Ori and the Blind Forest

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Description

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Complete Review & Description

Ori and the Blind Forest was one of those games where you see it get announced, and then do everything you can to stay away from further information because you just know it’s going to be great. It becomes that much harder to avoid when you’re asked to interview the designer of the game, who also wants you to have a quick hands-on while you’re there. Thankfully, what I got to experience last July was brief, and didn’t spoil what was to become my first proper sit-down with the game this last week.

The small amount of media I had seen, and the brief hands-on, couldn’t have prepared me for those first few opening minutes with Ori and the Blind Forest. The moment you hit start the graphical and aural polish are hard to avoid. A deep and booming voice speaks of a great storm which breaks Ori from what we later learn of as the Spirit Tree. Nothing more than a leaf, Ori transforms into a small fox-like creature once he comes in contact with the ground below.

A rather odd looking Miyazaki-esque creature takes notice and quickly nurses Ori back to health. Time passes as they spend their days playing, scavenging for food, and building bridges to cross rivers. The two are inseparable… until the event happens. With a flash of light, Ori is distracted from the feast of fruit his new mother (Naru) has helped put together. A flash of light from the Spirit Tree sees Naru head for their makeshift home inside a cave, but not before scooping Ori up into safety.

More time passes and it’s clear that something has gone wrong. The forest that Naru and Ori have been living is has started to decay. Naru heads out to survey the damage and brings back some fruit for Ori; it seems to be the last pieces of fruit in the area. She brings it back, places it next to Ori, and slumps down next to him. When Ori awakes, he too heads out to bring fruit back for his sleeping mother. Upon returning…. well, let’s just say, things get a bit emotional.

The intro sequence could quite easily be the most perfect intro sequence I have ever laid eyes on. The quality of every art asset is second to none, the animation for both Ori and Naru look to have been crafted directly from the Disney masters, the flow of the storytelling is perfect. And with all of that, there are even moments where you take control. Sure, these moments merely have you guiding characters from scene to scene, but they only serve to make you that much closer to the characters.

It’s unfortunate then, that after such a high quality sequence, where it seems that every detail has been pained over, that the first step into proper gameplay is a jarring one. Ori has, for all intents and purposes, perished due to the weakening power of the Spirit Tree. Strangely, it’s his death that brings some light back to the tree, which in turns brings Ori back to life. You’d think that maybe Ori would start a little sluggish, but instead he’s straight into the high-paced maneuvers you’ll come to expect from him. Sure, that’s a weak gripe to have, but it merely shows how powerful that opening moment is.

Moon Studios haven’t done anything to revolutionise the gameplay that’s seen in numerous other Metroidvania-style games, but that isn’t always a bad thing. It has your typical artifact that, when activated, shows you a ghosted map of the area you’re about venture into (which fills in as you progress through it). It has sections you can’t access because you simply don’t have the right ability yet. It has the typical fire/water/wind “dungeons” that all end in gaining a new power. Ori and the Blind Forest is, through and through, a Metroidvania game.

The intro sequence could quite easily be the most perfect intro sequence I have ever laid eyes on.

Playing through Ori and the Blind Forest is an incredibly smooth experience. The controls are great with jumping, climbing, attacking, and gliding all feeling loose and natural. The smooth flow of the game isn’t just thanks to the controls as it often leads you in the right direction even when you’re not quite sure where you need to be headed. The game also does a great job of being difficult and easy exactly when it needs to be. Ori never really crosses the line into a harsh difficulty, but you will quite often come face-to-face with it. Those moments mainly step in on the unforgiving “escape the area” sections that are dotted throughout the game.

These specific moments are made that much harder due to the also unforgiving save system in place. Unlike almost every other modern game, Ori and the Blind Forest does not utilise an auto-save feature of any kind. When you want to save you need to ensure you’re on stable ground, away from enemies, and far from “unsafe zones”. By holding the B button, Ori creates a small save portal on the ground. At any point you can run back to this and resave, or enter it to assign ability points to new abilities. The higher up the ability tree you progress, the more ability points they’ll require.

The problem with this save point is that I felt it simply put too much on my shoulders. I know, I know, again with the weak gripes. But there was a certain level of frustration in having to play the last 5 minutes over again, because I forgot to play it safe and drop a save point. Once I finally got into the habit of setting up save points I almost felt like I was cheating in some way. Almost like what I was doing was anticipating a death instead of feeling comfortable with what was to come.

So why does the save system make the escape sections that much harder? Because the entire escape area is classified as an unsafe zone. No saving allowed. They’re frantic moments that require you to go through trial and error to perfect. Frustration levels will rise when you misjudge a jump right when you can see the finish line on the other side, and have to redo the entire sequence again. I hate to say it, but again, this is a minor gripe. The satisfaction from making it through these intense moments is heightened by the fact that you’re normally rewarded with another beautiful cutscene.

There’s only one issue I have that I felt wasn’t minor. Something that at this point in gaming is rather unforgivable. Every time I loaded up Ori and the Blind Forest, I had to load it twice. The first time would load the game, but I’d be given nothing but a black screen while I could hear the game playing in the background. Quitting the game and reloading fixed the issue, but this just shouldn’t be happening on what is meant to be one of Microsoft’s biggest exclusives of the year. There are reports that some people have to reinstall the game to get it going again but I’m sure this will be patched out. Until it is, you may want to stay away from suspending the game.

Apart from that, Ori and the Blind Forest is a must-play for 2D platformer fans. It has an incredibly high level of polish that begs to be experienced, and some of the best animation I’ve ever had the joy of seeing in a videogame. While there’s an achievement for beating it in under three hours, you’ll likely spend 8+ on your first playthrough, possibly 12 – 15 if you’re trying to collect everything.

From the moment the game begins, to the moment the credits start rolling, it’s obvious that Moon Studios were crafting this out of love. While most may play a second time to earn every achievement, many will just want to experience the fantastic presentation one more time.

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