Ori and the Blind Forest: Definitive Edition is a Metroidvania title from Moon Studios. In this updated and enhanced re-release of the 2015 original, you play as the forest spirit Ori, who must venture through a resplendent and verdant world to restore the light of the Spirit Tree and save the land of Nibel from decay and destruction.
Story – Bring Light to the Darkness
In the midst of a great storm, forest spirit Ori is torn away from their birthplace in the boughs of the Spirit Tree and swept deep into the forest where they’re found by the kindly Naru, who raises them as her own child. A peaceful and bountiful childhood is interrupted one night when the Spirit Tree reaches out to try and locate Ori, filling the sky with its powerful light and frightening Ori and Naru back into hiding. Soon, the forest begins to wither and die, and with Ori on the brink of starvation, all seems lost. Thankfully, at the last moment they are found and reinvigorated by the light of the Spirit Tree, setting Ori on a quest to bring light to the Elements of Water, Wind and Warmth and restore the forest to its former grandeur. Along the way, however, Ori is pursued by a monstrous and terrifying bird known as Kuro, who seems dead-set on stopping the young spirit – whatever the cost.
Ori and the Blind Forest does a very good job of taking what at first seems a fairly unambiguous good vs evil, light vs darkness, ‘go fetch the X magical MacGuffins’ narrative and imbuing it with just enough nuance along the way to turn it into a moving parable about love, parenthood and sacrifice. Without wishing to spoil too much – they’re small and simple story beats, but you’ll want to experience them yourself – the game manages to add a layer of sympathy to the vengeful villain even while she’s hunting you down and mercilessly killing you in one hit.
Gameplay – Ori Be Nimble, Ori Be Quick
The overarching gameplay style in Ori is that of a Metroidvania game, featuring a large, interconnected map and the gradual accumulation of new combat and traversal abilities that unlock new areas for exploration in the style of classic Metroid and Castlevania games. You’ll find a host of familiar skills available such as double jumping, wall-climbing, and shooting bolts of energy from your light-spirit companion Sein, but the game isn’t afraid to introduce new ideas and mix things up to keep you on your toes, and by the end of the game you’ll be leaping around the screen, barely touching the floor.
Of particular note is the game’s approach to saving your game and providing checkpoints: very early on you acquire the ability to create a Soul Link, which saves your game and gives you a place to respawn if you die. This unique flexibility pairs well with the game’s intrinsic difficulty: in a world where the enemies hit hard and one-hit-kill hazards are scattered liberally throughout the levels, being able to save quickly just before or after a particularly difficult section lets you jump right back into the action almost immediately should the worst happen.
Another notably creative ability you acquire is Ori’s Bash move. Using this, Ori can catapult off enemies and their projectiles, allowing them to cross distances and climb to heights that would otherwise be unreachable. This skill in particular lends itself well to platforming puzzles later on the game: at one late-game point, I found myself in a room ricocheting from fireball to fireball, trying to avoid not only landing in the instant-kill lava but also accidentally killing the enemies that were providing me with the projectiles that were keeping me airborne.
Overall I found the confluence of classic platforming challenges with creative puzzles that emerged from the interesting array of abilities that Ori amasses immensely satisfying. Trial and error became a large part of the gameplay for some of these puzzles, but with the Soul Link system providing easy-to-use checkpoints it rarely became frustrating. Even in the few sequences where you’re unable to use the Soul Link, primarily when escaping the game’s dungeons pursued by a rising torrent of water or a vindictive giant bird, the cycle of dying and restarting just managed to steer clear of becoming annoying, as I edged closer to victory each time. Definitive Edition’s Easy difficulty setting even helps to assuage that issue by adding extra automatic checkpoints in those sequences.
As well as the new moves you acquire from departed forest spirits over the course of the story, the game features a three-pronged upgrade tree which provides notable but non-mandatory upgrades to your abilities, such as providing a bit of health restoration when laying down a Soul Link or showing the location of collectibles on the map screen. While the critical path of the game (that is, the route followed while primarily following the main story) is semi-linear, the new abilities you pick up open up countless new secrets and shortcuts in previous areas that can lead to collectibles that augment your health or spirit energy, so exploration is certainly encouraged.
Now, all this applies to the core game itself, as it was when released in 2015. Definitive Edition, which originally released in 2016 and came to Switch in 2019, provided a host of quality-of-life additions, such as a fast-travel system, full backtracking capability (primarily the option to revisit cleared dungeons and return to the game after completing it) and different difficulty levels, including the infamous One Life mode, in which you must start the whole game anew if you die even once. Even as someone who managed to eke out a victory in Hollow Knight’s Steel Soul Mode, I have to confess the very idea has me trembling in fear for my sanity. The number of one-hit-kill obstacles alone would certainly drive me to the brink of madness, but the gaming community has never met a challenge that someone, at least, could not overcome: many fans of the game have not only managed to beat this mode, but some have taken it upon themselves to beat the game without even taking a single hit, let alone dying.
Definitive Edition also adds two new areas, Black Root Burrows and Lost Grove, where you can pick up a couple of new abilities and find some extra background lore about the history of the forest spirits and Naru’s past. These feel organically added to the game and indeed, as someone who hadn’t played the original version, I never even realised they were additional content until researching details for this review. Black Root Burrows in particular features a challenging but enjoyable puzzle element where you must carry a ball of light that reveals platforms and erases barriers around a pitch-dark series of rooms, and the feeling of getting to the end of that section was one of immense satisfaction.
All in all, Ori and the Blind Forest provides a fantastic experience right from the off, expertly merging challenging platforming and combat with an exciting roster of abilities and skills and a forgiving checkpointing mechanic that keeps it all feeling fair and encourages you to keep trying. It’s not an easy game by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s well-balanced enough that you’re unlikely to be put off by its difficulty and will feel able to power through to a very satisfying conclusion.
Graphics and Audio – A Masterfully Polished Experience
The first thing you notice about Ori and the Blind Forest, even when you’re sitting on the opening menu screen, is that it is extremely pretty to look at. The game features beautiful hand-drawn scenery throughout and the visual style of the levels is, frankly, breathtaking. Even on the Switch in handheld mode, you can see the detail and appreciate the design, with effective use of mist and fog effects and gloriously-rendered water and fire effects. The character models, too, are expressive and creatively-animated: there are only really two characters who actually speak in the game, but you can tell the thoughts and emotions of all the rest easily just from looking at them.
The soundtrack, too, is absolutely gorgeous, with Gareth Coker’s sweeping orchestral music providing a moving and powerful backdrop to each scene and every emotional story beat. The arrangements somehow manage to reflect the motion of the story, with darker elements combining with lighter ones to provide a rich soundscape as you progress.
Ori and the Blind Forest: Definitive Edition was reviewed on Nintendo Switch with a code provided by HYPE.