Ori and the Blind Forest could pass itself off as an animated Disney movie: from the aggressively vibrant visuals, chipper yet moving soundtrack, and warmly endearing characters, it hits every beat of these famous cartoon movies that are so reverently adored. The main character even looks like they could be a close relative of Stitch, for goodness’ sake! But given that Ori is a game, it gets to take things a step further and link all of these positive qualities together with interactivity. And in the vein of an action-adventure platformer, no less. Given that this brand of game tends to draw me in more than almost anything (aside from epic RPGs), I knew I had to play it!
Ori’s tale wastes no time in going right for the jugular with its simple, yet satisfying story. Stakes are high for our character as they struggle to undo the work of Kuro the Owl, who steals a magical orb from the Spirit Tree and inadvertently plunges the entire forest of Nibel into a quick decay, rendering it “blind.” The only way to reverse this impending doom is to venture to three separate locations and recover the spirit essences of Water, Wind, and Warmth. I certainly won’t be spoiling any specific plot details, but I was pleasantly surprised at how Moon Studios balanced sadness, joy, rage, and even terror throughout the journey, as well as the depth of characters whose emotions are conveyed only visually or through the Spirit Tree’s frequent narration. Each individual played an important role and I loved them all.
Whether running, jumping, or utilizing a host of other navigational power-ups, our glimmering spirit Ori is beset upon by foes of all sizes throughout their journey. The player’s main defense is a spirit called Sein: a Navi-like ally that is capable of shooting blasts at enemies. You are limited to just a few shots before having to let Sein recharge, leaving you open to attacks. While this is mitigated by collecting experience orbs and purchasing certain upgrades later in the game, it did leave the combat a bit lacking for a large chunk of the adventure. Jumping was also a double-edged sword: while exploring environments was always fun and floaty, it did make the sections with fine-motor platforming a chore to traverse. Even the remarkably innovative dungeons, like a gravity-shifting ice fortress, were less enjoyable due to the ambiguity of the controls. Some of this may simply be that the Xbox One controller is not conducive to tight platforming, but it’s hard to say for certain where that line is drawn.
Thankfully, the game has a creative way of marking your progress frequently. At any point, the player can create a Soul Link (which serves as a save point and upgrade station) by paying a small amount of Blue Energy from their bar. I worried at first that I would be subjected to infrequent saving opportunities due to the rarity of Energy regeneration points, but this was far from the case: I never once felt that I was unable to create a Soul Link when I wanted or needed to. There are also designated, permanent save stations throughout the world that allow you to warp to the other locations once they are discovered. While I may have constantly been saving every time I found a new power-up or experience orb (all of which are collected at a quick pace), I still found myself growing frustrated with certain sections that outlawed saving until that particular “gauntlet” of obstacles had been cleared entirely. The escape sections after each of the three Essences are acquired were particularly obnoxious in this regard.
But through it all, Ori and the Blind Forest delivers its artistic components with thrusters set to overdrive. I fell in love with the cornucopia of colors that blessed each area with its own identity. From waterlogged passages and brambly ruins to pitch-black caves and volcanoes that bleed lava at their crevices, every region delivers its own unique personality along with related sets of challenge. An illusory glade brings your entire screen to a smoky shimmer and requires the use of a special light orb to navigate more effectively, while an ancient ruin encased in ice challenges you with the aforementioned gravity-shifting puzzles to reach the prize at the end. An orchestral soundtrack backs the entire experience from start to finish, opting for songs that capitalize on the emotional impact of the whole scene rather than just delivering a variety of melodies. While its certainly not a weak point, I did miss having catchy earworms as I worked my way throughout the world and thought back on past gaming adventures of this type.
My journey through the Blind Forest certainly had some stumbling blocks, but it was wholly a great experience. I jumped back into the game the day after beating the story in order to track down the numerous experience, life, and energy orbs that I had completely missed on my first trek. A few late-game abilities allow you to see these items’ locations on your map, so it was a simple matter to track them down room by room. But honestly, I felt that this was where Ori shined the brightest: the rapid, acrobatic trips through the world in pursuit of the next piece of loot. I’ll remember those adventures far sooner than I would the moments of frustration and repetition I experienced throughout the story (although these are certainly not forgotten). I’m grateful I got to experience The Blind Forest before its sequel, The Will of the Wisps, arrives later this year. I can’t wait for a return journey!
Final Score: 4/5
*Also, you should check out BeardedGamer82’s review of this game as well! He published his article when I was literally in the middle of downloading Ori, and it gave me a good hint of all I had to look forward to!
Review Score Translator
5/5- Magnificent! A quality game that goes above and beyond to deliver a near-perfect experience
4/5- Great! A game that is a joy to play despite a few minor hiccups along the way
3/5- Fun! A good game that has some issues, but is still worth playing despite the frustrations
2/5- Meh! A game with at least a handful of redeeming qualities, despite the majority of it being a mess
1/5- Yikes! A game that shouldn’t have been allowed past the final stage of developer approval