro that serves as Ori’s main enemy on his quest. Each is imbued with a unique personality and have their own stories and motives having each been differently affected by the slow death of the forest they call home and their loved ones within it. Even Kuro, the antagonist who harasses Ori endlessly and seems to despise the light has a beautiful twist to her character that elevates the game’s story and gives a sense of dimensionality to the characters.
From a graphics standpoint, Ori and the Blind Forest is absolutely gorgeous and runs at a smooth 60 frames per second in glorious 1080p resolution. The game’s production values are seriously stunning. It features a unique hand drawn art style and a world that is packed full of an amazing level of detail. This has definitely been a labour of love for the developers, with every backdrop and animation popping with visual subtleties and a beautiful contrast of light and dark across a vibrant colour palette. Each part of the realm has a distinctive look and feel that is accentuated by the jaw-dropping visuals. This is art in motion.
Gameplay-wise, Ori is heavily inspired by games such as Metroid, Castlevania and Shadow Complex. Ori learns skills as he traverses the world and in turn these skills allow him to access previously unreachable areas. There are also combat skills that Ori learns along the way to deal with increasingly powerful enemies. Ori gains light by defeating enemies and also from various pickups, and this allows him to upgrade these skills in an expansive skill tree. Taken together there is a constant palpable sense of progression as you play, which makes it quite addicting. You’ll begin with a relatively weak Ori at the start of the game and eventually end up with a ninja-flipping smackdown-laying deadly gymnast at the end of your journey.
The controls are generally smooth and responsive which is essential for a game of this ilk. Traversal is fun and smooth, however one of my gripes with the game is its lack of fast travel. Retreading the same paths to access old areas to get previously unattainable collectibles can get a little old. Also, for the completionists out there, the game will lock you out of one area (the Forlorn Ruins) after a story progression without warning, so if you don’t collect everything on your first run through you have no way of returning to rectify this. This hurt my OCD sensibilities and seemed to be at odds with the game’s design which in general encourages freedom and re-exploring old areas with new abilities.
Ori and the Blind Forest is not a particularly easy game and I like the fact that it doesn’t shy away from being quite difficult in sections in an era where games are becoming a little too easy. However, in some of the frantic escape sequences it is not always immediately obvious what to do next and the gameplay can descend into trial and error tedium. There is no saving within these sequences and the game requires you to restart from the beginning if you mess up. At this point it can become less of a test of dexterity and skill and more a game of memorising and repetition that hurts the flow somewhat. For the most part though the game is fair in the challenge it serves to the player over the eight or so hours it takes to complete.
All in all, Ori and the Blind Forest is a mechanically-solid platformer with a compelling and poignant story. The game gives the player a unique and fun set of skills to earn and use in a world that drips with artistic beauty and detail. As Moon Studio’s first foray into game development this is an incredibly strong entry and makes me excited to see what else the studio can achieve with the backing of Microsoft Studios.
Reviewed on Xbox One