Beautiful. Sumptuous. Exquisite.
These are the kind of words that spring to mind as you start to play Ori and The Blind Forest. It’s one of those games where you’ll find yourself shouting at whoever is nearby to come look – “You have to see this!”, you’ll cry in delight. Indeed, this is pretty much exactly what happened after I made it through the 10 minute introduction. Told through the eyes of Naru, a pondering, slow, panda-like creature, who happens upon the titular ‘Ori’ during a storm one night. Thus the tale begins, and without spoiling what happens as the playable introduction continues, suffice to say the narrative isn’t just heart-breaking, but rather, it rips open your chest and beats your poor broken heart to a bloody pulp.
Following the arrival of an entity named Kuro into the forest, The Tree of Life and the forest itself begins to die – and it’s up to cat-like Ori to save the day. A familiar goal, lifted from a literally dozens of other games, but thanks to the sterling presentation and emotional introduction, it’s a world you’ll want to see healed.
The game structure is fairly ordinary – a sprawling Metroidvania-style adventure where Ori will explore a huge network of connected areas – expect hard-to-reach places, locked doors, puzzles – the usual. As you unlock more abilities for Ori, you’ll find yourself going back to areas you couldn’t reach previously. Upgrades for Ori are delivered to her in two different ways – core powers are gifted via sacred trees, which also form your primary objectives, but more unusually, Ori has three skills paths, providing more moves for the player to master as they become unlocked. To upgrade these skills paths, XP must be harvested via defeated enemies from around the forest. Combat is perhaps a fairly uninspired affair, attacks falling to another character called Sein, a spirit guide who assists you throughout the game, and aside from becoming more powerful as you progress, you basically hit the X button a lot.
Moving around in Ori is sublime, much like the visuals. What starts as a fairly basic, if responsive leap soon progresses to triple jumps, wall climbs, dash attacks, and most interestingly, ‘Bash’. Bash is unusual, in that it’s both an offensive attack, and a form of movement – with it, Ori can catapult off an enemy or projectile, either inflicting damage or sending said projectile back towards the enemy, and simultaneously flinging Ori into the air. Useful for those hard to reach spots.
Although the game is pretty, don’t be fooled. It’s also devilishly challenging, with some devious sections that require cat-like reflexes to get through. In particular are the escape sequences, which provide a finale to each section you complete. This game has a record of how many times you have died, and for good reason. I was sitting pretty on 297 when I got to the end. However, the game does have a rather genius solution to these difficult moments, and that is the Soul Link. This energy reserve allows the player to create a Soul Link anywhere and save the game. They are also the only place you upgrade your skill tree – so making sure you put one in the right place, and at the right time is essential.
My time spent in the Forest of Nibel was pleasurable, and Ori was a game I didn’t want to put down. I would wholeheartedly recommend this game to anyone either via Xbox One or PC. However, I would also stress that at Gamescom 2015, the developers of Ori, Moon Studios announced a definitive edition, one that would react to fan feedback and perhaps finally allow for a new game +. I for one, can’t wait to dive back in. So if you’re on the fence, keep an eye on the Xbox One Store and Steam later on this fall.
Verdict: Best Game Ever.