A beautiful and heartfelt journey.
By Sam Desatoff
Platforms: Xbox One, PC
Moon Studios is not your typical development house. Made up of a small team scattered across the globe, Moon managed to build Ori and the Blind forest without a centralized headquarters. The amount of collaboration required to turn their vision into a reality is staggering, but the product of this impressive feat is one of the most enjoyable experiences I’ve had with a video game in some time.
The first thing you’ll notice upon booting up the game is the art style. Ori boasts a hand-painted aesthetic that is an absolute pleasure to behold. The whole game is reminiscent of a traditionally-animated Disney film. Bright colors fill the screen and characters move very fluidly, resulting in one of the most beautiful games in memory.
The character design is also worth noting. Ori’s cast is very small, but each character is overflowing with a personality that is reflected in their appearance; Naru is a soft and lovable mother-figure, Kuro is a menacing threat in the form of a massive bird. These personalities are conveyed not through dialogue but through their behavior and design, another testament to Moon’s talents.
The charm spills over into the story as well. The prologue sees Ori, an orphaned forest spirit, cross paths with the aforementioned Naru. After a series of events that I won’t spoil here, the two are separated and Ori must traverse a now-dead forest in an effort to restore it to its former state of beauty. The heartfelt prologue is a driving force behind the narrative, and themes of loss, hope, and love permeate much of the story. The game utilizes these themes up until the very end. Again, no spoilers here, but I honestly haven’t been this moved by a game since Shadow of the Colossus. Suffice it to say that I will be thinking about the ending for weeks to come.
Moon has made it no secret that they set out to build Ori and the Blind Forest as an homage to the gameplay styles of Metroid and Castlevania. The similarities are numerous, from the way Ori explores the 2D map for heath and energy upgrades to the way new powers are handed out. It’s satisfying to reveal secret areas and see the map fill out as you jump and glide your way through the forest, not to mention the allure of seeing more of the beautiful and colorful world.
The emphasis on platforming is heavy, which leads me to my next point: this game is difficult. Ori is required to navigate gauntlet after gauntlet of fire pits, spike traps, avalanches, dive-bombing birds, and more. By the end of the game, you’ll be using all of Ori’s unlocked powers in concert in challenging platforming segments. The game requires unforgiving precision and I died an innumerable amount of times. Luckily, the game controls exceedingly well. I never felt out of control of Ori and only had myself to blame for any failures.
One interesting mechanic worth talking about is the save system. There are no checkpoints. Instead, saving the game is one of Ori’s abilities. Essentially, the player is responsible for their own checkpoints. Saving requires you to expend some of Ori’s energy however, so some thought must go into when to save and when to push your luck. This risk/reward system is an interesting way of keeping the player accountable. I’m not sure I’d like to see it implemented in more games, but it’s novel nonetheless.
If I have any complaints about Ori and the Blind Forest, they are incredibly minor. For instance, Ori’s primary attack is an auto-aiming energy blast. You have no control over which enemy the attack targets which can be frustrating when more than one enemy is on screen. It can be frustrating, but the times when I noticed this were few and far between and were ultimately forgotten.
Another minor gripe I have is that, at times, the environment can obscure obstacles and enemies. I understand that Moon is eager to show off the beautiful visuals, but that eagerness let to a small number of deaths as I ran into a monster hidden behind some foreground object. Again, this is a minor complaint and I will take as much of this art style as Moon wants to dole out.
Ori and the Blind Forest is a marvel of the art of video games that stands as a love letter to a cherished genre. With a lengthy development that was anything but typical, Moon has created one of my favorite games in recent memory. I cannot praise it enough and highly recommend that anyone when even a passing interest in games experience this touching story.
Final Score: 9.75/10