One of the biggest criticisms during the lifecycle of the Xbox One was its lack of exclusive games. But over the past couple of years Microsoft has become quite transparent in their plans to focus on their Xbox Play Anywhere initiative instead of focusing on exclusives. Ori and the Blind Forest is possibly one of the best examples of the direction that Microsoft is heading.
One of the few games that was exclusive to Microsoft platforms, Ori and the Blind Forest is a beautifully crafted game, with impressive visuals, soundtracks and action sequences. But as captivating as the game is, it has a rather sorrowful story.
The story begins with a storm knocking Ori, a guardian spirit, from the Spirit Tree that resides in the forest of Nibel. The newly orphaned Ori is then adopted by a very motherly creature named Naru and they begin their happy life together, or so one would hope. But sadly, the forest begins to wither away, and the lush green landscapes turn brown in decay. The trees that were once full of fruit are empty and Naru, out of love for Ori, gives up the last bit of food to be found. This act of love proves to be her last though as the hunger consumes her and she dies with the rest of the forest.
Once more, Ori is orphaned and alone in the world. With no ties left to the hollow Ori called home, there is nothing left to do but set off on a journey to discover why this fate has befallen the forest. And thus begins a tale of loss, death and rebirth.
The gameplay itself is very challenging. There will be a lot of missteps, deaths and lost progress as you first learn how to best utilize the “soul link” feature. Throughout the game you decide where you want to save by creating soul links, which require energy cells that can be found throughout the world.
So, while it’s tempting to save as often as possible, it’s quite easy to be confronted with an arduous path and no soul link to fall back on. That being said, the risk and difficulty of the game makes beating it that much more satisfying.
But between the creatures that stalk the forest, the spikes that litter the world or the boiling lava in Mount Horu, many of the obstacles Ori encounters can, and will, kill if given the chance. The game relies on exploration, basic puzzle-solving and, above all else, quick reflexes.
Eventually a Definitive Edition was released, which offered players the option to play the game on either an easy or hard difficulty. But for the truly masochistic they went even a step further and introduced a “One Life” mode which, as you could guess, does not allow much room for error.
The hard mode gives many of the monsters the ability to bring Ori down to almost no health in a single hit. And pitfalls and traps that would allow a mistake or two suddenly become one hit kills until the end game. And even then, Ori must be at full health if you want just a chance of not being sent to your last soul link.
The structure of the game harkens to the classic days of gaming, where the map is largely inaccessible until new abilities are acquired, each skill building on previously learned ones and greatly expanding the opportunities to explore.
I personally love this structure and the difficulty that goes along with it. Each completed area feels like a personal accomplishment and there is nothing more satisfying than getting past a puzzle that just killed you 15 times. Even if as soon as you clear it there is another one then that kills you immediately too!
But death is a large part of what Ori and the Blind Forest is. Trial and error is the foundation of much of the game. And it makes sense that in a story that is so focused on exploring death and rebirth, you die a lot.
When all is said and done, the plot and the art, along with the soundtrack and gameplay, all come together to make an incredibly beautiful game that’s worth playing, even five years later.
And for those who haven’t tried it out now is the perfect time, because Ori returns in Ori and the Will of the Wisps on the five year anniversary of Ori and the Blind Forest – March 11th.
Let us know your thoughts in the comments. Will you be joining Ori for the first time in Will of the Wisps or did you love The Blind Forest as much as us? We’d love to hear from you. If you haven’t yet played Ori and the Blind Forest on Xbox One then you can grab it right now for £15.99.