Ori and the Blind Forest: Definitive Edition Review
The updated version of the 2015 critically-acclaimed hit adds to what was done right and fixes what was done wrong.
I was in the audience at E3 2014 when Ori and the Blind Forest was first unveiled. I remember the feeling of awe I had at that minute and a half trailer, hearing the music and seeing those beautiful visuals for the first time. Ori and the Blind Forest was my personal pick for favorite game of E3 2014 precisely because of the devotion to creating a game so visually stunning and artistic. That Moon Studios managed to create a game with a compelling storyline, fun combat, and a set of skills and mechanics that feel natural and fluid, only serve to enhance the stunning 2D platforming world that they created.
At its core, Ori and the Blind Forest is a story of love, loss, bravery and adventure. Ori is a small glowing creature who, after losing his home and the only family he’s ever known, has to set out in a dangerous and threatening forest to try and restore the light that has been lost. The forest is teeming with enemies of all kinds, spikes and thorns, deadly waters, and an ever-present threat of a villain constantly seeking to destroy the light that Ori carries.
Ori does have help, though, as he journeys to restore the light to the forest. Starting out, your skill set is fairly limited. You can jump, but not too high or far, and very early on you gain the ability to shoot at your enemies. That’s a starting point for a large skill tree that eventually enables Ori move all around the vast map with ease and a number of potent attacks. Despite the large amount of movement and attack abilities, very few of them feel useless or overly cumbersome. By the end of the game, nearly all of them were required to fight through the continuously tough enemies and navigate the environment, and I rarely felt uncomfortable with using them.
That vast forest is absolutely stunning. At any time, I could take a screenshot that would look like a work of art worthy of hanging on the wall. The entire game has a look of a hand-painted canvas, with bright splashes of color and luminance. That aesthetic motifs take on noticeable change whether you are traveling through the dark and convoluted misty woods, the bright tropical land of turquoise waterfalls, or the fiery crimson lava flows of a volcano. Nothing is ever sacrificed for the visuals either. The gameplay was smooth and coherent throughout, and I rarely found myself disoriented or confused as to what was background and what was foreground in the 2D world. The whole package is elevated also by a magnificent musical score; the kind you almost don’t notice and doesn’t feel repetitive while in the open world, and finds itself on center stage during intense or important moments.
For as good as the gameplay and visuals are, I found myself slightly disappointed in the story arc. Ori’s mission is to restore the “blind forest” from devastation following a cataclysmic event at the beginning of the game by obtaining and then restoring three natural elements. While this works well enough to drive the game forward, that event is never very well explained. While for some stories it’s enough for the plot that an event happened, in Ori and the Blind Forest, the primary villain, Kuro, is motivated by hate and revenge toward Ori for reasons that I’ve never found clear. Without understanding that motivation, even as part of Kuro’s backstory is revealed throughout the game, I had a harder time identifying with and understanding the villain than the developers seem to have wanted. Also, there is, at times, a disconnect between the overworld gameplay and the plot. You could play for hours, exploring and finding all the secrets in the map, leveling up your abilities, without ever thinking about what your objective was supposed to be. Still, the plot does a good enough job to keep you moving forward toward a final objective and want to see the plot resolved.
The Definitive Edition of Ori and the Blind Forested introduced two new abilities and two large sections of the map, extending gameplay by a good hour or two. I found myself using the new dash ability to help me get around the map much more quickly, while the light grenade ability seemed to really only be useful for the few very specific moments for which it was intended. The Definitive Edition also added a “spirit well” warp, allowing Ori to quickly jump to different areas of the map from spirit well save point to save point without having to traverse huge sections of terrain. This warp also opens up areas of the map that become cut off due to events in the storyline, much to the relief of completionists searching for every last secret.
The extra portions of the map serve to extend the storyline a bit further, giving more backstory to one of the main characters. Once again, this is done slightly disconnected, with the gameplay being to traverse the area of the map, and the story portion coming at the end. Regardless, it’s a welcome addition and the game is better off for having it.
I enjoyed Ori and the Blind Forest enough that once I was finished with it, I wanted to play it through again with my five-year-old son, who loved every second of it. Having received the Definitive Edition to review, I have now played it through four times, and could easily do it again were it not for a huge backlog of games and an exciting upcoming release schedule. I’m sure, though, I’ll find my son picking up the controller any day now to do his own run through, and I might not be able to resist firing up my own save again. There are plenty of achievements left to pursue and other ways to climb the ability tree. And besides, Ori and the Blind Forest is a game that doesn’t forget how to have fun.