Calling something the best in it’s class generally comes off as hyperbole. But when I say that Ori and the Blind Forest is possibly the best game on the Xbox One, I mean it. Ori has dethroned Sunset Overdrive as the greatest reason to own the year-and-a-half old console. It’s that good.
Ori and the Blind Forest tells the incredibly simplistic story of a fairy-like creature working against the odds to save a forest in ruin, and thus it’s cohabitants. Doing so requires three stones to bring three elements back to the forest. Finding these stones and bringing them to where they actually belong brings about new gameplay aspects that ultimately – along with a dozen or so special abilities – unlock parts of the forest previously unreachable. It’s very much a Metroidvania type of game; it encourages you to return to places that you’d forgotten about with your new abilities to unlock extra functions for your character (health, energy, etc.).
The process of backtracking never feels like a chore. Of course, it’s rarely required, but highly encouraged. Discovering new areas not only grants you extrinsic rewards, but manages to keep you mystified by what you may not have been able to have previously reached. The villains are just easy enough to cause you some headaches, but not enough to make traversal or backtracking tedious. Anything remotely tedious comes from platforming, which, as the game progresses, becomes more involved than, say, jumping or climbing.
Luckily, to make the admittedly difficult platforming a bit easier, Moon Studios has included the limited ability to save at will. Doing so expends an energy globe which can otherwise be used to unlock hidden – and optional – areas or powerful attacks. Saving constantly isn’t necessarily a viable option, nor does the game allow it given the limited number of energy globes. For forgetful players (I’m guilty of this), the save function is immediately frustrating. I routinely had to redo large portions of the game (15 or 20 minutes worth) thanks to an ill-timed jump, but as the game progressed, I learned that it was wiser to spend that finite energy on saving my game as opposed to hoarding it for just-in-case scenarios. Ori and the Blind Forest teaches you this type of management through proving your initial strategies wrong, rather than forcing it down your throat.
These save points are also used to upgrade Ori’s abilities. There are three paths which you can choose at any time, and choosing one seemed just as effective as choosing to space out your abilities. These abilities range from stronger attacks, to breathing underwater, to the ability to use a triple-jump. Nearly every choice felt like a worth while option. Sure, earning more health per pick-up might not sound like a necessary choice now, but the choice immediately following it certainly sounds important. Some choices obviously will carry more weight than others, but each skill tree has valuable abilities. Choosing which path to go down can be difficult, but rewarding.
Ori and the Blind Forest is easily the most aesthetically pleasing game I’ve come across since last year’s Child of Light, and features a magnificent and sweeping orchestral score. While it isn’t photorealistic, it emits a certain tone that is constant throughout. It gives the feeling of bewilderment, and that’s ultimately why Ori‘s exploration aspect works so well. Not only do you get to see more beautiful artwork, but you feel like you’re actually discovering something new. That could very well be a side effect of the map growing larger and clearer, but I can’t help but feel like the game’s almost-Ghibli like tone and appearance helped to drive me through to the end.
If Ori and the Blind Forest has anything working against it, it’s the game’s semi-regular technical bugs. On more than one occasion, I’d be forced to get hurt simply because Ori would fall through a floor or not attach to a wall. There was also the occasional frame-rate slow down, though, strangely enough, it never seemed to occur at times when I was moving fast. I suspect that others will find that these slowdowns occur at very inopportune times, but it never did for me. The biggest bug I faced was that the game simply didn’t run at first. I had to do a full power cycle on my Xbox – hold down the power button and unplug the machine’s power cable – and choose Save File 2 (as opposed to 1) before the game finally worked. Its an alarming issue, but one that could very well be fixed by the time the public is able to play. I suppose only time will tell.
Once Ori and the Blind Forest started going, though, it was undeniable how in love with the game I was. I may be gushing a bit, but this time it’s warranted. Ori is the best, and most stunningly gorgeous, modern Metroidvania game I’ve played. Ori is bound to be a modern classic, and will likely be what future games in the genre are measured against.[review]