More Than Just a Pretty Face – Ori and the Blind Forest Review (3.1.16)

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When I first picked up Ori and the Blind Forest for a couple bucks during Steam’s Autumn Sale, I went in pretty much *ahem* blind. I knew it was a Metroidvania-esque platformer developed by Moon Studios and that it had won The Game Award for Best Art Direction but we all know that pretty games don’t necessarily make for good games. You can have a very high quality picture of a toilet but at the end of the day, you still only have a picture of a toilet.

2826048-2015030712413907“…pretty games don’t necessarily make for good games.”

You play as some type of light Pokémon named Ori who lives in a forest that has had its life-giving light stolen by a twisted creature of the night; an owl named Naru. When Naru steals the light, Ori is paired with an optimistic little ball of light named Sein and tasked with restoring the spirit of the forest.  While the player isn’t really explicitly told much actual information about the characters you become attached anyway. Ori and the Blind Forest does a far superior job of showing rather than telling. Among many other things about Ori, the plotline isn’t something the industry hasn’t seen. In all honesty, it doesn’t really break much new ground. A spooky, evil character has stolen the light. It’s your job to fetch it. However, what makes Ori truly shine is how it doesn’t fool itself into taking itself too seriously. Instead, Ori and the Blind Forest strives for a much smaller-scale, more personal experience. There’s far more to Ori and the Blind Forest than meets the eye, pun unintentional. It’s layers are just hidden under the surface of a familiar concept.

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“Instead, Ori and the Blind Forest strives for a much smaller-scale, more personal experience.”

One-of-a-Kind World

If you didn’t already notice, it’s worth mentioning that Ori and the Blind Forest is fucking gorgeous. Seriously, this game has some serious wallpaper material.  Like I mentioned, Ori won Best Art Direction, but that hardly does it justice. The artstyle is unique, complex, and adorable all at the same time and the characters are distinct and painstakenly animated, which really aids in bringing them to life. However, beauty also lies in Ori‘s environment. Both the foreground and background are intricate, layered with plant-life and shimmering lights. Creatures lurk and shadows flicker. The landscape is always fluctuating and animated. The sound direction and score are equally as impressive. Composed by Gareth Coker, it follows the player, perfectly accompanying each moment of the game. When you’re escaping certain doom of an overflowing volcano, it soars with heat and intensity. When you’re diving through the clean springs of a marshland, the music becomes light and fluid. The world before the player is filled with lush environments, all ripe for exploration.

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“The landscape is always fluctuating and animated.”

Seamless Exploration and Gameplay

As usual for the genre, Ori and the Blind Forest brings a small taste of everything to the table. Primarily, it’s a puzzle-platformer, though, with more emphasis on exploration rather than brainwork. It has a habit of subtly showing the player some passageway or secret yet making it initially unattainable. There will be some gem or power-up hidden behind a boulder, across a pit of spikes, or just too tall to leap up and snag. The information fades from memory until Ori unlocks some newfound ability and the player realizes, “Well wait a second! I think I can scramble up that wall or leap across that chasm.” Through this, the gameplay, environment, and story all lend to each other perfectly. The player becomes keen on exploring not just because the world is remarkable but also because Ori becomes stronger. You start the game as a fragile pocket of light in an imposing, dark landscape. Enemies are tough and there are deadly roadblocks and obstacles at every shadowed turn of the forest. However, as you take out enemies and explore the woods before you, you gain experience to spend in three different skill trees. It’s important to note Ori and the Blind Forest is not an easy game by any means. It kicks your ass and then deliberately makes your death tally very visible in the Pause-menu. With Ori, it’s do-or-die. Even saving the game comes with a cost – Ori’s mana – which emphasizes risk-reward analysis. However, progression and exploration make you a stronger and more confident creature of light. Through trial-and-error, you learn how to manage the hazards thrown at you. Through time and exploration, the daunting task of saving your homeland becomes not quite as imposing.

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“Through trial-and-error, you learn how to manage the hazards thrown at you.”

Summary

2015 saw some impessive AAA titles. Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, Fallout 4, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, Batman: Arkham Knight. The list goes on. If I’m being truthful though, I didn’t really engage the AAA scene. When you’re a college student, games are investment and I simply don’t have the time nor money to experience all of them, especially many of the bigger titles. Consequently, I’m drawn towards the indie genre. Smaller-scale, more personal games that don’t also don’t demand $60 dollars and 125 hours at the minimum. This is precisely what appeals to me about Moon Studios’  Ori and the Blind Forest. Consequently, I believe Ori and the Blind Forest is…

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