Ori and the Blind Forest is a magnificent game. This review will not be about discovering if the title made a good first impression but rather examining how they have now made a lasting impression. Other would-be game designers should look at what developer Moon Studios was able to accomplish with their debut title and strive to replicate the same level of quality and accomplishment.
Before I actually had the chance to play it, I was overwhelmed with the number of claims in regards to how emotional the story for this game was. Defiantly, I puffed out my chest and foolishly told myself that there was no way that I would fall victim to the same reactions.
I could not have been more wrong.
Within 15 minutes of the prologue, I was met with a range of emotions rarely felt in gaming today. The events playing out between Ori and Naru had me feeling overcome with sadness and understanding of the desperation that served as the driving force of the journey. Not since the introduction to The Last of Us had a game so quickly reeled me into its world and made me feel connected to it beyond the act of just holding a controller.
More impressive is the method of delivery in the story. There is almost no dialogue, what we get is a periodic narration of a sentence or two. Everything else is given to us through visual cues such as the expression of the characters, their body language in response to the environment and each other and even the tone of the music altering to reflect a specific event or action taking place. It’s proof that with the right attention to detail, a game doesn’t need to go over the top to elicit a response.
I wish I could properly express the wonderful work done on the graphics, even the screenshots don’t do it justice. While it is clear that there was a lot of effort put into details such as the breaking of the water when diving in or the fluttering of your feather parachute when floating, this game needs to be seen in motion. Everything flows together so well with a smooth frame rate that truly allows for an appreciation of the plausibility that this environment is alive as one world and the accessibility for Ori to harness and interact with it to traverse the map.
Speaking of the map, it interlocks the rooms, corridors and different areas wonderfully. Being a Metroidvania game, there is a constant desire to backtrack with new abilities in order to access previously locked away areas. Honestly, this never felt like a chore due to well-placed fast travel points and a natural flow to the world. The collectibles themselves feel organically placed and while many of them are optional, it is a good idea to find them in order to increase Ori’s capabilities. Additionally, they never felt so out of reach that they were frustrating, just enough to be challenging with a sense of accomplishment when obtained.
In regards to abilities, they are obtained periodically through exploration or in the few dungeons. They serve to increase Ori’s ability to explore and traverse such as powered up jumping, dashing or gliding. The best part of this beyond the constantly increasing feeling of freedom of movement is that it is well spaced out. There was no point where I obtained a new ability and wasn’t given enough time to make it feel useful before I got another one. There is a real sense of natural growth.
There are a few dungeons that require you to put your thinking cap on for the platforming. They possess power ups and some mini bosses and escape sequences. Think a dungeon from Legend of Zelda if it was a platformer. These are more linear affairs than the structure of the world exploration but they can be revisited in order to collect any missed pick-ups.
I guess I could have used more in the way of boss fights but realistically that is not what this game is about. There is nothing wrong with the combat but it is there just to be functional. Everything else is about the exploration, platforming and emotional commitment to see the journey through.
If there is one thing that can be said against the title is that it feels a little short. Not that it is, since 10 hours is more than adequate for the price, just that it felt that way. Much of that is the result of the ending coming somewhat abruptly. I finished what was the last dungeon thinking there would be more to come and then all of a sudden, ending scenes and credits. Not the worst complaint I guess.
If it is not already clear, Ori and the Blind Forest is an easy recommendation to everyone. It can be enjoyed by fans of the genre, new gamers, and even those just looking for a quality exclusive for their Xbox One. For me, this game has easily made it into my personal Top 3 for the genre alongside Super Metroid and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night.