Five minutes into Moon Studios’ Ori and the Blind Forest, I knew it was something special–and I hadn’t even begun playing yet. The opening sequence is powerful, emotional, and comparable in quality to any of Disney’s best animated films, and sets a very high bar for the rest of the game. Fortunately, Ori and the Blind Forest does not disappoint, as the eight-hour adventure that follows is one of the greatest platform/puzzle games in recent history.
The player controls Ori, a benevolent guardian spirit, who is separated from the Spirit Tree (the life force and soul of the forest itself) as an infant. A kind-hearted bear-like creature finds Ori and raises him as her own, but without Ori the Spirit Tree is left vulnerable. As time passes, the Spirit Tree, and by extension the forest as a whole, becomes twisted and dies. As Ori, players set out on an adventure to restore balance to their now broken and wicked ecosystem.
Ori and the Blind Forest manages to pull off a very emotional story that revolves around the nature of parenthood, the grieving process, and the notion of forgiveness, and it accomplishes all of this without the aid of dialogue. The story being told in between levels and the quest players are undertaking during actual gameplay do sometimes feel a little disconnected, but it ends up wrapping up nicely in the end for players that hang in there. The opening sequence and the finale in particular will undoubtedly have some players in tears.
The gameplay of Ori and the Blind Forest fits firmly into the “Metroidvania” category, and draws heavily upon the games that defined the genre like Rayman and Metroid, with some light RPG elements reminiscent of The Legend of Zelda franchise. At the outset Ori is extremely limited in his abilities, as he can only run and jump, but through progressive upgrades and the help of Sein, a sentient blue orb of light, Ori becomes a force to be reckoned with. He’ll learn how to dash through the air, stomp enemies into dust, and use Sein to blast away barriers and enemies, adding a fresh twist to gameplay with each new ability.
Don’t let Ori’s adorable form fool you; Ori and the Blind Forest is anything but a walk in the park. Before the credits rolled, I died a massive 300+ times–at least 250 more deaths than my first playthrough of Dark Souls 2. The people at Moon Studios have put the utmost time and care into crafting devious environments that require at least four highly-skilled fingers and quick reflexes to overcome. Solving the game’s various puzzles isn’t terribly difficult, but the player’s execution in doing so needs to be precise and perfect. There aren’t boss fights in Ori and the Blind Forest, but after overcoming the obstacle of each “dungeon” the player’s skills are put to the test in increasingly difficult escape sequences. In one of these sequences I died thirty times, and was having a blast with each and every death. I would have been frustrated by this experience if I wasn’t having so much damn fun trying again and again.
One awesome feature that I can’t recall seeing in any other game is Ori and the Blind Forest’s unique way of handling save points. Aside from the occasional automatic checkpoint (which are very infrequent), the duty of creating checkpoints falls to the player. At any point that Ori is not in immediate danger he can expend energy to create a “soul link,” an area of blue light which Ori can use to save his progress and spend ability points on new perks/skills. This system takes some getting used to, as initially I would forget for long stretches of time and regretted it in death, but once mastered is one of the best saving systems I’ve seen in a long time.
Possibly the best part of Ori and the Blind Forest is the immaculate presentation. From the breathtaking art, heartwrenching score, and memorable animation, Ori and the Blind Forest makes full use of every opportunity available to “wow” the player and draw them further into the expertly-crafted world. The entire game looks like it was pulled straight out of a fairy tale, and the music aids the player in feeling the wide range of emotions that Ori and the Blind Forest will make you feel. I did notice the occasional framerate dip here and there, but it was never severe enough to pull me out of the moment.
Ori and the Blind Forest features a lot of hidden upgrades and collectibles, but outside of the main story there is little else to do. That said, the eight-hours that it will take to complete the adventure don’t overstay their welcome, and I thought it all wrapped up precisely when it should have. I was a little disappointed to find that once the game ends, you cannot continue playing. I had planned to go back and collect the remaining upgrades I’d missed, but when I went back to the main menu, I was greeted with a depressing “completed” status over my file, and was unable to re-enter my world at all. The only option is to start a separate save file from the beginning, so I encourage players to finish doing everything they want to do before entering the final dungeon.