Ori and the Blind Forest: Definitive Edition Review

 

Okay, where to begin? I am legit having trouble knowing where to start when it comes to talking about Ori and the Blind Forest: Definitive Edition, it took me a long time to fully appreciate this game for what it is but appreciate it I do. Let me start out the gate by saying that the game is a masterpiece!  Not only does it look amazing, but it plays every bit as good as it looks as well. This is one of those special games that hits it out of the park in just about all areas. Literally everything about it is top notch, aside from a few minor faults. More about that later.

Now Ori and the Blind Forest truly is a special game, crafted by the talented Moon Studios and initially announced at E3 of 2014, it gained anticipation quickly amongst fans who were entranced by the graphical showpiece that was on display in its initial trailer. Sometime later, a Definitive Edition was announced and released for Xbox One, with a Nintendo Switch version of the game following suit two years after its initial Xbox One debut. The game itself went only to achieve critical acclaim from game critics and fans alike.

 

From the start, the game greets you with a gorgeous, pastel shaded landscape and that is just on the menu screen. One simply cannot help but gawk at it and marvel at how absolutely stunning the landscape looks and that serene theme song that plays in the background too, it makes you absolutely want to jump in and begin playing the game. When you do, however, you are greeted with a vignette about some of the characters, which tugs at the emotional heartstrings a bit with how the main character, Ori, came to be and serves as a motivation for their mission.

Without getting too into spoiler territory, the story starts off with the birth of the main character Ori, who descends from a mysterious entity known as the Spirit Tree in the form of a white leaf before manifesting into their current form. From there, you are introduced to another character, Naru, who becomes especially important to Ori’s mission, teaching them how to forage for fruits amongst other things. Tragedy strikes when a great storm hits, damaging the food supply and in turn causing a chain of sad events that ends up leading to the beginning of the game and serves to introduce you to the mechanics present in the game.

Ori and the Blind Forest is what is known colloquially as a Metroid Vania, basically this is a game with platforming mechanics in which you explore an area that is all interconnected in a large, labyrinthine maze peppered with roadblocks in which you need to either figure out a puzzle, acquire an ability or in some cases, defeat a boss to move forward and explore further. It is a genre of gaming that is extremely popular and thus there are a litany of titles one can choose from if you need to scratch that itch. Thus, in order to stand out from the crowd, a title in this genre needs to break the mold. Ori and the Blind Forest does just that with its unique art style and environmental setting.

 

Allow me to explain, most Metroid Vania games take place in either a large, abandoned castle full of undead creatures or on a foreign planet well outside our solar system which usually have a bunch of cavernous areas filled with monsters, either way, they play the same way. Explore the area, fighting monsters who will attack you out the gate, get to a boss, destroy it, obtain a new item or ability that allows you to backtrack to a previously trekked in area and continue to a new area that you could not access before, rinse and repeat before you ultimately get to the final area, fight the big bad behind all of this and beat the game. Now I, as a reviewer, am not saying that these settings are bad at all, just that these environments and stories are the most common trope amongst this genre of games.  

This leads to the question, how does Ori and the Blind Forest break that mold when you are indeed doing the standard things in a Metroid Vania, such as exploring the area around you, obtaining new abilities that help you progress further into the game and backtracking into previously inaccessible areas by using said new ability? The answer is simple. You see, Ori and the Blind Forest does not look like your typical Metroid Vania by a long shot. Rather than thrusting you into an abandoned castle or a series of space caves, the setting is in the name of the game. You are indeed exploring a large, forested area known simply as Nibel, a land that is being plagued by decay and slowly dying due to an imbalance in the environment that you, as Ori, are now being tasked to fix. The enemies you end up fighting in this beautiful but dangerous land are mutant variants of spiders, slugs and other creatures you would be familiar with if you were to walk around a local forest in your area.

 

What I find refreshing about this is the way that the land of Nibel is brought to life. As mentioned before, rather than using pixels or polygons, Ori and the Blind Forest has a unique, hand-drawn look to it that is just breath-taking to look at. The pastel shaded world runs the colors of the rainbow, from lush, green forested areas full of trees, foggy swamps, mountainous ridges, frozen caverns laced with interesting technological achievements, to watery lakes and a fiery volcano, the game is packed with so much detail, teeming with color and little things peppered throughout that bring it all together in a symphony for the eyes. The best part? As the world opens to you, and you explore further into the game itself, the scenery you end up exploring keeps surprising you with how much detail is in both the backgrounds of the areas and the foregrounds you are standing on. To say in layman’s terms that this game is gorgeous would be an absolute understatement, it must be seen to be believed, it rivals anything that Vanillaware has ever released in terms of scope, beauty and scale.

 

Adding to this, the game makes you aware that Ori, as a creature of light, is rather small in stature. Ori does not look like a typical hero or heroine, and that right there only adds to the charm. It even gives a bit of backstory as to how many of the platforming segments that are scattered throughout the game ended up coming to be. One simply cannot give away those details without spoiling some of the main story but let us just say when you do get to the area where you learn about the race of creatures responsible for the technology and structures like the wooden bridges you see throughout the game, it hits hard and for obvious reasons. A character known as Gumo, whom is a member of that race and end up befriending early in the game after rescuing them from being trapped makes that whole story arc really hit home.

