Wot I Think: Ori And The Blind Forest

Forest loveliness

Ori and the Blind Forest [official site] is a beautiful game. That’s the first thing you’ll notice. The extended intro sequence plays out like a vaguely interactive Studio Ghibli animation as your character – a glowing mouse-like guardian spirit called Ori – is cared for by adopted bear-like parent Naru after she falls into the forest from the Spirit Tree. The animation is luxurious as Ori perches on Naru’s shoulders as they seek apples and while the pair build a bridge over a pool. It’s the first cut scene in a long time where I’ve sat back and watched rather than mash buttons in order to move the action along.

As the intro draws to a close the story and the forest darken. A gigantic angry-looking owl has disturbed the natural order of things, ripping the light from the woods and from the Spirit Tree which cares for the area. It’s at this point that the game proper begins with Ori stranded in a tangled wilderness, needing to heal or repair the damage to the land.

From this point you’ll find a tight, polished Metroidvania-style platformer with echoes of Ocarina of Time.

In the early stages of the game Ori picks up a helpful ball of light sent out by the Spirit Tree called Sein. She offers helpful information at various points as well as some utility by providing your attack options. At this early stage Ori’s own small skill set consists of running and jumping and launching bursts of autotargetted projectiles via Sein in a small range around her.

It’s a skill set which gradually evolves as you encounter the memorial trees for those who have died. One bequeaths the knowledge of how to double jump, another offers wall-climbing. In order to improve these basic skills there’s also a three-pronged skill tree where you can spend ability points (accrued by collecting the yellow light globules enemies drop on death and yellow orbs hidden around the map). In doing so you can improve Ori’s damage-dealing capabilities as well as adding health regeneration options, underwater breathing and so on.

The game revolves around chains of action which exploit your current skillset. None of that skillset will be unfamiliar to a player of platform games but for all their familiarity they are at least well-executed. In the regular world map these chains might be relatively short; perhaps bouncing your way up a wall while dodging foes and spiked tumbleweed. In these sections there is generally plenty of safe space in which to assess the next challenge.

These spaces can also be used to conjure a soul link. Soul links are mobile save points created by expending energy – blue orbs of light. If you die you’ll respawn at your most recent soul link or at the game’s predefined save points. The latter are few and far between so you’ll soon fall into the habit of creating soul links at regular intervals. Or threatening to throw your PC into the nearest duck pond because you forgot to do that and now have to redo an entire section.

In particular areas which Ori is trying to repair or cleanse, the chains of action become longer and more challenging. You might also get extra tools to carry which affect how you move and which of your skills are available to you at any point. You’ll go further between possible save points (I grew to loathe the warning that I couldn’t create a soul link on unsafe ground or with enemies nearby) and experience the frustration of limited energy resources.

This action chaining reaches its peak in several sections where you’re running to avoid something deadly. There are no checkpoints and death is instant meaning you’ll likely bash your head against those segments for a while until you’ve learned the finger choreography required.

Run run run jump double jump gliiiiiide run run run powerjump gliiiiide DEATH

Run run run jump double jump gliiiiiide run run run powerjump gliiiiide DEATH

Run run run jump jump DEATH

Run run run jump double jump gliiiiiide run run run double jump gliiiiide smash jump run run run…

If I hadn’t been reviewing it I would have stopped playing at one particular point and gone for a soothing trip to the aforementioned local duck pond.

But while it’s frequently frustrating it tends to feel like it’s your fault rather than the game’s. You’re the one who budgeted your energy badly and put a soul link in a stupid place, you’re the one who couldn’t press the button to launch yourself off an enemy projectile fast enough, you’re the one who got overconfident after levelling up your damage and died from a frog jumping on your head. Success is a relief every time but it’s the sort of relief of a tension headache abating or every muscle in your hands (and one in your cheek just below your right eye) unclenching.

Throughout all of this is the lovely music, the gorgeous artwork and a moving story. That intro sequence brought a lump to my throat, but I wasn’t sure whether the game would be able to sustain that ability to be affecting once it became less cinematic. But as the story plays out and I completed tasks I was fed more snippets. The game gradually reveals what’s behind the tragedy of the forest and that emotional facet is unspoilt by unforgiving and unadventurous mechanical requirements.

Despite a torrent of swearwords spilling from my face over the final section of play, the story’s conclusion instantly brought that lump back to my throat.

29 Comments

  1. ran93r says:

    It is indeed quite lovely and well worth it if you enjoy the genre, it’s frustrating in places, in ways only a platformer can be but it’s completely charming with it.

    My only gripe is that games shouldn’t bring grown men to tears in the first five minutes. Who the hell decided that was ok?

