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Ori and the Blind Forest: Definitive Edition Review

First Impressions

Background

Ori and the Blind Forest: Definitive Edition is the 2016 expansion of the original game from the prior year. This was my first time playing any Ori game so it was all new to me, but it is worth noting that this edition adds plenty to the original game that I would have missed. These additions include fast travelling from spirit wells, dashing, different difficulties, and new areas with some additional story.

Presentation

Immediately Ori and the Blind Forest showed beautiful background and foreground art that was as alive as Ori herself. The score that accompanied the adventure was also spectacular. I was hooked on Ori’s presentation and it never grew old. Although, sometimes the background would blend so seamlessly to the game that it was difficult to know if I could step onto a platform or not. These sections are rare though and worth the artistic style for the most part.

Initial Thoughts

Going through Ori for the first time, I appreciated that the game took some time to set up an emotional connection to Ori. I instantly felt for Ori and Naru’s story and it gave me a reason to restore the forest. However, even after this prologue the game starts off slow. Initially Ori felt sluggish and fragile with minimal skills that did not feel precise or powerful. This MetroidVania game blends 2D platforming and combat, but the platforming felt unchallenging and the combat felt irritating.

Gameplay

Platforming

The controls in The Blind Forest felt slightly less immediate than games like Celeste or Mario at first, but as I got used to the changes in Ori’s momentum and leaping strength, I grew fond of it. The animations for Ori’s movements also helped bring life to the platforming.

The game intelligently merges Ori’s talents in platforming with puzzle-solving which only gets more challenging as the game progresses. As Ori gains more abilities the platforming becomes more complex, however, the amount of depth each new skill adds varies. Some skills like Bash added elements that allowed me to go about platforming and combat in more interesting ways, while other skills like Charge Flame or Stomp serve mainly as keys to unlocking new paths and little more.

Combat

I was disappointed by the combat in Ori. I found myself contrasting Ori’s combat to that of Hollow Knight. Where in Hollow Knight the combat was seamlessly blended with the platforming, Ori’s combat felt completely disparate. In Ori I would be fluidly jumping around the environment only to come upon an enemy where I had to stop and just press X repeatedly until the enemy was dead and I could continue forward. The combat was not very fun, and many enemies were frustratingly designed as Ori would get hit by projectiles or not based on whether I was lucky enough to be standing in a safe spot.

In games like Mario it feels good to be jumping around and simply stomp on an enemy and be done with them in one hit, where in Ori having to stop jumping to shoot Ori’s primary weapon for a five seconds and then continue really felt like a mistake.

Fortunately, as the game progressed, and Ori’s focus seemed to shift away from this tiresome combat, but these early hours when all Ori can do is shoot spirit flames can be frustrating. Even later in the game when Ori has access to all her abilities, I never looked forward to fighting any enemies.

Progression

As I explored the vast 2-D map, I collected health cells, energy cell, experience, and new abilities. Health cells and energy cells can be found to permanently increase the maximum health or energy Ori has access to. Experience can be gained from killing enemies or finding ability cells and can be used to unlock new skills from a skill tree that branches into combat skills, platforming skills, and map upgrades. Skill trees can give players a chance to customize their experience but here I thought the skill tree was a little out of place, as it felt like cheating to unlock a triple jump in a game that was supposed to be challenging me to jump precisely. I now could make all future platforming sections easier. I wish these all these skills were more thoughtfully added to the game instead of stuffed into an uninspired tree.

As the story progressed Ori also gained other new abilities that either expanded Ori’s platforming capabilities or were keys to getting to the next area. However, as I stated some of these skills were added deeper gameplay than others, where if every ability was as interesting as Bash this game would be a masterpiece.

The energy mechanics can make for a tension between wanting to use skills and wanting to create more save points, but I never felt the energy skills were necessary or useful in combat and I typically reserved energy for more save points. Being able to save anywhere made the difficult platforming sections much more enjoyable.

Around the world were some other key points of interest such as map stones, that allowed me to see the outline of the map for that area, and spirit wells that allowed me to save, regain health and energy, and fast travel to other spirit wells. These safe havens were a great place to regroup and again it would have been frustrating to lose the fast travel option that came with the definitive edition.

Level Design

The game can do a great job with its level design. In the early- and mid-game Ori will come across countless areas and collectibles that are in view but out of reach until the right competencies are gained. This kept me motivated to gain more abilities and come back to discover more. Many levels also gave me multiple paths to take and the decisions I made were fulfilling.

Some levels, however, do a better job than others of building upon Ori’s abilities and challenging my dexterity. At its best the game allowed me to learn its mechanics and apply its platforming to its puzzle sections brilliantly. At its worst Ori quickly tasked me with mastering a new mechanic without explanation or forced me to learn through dying instead of fairly giving me a chance to predict what is coming. The levels are inconsistent but overcoming the great challenging sequences are worth the trip.

Lasting Impressions

Story

The story of Ori and the Blind Forest is simple yet strong enough to get my attention from the beginning. I was tasked with finding and returning three elements to restore life to the forest. Throughout the game the story unfolds through narration, never really taking me out of the gameplay for cutscenes, which was nice as most of the time I just wanted to get back into the action. The story was pretty emotional and worth paying attention to, but I was not motivated by the story so much as I was motivated by the platforming challenges that laid ahead of me.

Takeaway

I love platforming games, and although Ori and the Blind Forest starts off slow and has frustrating combat mechanics and enemy designs, it is a great platforming game. The game is intelligently designed and allows me to feel smart be rewarded by exploring and using all the skills that Ori gains. The progression of gaining these skills throughout the game keeps the platforming fresh and keeps me feeling challenged enough to come back for more.

I would recommend this game to fans of platformers or anyone looking for a more relaxing adventure. Its beautiful art and music and rewarding puzzles and exploration give more than enough reason to give it a shot. Though, it lacks consistent quality of levels and mechanics and does not blend its combat with its platforming as well as other 2-D action games, which keeps it short of being top-tier.

Pros

Great exploration

Beautiful art style

Challenging platforming and puzzles

Cons

Disjointed combat

Inconsistent level and ability quality

Overall

5/10

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