From the moment it was first revealed, I’ve known Ori and the Blind Forest was something to keep an eye on. With its stunning visuals and vibrant color palette, it was clear to me that the platformer would bring some serious firepower to a somewhat lacking indie scene for Xbox One owners. The game is now here, and I’m ecstatic to report Ori and the Blind Forest is even better than I had hoped. Sorry PlayStation fans, but I think Microsoft wins this round in the exclusives showcase.
Ori, a forest spirit, is orphaned at birth. Naru, a benevolent forest dweller, finds the young spirit and raises him until one day when a great calamity strikes the forest. Things begin to decay, and the young Ori is forced to strike out on his own.
Over the course of Ori’s journey, we end up getting an excellent story, wonderfully told. Its roots go deep and you’ll both rejoice and cry as the emotionally charged narrative digs its claws into you. You’ll meet wonderful and terrifying creatures with their own emotional stories and motivations.
It’s clear the folks at Moon Studios took intense care and ownership with Ori and the Blind Forest. I dare say there’s no game on the platform with better narrative and deeper emotional attachment.
Ori and the Blind Forest is about as clean a game as you can get with this format. There is no blood or gore to be concerned with, though there is some cartoon violence as you’ll have to fight your way through enemies all around the forest.
There is no explicit content in any format here. The language—what little is used throughout the game—is all child-friendly and there is nothing lascivious to be concerned about.
One thing that may be a concern to the younger audience is enemy design. While Ori and some of the characters he interacts with are somewhat cute, the denizens of the forest undoubtedly lean toward a darker, more evil side. Spiders, fish, and a giant angry owl with fiery glowing eyes are just a few of the foes that could cause little ones to shiver and shield their eyes.
Ori and the Blind Forest is a masterfully crafted metroidvania. If you’ve sampled other fare like the classic Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, or Super Metroid, you have a good idea of what’s in store for you. If you’re unfamiliar with this style of game, you’re in for a treat.
Ori is made up of zones you’ll have to run, jump, fight, and more in. Each zone often has some sort of puzzle or condition that will have to be solved in order to move on to the next zone. These often consist of making your way to a specific room or location within the zone and triggering some sort of switch or conquering a complex movement puzzle. Luckily, the entire world of Ori is put together in a way that keeps it interesting to traverse and explore without becoming overbearing.
Beyond solving the puzzles and challenges in each zone, there are a ton of secrets hidden throughout the game. For venturing off the beaten path, you’ll often be rewarded with bonus experience, extra skill points, and additional health and energy boosts. Each of these make you more survivable in the dark, decaying forest and provide a satisfying, tangible reward for your exploration.
As you work your way through the game, you’ll earn a swath of new abilities. While some may help you in combat, many of them reward you with new, exciting ways to maneuver around the world. This also usually results in being able to gain access to areas you previously couldn’t reach or break through. By the end of the game, virtually nothing can stop your progress, and that’s quite an empowering feeling.
While you slowly gain new maneuvering abilities throughout the story, you also have access to a skill tree you can upgrade over the course of the game. This can be done using experience earned by defeating enemies or with hidden skill orbs you find in the world. Working your way through the skill tree can net you everything from upgraded damage to the ability to see hidden things on the map and much, much more. It will both ease your burdens as an adventurer and provide you rewards for all the enemies you defeat along the way.
One of the most unique things about Ori and the Blind Forest compared to many of its contemporaries is Ori’s ability to generate a “spirit flame.” This lets him create a small zone where he can save the game, upgrade his skills, and possibly recover a little health. It’s also a way of making sure you don’t lose too much progress as you journey around the forest. You’ll quickly learn it’s one of your most crucial tools.
As much as I love Ori and the Blind Forest, I can’t deny it suffers from a few flaws. The game isn’t terribly long, taking only 7-10 hours to beat, depending on your pace. A bit of that is padded with backtracking that feels like it serves little other purpose than filler.
There are also portions of the game that can become rage-inducing exercises in self control where you’ll have to navigate long, complex platforming sequences that can kill you in a moment’s notice. They also offer no checkpointing options.
Even more egregious than any of that, though, is the fact that once you complete the game, the entire save game you finish is locked tight. That means you can never go back in with your fully tricked-out Ori and get all those collectibles you missed earlier. There’s also no “New Game+”, so completionists will need to make sure they get every item and upgrade before finishing the game.
Ori and the Blind Forest is a beautiful game. Through a masterfully chosen color palette and art style, both the story and gameplay can truly shine. Each area of the world feels unique without ever getting boring. I dare say the visual style feels almost Disney-like, with Ori paralleling a cute spirit-like version of Stitch from Disney’s Lilo & Stitch. It’s easy to see the caliber of work the art team has brought over the last four years.
On top of beautiful, fluid visuals, the game features an excellent soundtrack. Orchestral, piano-rich tracks help drive both the action and emotion on-screen, setting you on edge in the most intense moments and driving you deeper into the moment for those excellent story beats.
My only complaint is that Ori appears tiny on screen. It’s an unfortunate necessity to help facilitate the action, but it hampers the experience for any spectators. Everything looks so beautiful, it would be nice to see it in closer detail. It’s really a minor complaint, though.
Ultimately, Ori and the Blind Forest is one of the best games in the Xbox One library right now, especially in terms of exclusivity. It has top-notch platforming and combat, a wide range of skills and abilities to unlock and upgrade, and a big world full of secrets to explore and uncover. The game is beautifully drawn and animated, helping deliver an emotionally charged story driven by a fantastic soundtrack you’ll be whistling long after the credits roll. The game fails to deliver a few of the standard features its genre typically affords, and a few sections can be pretty frustrating, but those shouldn’t be issues that keep you away from an otherwise excellent experience. Ori and the Blind Forest is a game that deserves your time and, quite possibly, far more.
The Bottom Line