    • Gothnak says:

      My fiancée sat down to watch me play this and loved the start, thought it was one of the best styles she has seen. Then that section happened, she burst into tears and said she hated this horrible game and said she didn’t want me to play it anymore.

      • Ryuuga says:

        I guess that tidbit of information combined with the sometimes high difficulty level seals the deal: it’s not a game for me.

  2. Laurentius says:

    RPS, y no love for Oddworld: New ‘n’ Tasty ?

  3. Durandir says:

    Haven’t had that much time to play it, but I have done the first “escaping from something deadly” part. And holy shit. Last time I swore at a game as much was Super Meat Boy. I feel it hits a lot of the same parts of my brain, where I know I am the one who fucks up, and I just have to get better. Even after trying and failing dozens of times, the last and finally successful effort washed all of the other tries away. It felt as if I had done something awesome on the first try. Instead of just feeling relief about not having to try again, it just felt super cool and tense. Might have to do with the wonderful visuals as much as the gameplay. I short, I just love this game to bits, and everyone should buy it.

    • oWn4g3 says:

      I managed to survive that first escape sequence on my first try while streaming it to a friend via Steam. Not gonna lie, it felt pretty awesome.

  4. Sir_Deimos says:

    My main complaint was that there are a couple one-way trips that can easily prevent 100%ing if you don’t know about them. Temples can’t be re-entered to explore the corner of that one room, and even worse you can’t even open your save file once you finish the game. I will forever have a 98% because the game won’t let me get those last few orbs.

  5. SealedSun says:

    Absolutely fantastic, all the way through. Yes, I swore like hell during the boss batt… I mean escape sequences. But finishing one of these, is the best feeling ever. A bit like beating a nasty boss in Dark Souls.

    Can heartily recommend.

  6. caff says:

    Looks nice, and I’m a sucker for emotional stories.

  7. Commander Gun says:

    The game reminds me a bit of this older game i played: Dust: An Elysian Tail
    This was a great game and i had much fun with it. Anyone who played this game and Ori can confirm the games are alike?

    • islipaway says:

      Visually it reminded me a bit of Dust but it’s more focused on platforming than combat which is a single button affair. There is an element of timing to combat and one of the movement mechanics is also a combat mechanic.

      There is a story element but the game doesn’t constantly stop to talk to you like dust does, all story moments serve to move the game forward.

      This game is basically the perfect control of meatboy, in a metrovania game with stunning visuals. The metrovania stuff isn’t normally my favorite but it is quite quick with progression and I never felt I had to grind or travel too far back to collect things I couldn’t get earlier.

      • Craxel says:

        I was thinking that it’s quite close to Child of Light, too. It even looks very UbiEngine-y (but it’s not: it’s based on Unity). But so much better on all fronts.

        And agreed on the perfect control.. it is amazingly smooth and responsive, especially at 144hz.

    • Philomelle says:

      Dust and Ori are similar in that they’re both Metroidvanias, but very different in actual gameplay flow. Dust is a beat’em up like Devil May Cry, with some basic platforming but most of the focus being on melee combat. Ori has more in common with Mega Man X/Zero games, with high movement speed, ridiculous platforming and energy bolts flying around.

      If you want a game more similar to Dust, I would recommend Guacamelee! instead of Ori. But if you’d like something faster and more movement-based, you’ll enjoy this.

  8. AlexC says:

    I stopped playing because of the aformentioned

    “Run run run jump double jump gliiiiiide run run run powerjump gliiiiide DEATH”

    … and, “no” – it is not MY fault.

    In “Gödel, Escher, Bach” Douglas R. Hofstadter explains briefly what distinguishes intelligent lifeforms from robots and computers. we – unlike them – are capable of escaping a loop. I have no desire to train myself becoming a more efficient monkey for this game.

    Too bad, I liked the first hour or so.

    • jrodman says:

      These days, when a game looks interesting, I dig for negative reviews, and scan for words like “hard’ “difficult” and “frustrating”. If i see reasonable people describing a game this way, I don’t buy it at all.

      So much for Ori.

      • ran93r says:

        I think you would be doing yourself a disservice, at least check out some gameplay videos (or streams, if that’s what the kids are in to these days).

        I’m perhaps five hours in and the only ballachingly frustrating sections are the escape sections (timed escapes that require you to use the powers you have gathered up to that point to get to safety). An amazing feeling to complete but yes, perhaps “hard” in the sense that you will almost certainly fail a few times.

        The rest of the game is a breeze in comparison.

      • Gnoupi says:

        I used to do that myself, until I noticed that I underestimate my own skill level and overestimate other players’, sometimes.

        There are games people described as having frustrating hard moments that I tackled without as many problems as the other player. Like there are moments in other games I get stuck in, when it doesn’t seem to be a problem for most.

