Majestic is a term that is seldom used when describing the quality of playing a video game. My time playing through Ori and the Blind Forest on the Xbox One has helped me understand why so few titles are ever described in such a way. This is mainly because very few games I’ve played through have ever provided an experience with such a graceful undertone to what was happening on the screen. Pair this together with what will be considered as one of the best musical scores in gaming, and you have a special game that will make anyone’s experience surely memorable.
The gameplay mimics that of other “Metroidvania” style games. Platforming is at the forefront as you explore different parts of a vast forest called Nibel. You control Ori, a guardian white spirit of the forest raised by a creature named Naru. Ori can upgrade her abilities by finding different Soul Trees scattered in the levels, as well as gain experience from defeating enemies.
Ori is tasked with restoring Nibel to its former self after a cataclysmic event plunges the forest into a state of decay. As you navigate through the game’s various environments, you will have to traverse many obstacles and backtrack to explore places that were inaccessible at first.
The stylized visuals will immediately grab the attention of those who play this game. The level design and overall aesthetic are superb and simply beautiful. They bear similarities and are possibly inspired by Hayao Miyazaki films. The full range of colors in every area you explore allow the world of Ori to emanate a sense of lushness. Just glancing at small, yet subtle, details in the background of each level make areas feel wondrous and alive.
The creature enemies you encounter are dangerous but they seem to be following their natural instincts. There isn’t a clear black and white display of evil in the game, even with the game’s main antagonist being the cause of all the hardships throughout the story. You feel genuine sympathy and come to understand that the turmoil happening in the world is the reason why creatures in Ori behave the way they do. They are simply reacting to events happening around them. There is no pre-determined plan to plunge the world into chaos. It’s a huge change of pace from the usual “good vs evil” stories and fits well into the underlying tone the story has.
Another remarkable thing about Ori and the Blind Forest is the soundtrack. The main melody has to be one of the most graceful and malleable musical scores to come from a video game. Throughout my time playing, the main theme would play in a variety of ways based on the story events going on, or the areas I was exploring. The music helps to add so much to the emotional impact of what happens to Ori and the events that transpire around her.
One sequence towards the end of the first dungeon has Ori racing towards the top of a giant tree as it floods with water. While the escape was full of danger, the combination of the music and the incredibly gorgeous visuals made me feel something other than fear. I was in awe of what I was experiencing even as I was trying to keep myself from drowning in the rising waters. The bright colors of the water drew my eyes in and the exciting, yet graceful, music grabbed the attention of my ears. It’s the same feeling one might experience when viewing a tornado and recognizing its destructive power, yet still be enthralled by its grace as a force of nature.
The game isn’t without a few issues. The biggest drawback is the difficulty spike towards the end. The platforming and level of challenge in some areas goes up without much warning.
Saving can be an issue as well. You can save your game manually at any point on the map through the use of a Soul Link, which uses up one energy bar. However, knowing when to save can be a bit tedious as you are never given a good clue as to when you should save. Also, you cannot save during the middle of a boss fight or escape sequences. This can result in dying and having to replay sections and rewatching cutscenes repeatedly.
There is also the lack of a New Game Plus. Once you complete the game, you can’t go back and find all of the upgrades you might have missed. This is strange considering that this is something that’s standard for these type of games.
Ori and the Blind Forest is a game that anyone with an Xbox One needs to play. It isn’t so much about completing the game as it is about experiencing it. While the story feels like it ends too soon, it’s still satisfying to see through to the end. Everything from the visuals, the music, the gameplay, and the story, deliver nothing short of a superb, majestic experience.
This review was based on a digital copy of Ori and the Blind Forest for the Xbox One provided by Microsoft.