 

Of course, a game that looks this good should also have good gameplay to back it up, am I correct? Well, it is safe to say that Ori and the Blind Forest does back up the graphics with the gameplay. You will not be disappointed. Moon Studios did a fabulous job crafting unique mechanics that only a creature of light could use to get around in the land of Nibel. You end up gaining what are known as Skills through what are known as Ancestral Spirit Trees that are peppered throughout. Each one of them serves a purpose, not a single Skill is wasted whatsoever, they all feel very natural. Not only that, but those Skills can also be augmented with what are known as Abilities, which you obtain by either fighting enemies are discovering Ability Spheres. This plays into another mechanic in which you can virtually save anywhere through the Soul Link system. When you do, you not only recover life, but if you hold down a certain button on your controller, you can also spend Ability Points to enhance the skills you have on hand and increase the amount of damage done to enemies amongst other things. Something that comes in handy, especially later in the game.

When you acquire these skills, you can do all sorts of cool things, like tap a button on the controller to give Ori a quick speed boost, jump in the air and hit down on the control stick to either shake the ground or attack an enemy, or one of the most useful in which you can either latch onto a torch or an enemy’s projectile, choose the direction you want to go and launch yourself in the air, it even has a bonus in that you can also send said projectile back to the enemy. All these abilities come together cohesively and once you get used to the controls and working them, you will wonder how you got by without them. Especially when you open previously inaccessible areas, it is all so very satisfying and offers the player just enough reward and motivation to keep going. Adding to this, in the Definitive Edition, an entire new area with two more Skills to find that were not present in the original, also helping fill in the backstory of Naru, was added to the game, some new secret areas were added to make sure these additional skills are not just filler either.

Combat is unique in that it is mostly distant. Allow me to explain, you see, Ori does not explore the treacherous land of Nibel alone, they have a buddy, a sentient beacon of light simply known as Sein, who joins you as soon as you finish the prologue and begin the journey into the depths of Nibel. Sein shoots bolts of energy out at nearby enemies, doing moderate damage and helping to hold them at bay. Sein also has many other uses throughout the game and in fact helps form the core mechanics of combat, puzzle solving and moving to the next location. The sound emitted from the beams of light and other abilities at your disposal is clear, distinct and effective in letting you know that you are doing your job.

Which brings me to another aspect, the soundtrack. Composed by none other than Gareth Coker, Ori and the Blind Forest has a soundtrack that is just enchanting, the opening theme song with its solemn, piano movement and sole female alto voice alone lets you know that you are in for a treat to the ears. it is primarily comprised of orchestral movements that transition almost seamlessly when you transition from one area to another and always fits the mood, going from quiet, tranquil pieces in areas that are more open with minimal combat, to fast paced, urgent feeling, orchestrated sweeps that play during certain sequences in the game. Not a single piece feels out of place during your time in Nibel. I would not change a thing about it whatsoever, because it is seriously that damn good. Bonus is that if you buy either the Xbox One or Nintendo Switch version of the game, you get the soundtrack either in the form of a CD (Xbox) or a digital code (Switch). Either way, the music is an absolute highlight and absolutely deserves to be listened to.

Now just because this game has so many good points, does not mean that it is perfect. Like every other game, Ori and the Blind Forest certainly has its flaws, albeit in this case they are few. I give you fair warning, you are going to die in this game, and you are going to die a lot. To say this game is all about trial and error would be an understatement. It is both unforgiving but also forgiving at the same time. You see, if Ori even so much as touches spikes or gets hit by an enemy, they are rendered invincible for a few seconds but those seconds pass by quickly, leaving you vulnerable. If you do not get out of the spiked area in time or get pegged by another enemy projectile or melee attack? Good night Irene. Even later in the game when you have a few more hit points at your disposal, you will still run into this issue. I kid you not, the developers knew this and even had the morbid sense of humor to add a death counter to the game, counting how many times you die playing it. Fortunately, the Soul Link helps ease the frustration a bit, so long as you are in a safe, stable location and have enough energy to save.

Another thing is no boss battles. One would think in a hazard filled land like this, you would encounter some boss battles with other creatures that were taken over and mutated by the decay, am I right? Nope, you do not run into any bosses sadly. I do not know if this were considered deliberate by design or what, but yeah, it is what would be considered a flaw by many, myself included. I would love to put my skills to the test against truly scary creatures. Ah well, perhaps in the sequel? More on that in the future. I can easily overlook this because everything else this game does, it does masterfully.

 

So, all in all, I can safely say that Ori and the Blind Forest: Definitive Edition truly lives up to its pedigree. It is as close to perfection as one can get when it comes to gaming. Other than a few niggling flaws, the game has so much going for it. From the jaw-dropping, beautiful, pastel colored graphics that look like a moving work of art, to the masterful platforming, easter eggs scattered throughout and secrets peppered within. I cannot find any major, game breaking things that would make the whole thing collapse. Adding to that a simple story with characters you grow to care deeply about and a sweet, orchestral, sweeping soundtrack that never feels out of place and even goes the extra mile during certain sequences in the game, and you have yourself a masterpiece that nails it on just about all fronts. This is more than just a game; this is an experience from start to finish. Ori and the Blind Forest has all the elements of a classic, and if you get the chance, you owe it to yourself to check out this masterpiece in gaming design.

Written by J.T. Melanson AKA IcedEarthaholic. Published on May 12, 2021.

Review Copy Info: A digital copy of this game was purchased by RealGamerNewZ for the purposes of this review.