        Your own way of playing and experience makes trusting other people’s comments a bit of a gamble, just like reading reviews when you don’t know the reviewer. There are parts in reviews from John, for example, that I know won’t be a problem for me because I learned that from previous games and reviews, I know more or less how he plays and enjoys games (same for a few other main reviewers). Like I know that some things that he doesn’t find frustrating at all will annoy me completely (take grow home and the repetitive falling, for example, which is too annoying for me, since I particularly dislike having to go through the same things again when it was due to an approximate movement error)

      • Zekiel says:

        Likewise. I don’t have the right combination of time available + patience + natural skill to cope with platform-y type games that have have difficulty spikes.

        So thank you Philippa for warning me off this one.

        And kudos to all those who are playing and enjoying it.

    • Gothnak says:

      For action games, I agree with you entirely, I don’t want to be trained to do something specific. However, give me a complex and hard turn based game and I am happy replaying it for ages to work it out.

    • OmNomNom says:

      Puny mortal

  9. Mitthrawn says:

    So to people who are asking about the difficulty, there are really three difficulty spikes. One in the first temple you have to restore (that’s the one the people above me are talking about, and yes it is pretty difficult, especially at first, and this is coming from someone who beat the hard ending of super meat boy). The other two are very close to the end of the game. YMMV, but honestly give it a chance if you’re on the fence about it. It took me maybe a half an hour of banging my head against the wall and restarting to finish that first temple, but after that it is smooth sailing til the very end.

    Honestly it is an absolutely gorgeous game, both in terms of static art and animation, and my early GOTY candidate (though I have a major soft spot for metroidvanias). I really recommend giving it a go, it is an awesome, incredibly beautiful and well designed game with a few unfortunate (and blessedly rare) difficulty spikes.

  10. amateurviking says:

    Manual saves seems like a bit of a pisser. Unless there’s some kind of strategy to it?

    • BooleanBob says:

      A fair a bit of strategy, actually. The resource for creating a save is shared with some other things, so you have to think carefully about when you want to. You can level the mechanic up, so that creating a save point will also provide you with additional bonuses, making it a way of converting that resource into extra health, etc. It’s probably one of the game’s more original ideas, even if it puts you in mind of Resident Evil and its ink ribbons.

      … Which would be my main criticism of the game, actually. It throws a lot of things at you, but precisely nothing you haven’t seen before – the wall climbing is from Megaman X, the instadeath spikes are from Megaman, the enemies that charge you and crash into a wall are from every game, ever, the portals are from… Portal…

      I dunno. Yes, everything’s been run through the *breathtaking art* filter, but the game itself really feels kind of derivative, a repackaging of bigger and brighter things from the genre’s past. I’m not surprised that the developer is studded with ex-AAA talent – it very much feels like the kind a ‘AAA indie’ with a whole lot of Microsoft money behind, rather than a ramshackle underdog trying to make it on a kernel of inventon and moxie.

  11. Shadrach says:

    I had to give up on this on the rising water level, my skills just weren’t good enough to do it without risking a heart attack. I generally loathe escape sequences in platformers, and this was no exception, I have no interest in spending hours on a single section just to progress in the game.

    Ori is a very lovely game, and I was disappointed the developers had to cater this much to the “hardcore”, and just reading the Steam description there was very little to indicate how extremely hard this game is at times. They should at the very least add an easier game-mode, but then they would get yelled at by the “elite” by catering to us “casuals”. Video Games…

    Thankfully I found the debug mode enabler and am now free to teleport around the trickiest bits :)
    (albeit without achievements but I’ve never really cared for those anyway)

  12. islipaway says:

    I loved the escape sections. These are basically the bosses of the game and although all are difficult none are insurmountable. Though I wouldn’t want to play any without a gamepad. They are a damn lot better than QTEs!

    Without these sections the game would be a fairly dull run through of precise platforming/slight puzzle solving. With these sections you get to really test yourself and they help punctuate the acts of the game while providing an adrenaline rush lacking from the rest of the game.

  13. Cantisque says:

    Beat the game on 3rd playthrough without any pickups or using any skill points, all under 2 and a half hours. Compared to first try of 6-7 hours and far more deaths, it’s a game that takes practice for sure. In terms of difficulty, it has its moments but nothing unfair. The escape sequences are only about 1 minute long each and are fun to play, even if you are getting stuck.
    I notice most people who are complaining about the difficulty are achievement hunters as well, rather enjoying the game for what it is they are annoyed that there are missable and/or difficult parts that prevent them from getting 100% achievements on a single playthrough.

  14. Thankmar says:

    I just finished the first escape sequence, and what annoys me a little bit is not the difficulty, but that the rising water is “rubberbandy”. You cannot get yourself some advantage by acing the first sections, it just keeps catching on. I felt a little bit cheated.