By Josh Speer / October 11th, 2019
|Title||Ori and the Blind Forest: Definitive Edition|
|Developer||Moon Studios GmbH|
|Release Date||September 27th, 2019|
|Platform||PC, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One|
|Age Rating||E for Everyone – Mild Fantasy Violence|
After beating Ori and the Blind Forest: Definitive Edition, I have to question whether I’m as good at platformers as I’ve always thought. Though, to be fair, Ori and the Blind Forest is a mix of hardcore platformer and Metroidvania. That is an odd distinction to make, but after experiencing what the game had to offer, I can’t help but feel it’s accurate. I’ve known about Ori for a long while, but it took the Switch release of the Definitive Edition to finally spur me to trying the game. It would have happened much sooner had I known that it was part Metroidvania. This game is lush, melancholy, beautiful, and full of wonder. It’s compelling and emotional. Then, the real question is, was Ori and the Blind Forest worth my wait?
Ori and the Blind Forest starts with a storm that set events in motion. A lone light is dislodged from the luminous Spirit Tree, and crashes to the earth. It turns out the light is our hero, Ori, though he starts as a frail, innocent child. Looking like a hodgepodge of forest animals with bright white skin and dark eyes, Ori nevertheless awakens the mothering instincts of Naru. Naru couldn’t be more different from Ori, being huge and hairy, but that doesn’t stop her from loving him dearly. Things go well, and time passes peacefully, until something dramatic happens to impact the natural health and bounty of the forest kingdom of Nibel. Food is less plentiful, the elements become much more extreme and suddenly there’s not enough food to share. In a heartbreaking moment, Naru sacrifices her share of food to Ori, and one day he finds her still and lifeless. Orphaned, Ori sets out into the elements, where he perishes. Revived by the last flicker of the Spirit Tree’s light, our hero goes on a journey to restore the elements and discover the source of this catastrophe.
What’s truly impressive about the presentation of Ori and the Blind Forest is that most of the story is told visually. There are some minor narrative moments, and you’ll quickly gain an ally who explains the basics, but the vast majority of the powerful story moments are ones that the game doesn’t fully explain. I find this a wise strategy, since it lends the game a “living fairy tale” vibe. Take a spoonful of Studio Ghibli, mix in some Grimm Fairy Tales, add a pinch of Disney, and you have a heady concoction. While there is a large part of me that prefers that every minute detail of a plot get explained, I still feel this approach worked really well here. Sure, I still had some lingering questions at the end of the game, but the most relevant details were made perfectly clear.
Now, I consider myself a champion of both the platformer and Metroidvania genres, so you might be surprised that I found Ori and the Blind Forest incredibly challenging. Part of the reason for that is that, as I stated earlier, the game doesn’t really hold your hand. Instead, you’re left to your own devices, taught new skills as you explore, and everything else you do at your own pace. A more important reason for the difficulty is that Ori is incredibly squishy, and there are traps and threats everywhere, most especially spikes. And while you can increase your base health like in any proper Metroidvania, it never seems to do much to protect you from harm. Hell, even after I purchased an ability called Ultra Defense, I still felt like I could get walloped in a few solid hits. Plus, when you factor in that Ori moves like he looks, meaning he skitters about like a squirrel, you can start to comprehend why I started to question my gaming skills.
Quite simply, Ori and the Blind Forest is not an easy game, even for this veteran of the genre. You’re going to die a lot, and god help you if you try for the aptly named Unhinged achievement, which requires beating the game without dying once. That said, I’m happy to admit that Ori is also a wonderful and fun game, despite the difficulty. Sure, there were times I saw so many spike-covered surfaces I thought I was playing Celeste, and yes, I yelled and screamed at the game when I screwed up and died repeatedly. However, it’s also rather satisfying whenever you manage a seemingly impossible feat, such as grappling off owls determined to claw you to death, or riding a gust of wind through stalactite covered death traps, or escaping from a river of magma. There’s no shortage of challenge in this game, but those willing to brave them all will find a fascinating and beautiful world.
You’re probably wondering how combat works in Ori, and the simple answer is it’s Sein’s doing. At the start of the game, Ori is completely defenseless, and can only move and jump about. That all changes when he finds Sein, a fragment of the Spirit Tree. While Ori is mute, Sein is very talkative, and explains the task ahead of you, as well as giving advice how to proceed. Sein will also protect you with powerful beams of fiery light that burst from him, as well as other attacks like a chargeable explosion. Ori and Sein have a very symbiotic relationship, but for simplicity you can just think of Sein as an extension of Ori’s will. You still have complete control over when he attacks. I admit that this took some getting used to, since most Metroidvanias have you directly attacking foes, whereas here you can be running away from them and Sein can still lock on and blast them. Thankfully, even though Ori can’t directly defend himself, he learns many, many skills that help him traverse the environment.
In traditional Metroidvania fashion, Ori will come across altars that empower him with new skills. These range from the standard stuff like wall climbing, double jump, and hovering, to more exotic things like his Spirit Flame and Charge Flame, and most importantly, his Bash skill. I have to say, the Bash skill is one of the most complex and unique moves I’ve seen in a long time, and I have somewhat mixed feelings about it. Bash allows you to latch onto a projectile or enemy and freeze time, then by rotating your orientation to said item with a handy arrow, you can fling yourself away from it. Where this got tricky was that there are many times where you have to flip the orientation, flinging yourself away and aiming the projectile at a breakable wall. The game really likes this mechanic, and eventually will start throwing it at you when you’re in mid-air or rushing for your life. I think my biggest issue was that it never became a secondhand reflex to use Bash, and I was constantly required to utilize it. That said, the vast majority of the skills Ori learned were fun and intuitive, so I can’t fault the game too much over one I had problems with.
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