A gamer and writer at heart who wants to combine his hobbies into one. I am 25 years old and I'm from the Netherlands. Having played many games over the years, I wanted to express my love for them, however obscure they may be!
Important to note is that this review is based on the Definitive Version. This means more than you think as this version isn’t just a simple graphical upgrade, but also features entirely new areas- and abilities that, in my opinion, change the gameplay quite significantly. The original version is included when you purchase the definitive version, but I think it’s fair to say that since you get both, you should play the latter.
This is my first ever playthrough or Ori and the Blind Forest, though I am very experienced with the Metroidvania genre and will use that knowledge to strengthen my arguments without directly comparing it to others in the genre. At the point of writing the review, I made sure to 100% complete the game not counting the achievements. This is because there is one dedicated to not dying, and I still enjoy my life so I’ll save myself that suffering. There are multiple difficulties, and I went with normal for my first playthrough. The game was played on Steam with an Xbox 360 controller, and is also available on Xbox systems and Nintendo Switch.
The Metroidvania has become one of, if not my favourite genre in recent years. I just absolutely love the exploration aspect of it, and being rewarded for backtracking. Yet, most of the Metroidvania games I’ve played aren’t the most well-known out there. Grab a random ”Top 10 Metroidvania” list somewhere on the internet and I’ve maybe only played half of them, if not less. One of the games I had not played up till this point is actually one of the most popular Metroidvania games out there: Ori and the Blind Forest.
As usual, I don’t really have a reason for not having played it yet, nor did I have the intentions to ignore it. It’s just your usual ”Nepiki is busy, Nepiki has no time” stuff, and a way too big backlog. I was actually very interested in trying this game out, but there was always something else on my mind. So instead, I handed the decision over to my Twitch Subscribers and Patreons: I gave them 3 games, and they could choose with one I would be playing next. I secretly hoped the poll would go into the direction of Ori–even though the other games were good too–and indeed, the game absolutely destroyed the poll results. So today, let’s honour the first time I allowed my loyal supporters to vote with the winner of said poll with a review!
Ori and the Blind Forest was developed by moon studios, consisting of programmers from around the world with the main studio based in Austria. This studio was founded by Thomas Mahler and Gennadiy Korol, with the former being an artist formerly working at Blizzard Entertainment. The success of indie games such as Castle Crashers and Limbo inspired them to create their own studio, so they got to work. The team was assembled and they started working on prototypes to show to publishers. The first game, a first-person shooter with real-time strategy called Warsoup was dismissed by Microsoft, but they did have an interest in another prototype called Sein. This name was a placeholder for what would become the game we’re talking about today: Ori and the Blind Forest. The game was in development since 2010, with Microsoft acquiring the intellectual property a year later. Notable franchises such as Rayman and Metroid were the main inspiration for the gameplay, with The Lion King and The Iron Giant being inspirations for the design and storytelling. The game was released in 2015 to universal acclaim, with a free definitive edition upgrade a year later addressing some of the issues people had with the game. The game was highly profitable, making enough money within a week to end up profitable for Microsoft, and only a few weeks for the studio itself, resulting in a sequel being released in 2020. For your fun trivia of the day: did you know that Ori and the Blind Forest has a serious amount of easter eggs hidden in the background graphics? I won’t spoil what they are, but you might find some related to famous franchises such as Mario, Zelda, and Star Wars to name a few.
Because this probably won’t be the last time I’ll mention it, let’s get this out of the way right now. This game is praised for many different aspects, and one of these is shown right before you even start a playthrough. When I booted up the game and reached the title screen, I was already struck in awe by how beautiful this game is. It features a hand-drawn art style, combined with an excellent choice of colours that bring out the most of the visuals. Frankly, just words are not able to do the graphics justice, but believe me: it remains consistent throughout the whole game. The developers mentioned that graphical assets in the background are never shared anywhere else in the game, making the graphics not just beautiful, but distinct as well.
And it’s not just the graphics that are beautiful. Ori and the Blind Forest features a story that has dialogue popping up in the background, but the tale itself is told through the characters’ expressions and movements. It speaks volumes that the game is able to tell an emotional story about loss and revenge, with only the main gist of it being told to the player directly. Of course, I won’t spoil anything about the game as that’s something you’ll have to find out yourself, but the first five minutes of the game already portray this very well.
Ori and the Blind Forest features a story that has dialogue popping up in the background, but the tale itself is told through the characters’ expressions and movements.
But if you know me and the Nepiki Gaming™ show, you also know that graphics are mostly irrelevant to my overall opinion unless they actively work against the player–they just enhance the experience for me further. What matters to me the most–especially in Metroidvanias–are the gameplay and world structure. Fortunately, Ori and the Blind Forest doesn’t disappoint on these fronts, but let’s take it one step at a time.
Once the emotional opening cutscene ends, we are left in a withering forest with a destination in mind, but no immediate way to get there. Ori isn’t too powerful at first as the only thing they can do at that point is the game is jump. A very good jump mind you, as Ori controls more smoothly than me sliding in DMs. They obviously learn way more abilities later like your usual wall jump and such that are a staple in Metroidvanias, and all of them make Ori even more fun to control.
There is one ability that I wanted to mention separately from the rest: the dashing ability. This one wasn’t available in the original version of the game, but I am so glad I got to experience this ability. It is an extremely powerful dash, moving Ori from one end of the screen to the other in less than a second, resulting in backtracking also far more appealing to do. It does potentially make some platforming challenges a bit easier alongside another ability exclusive to the Definitive Version, but I didn’t really feel like it affects the overall difficulty so these inclusions were very welcome. They are also completely optional in an area you don’t have to visit for the story, so it’s extra rewarding for going that extra mile instead of solely following what the plot demands from you.
Platforming is definitely also where most of the challenge lies with this game, as there are several one-hit-kill scenarios and a lot of spikes to deal with. Given my vast experience with both the Platforming genre and the Platforming-with-backtracking genre (sorry not sorry), I think I can safely say that the difficulty here is balanced. Health can be increased by quite a lot given how much you explore the world, which helps a lot for the spikes as they usually aren’t insta-kill. Most of all, you can create checkpoints anywhere and the respawns are immediate with no punishment involved, unless you really care for the death meter that has no pay-off. Granted, you need energy for the checkpoints, but there are so many permanent upgrades to be found for this meter, as well as energy being a fairly easy drop from enemies, that this remained a non-issue. Be sure not to forget about these checkpoints, unless you love wasting your time!
The platforming in general is an aspect of the game that I can complement, as many areas test Ori’s abilities to the fullest. There are no better levels that exemplify this better than the last few ones which are a true test of everything Ori has learned through his journey, but for the sake of spoilers, the Ginso Tree is also a good example. There are three main objectives in the game with the Ginso Tree being the very first–a vertical level where you find a new ability halfway through the tree that is used from that point onwards, ending in an exhilarating rush section. I can’t really give more examples unfortunately as yet again, I don’t want to spoil too much of the game.
Platforming definitely makes up for most of the gameplay, but part of it is also dedicated to combating. Very quickly, Ori comes across a light spirit by the name of Sein, who does all the heavy lifting when it comes to combat. Sein is a very flexible floating orb who attacks anyone in close vicinity to Ori with quick strikes. It’s not really that great of a combat system since you don’t really do that much except for mashing a button, but it does the job and can get really powerful when investing in the skill trees.
The skill trees are an inclusion I genuinely enjoy, as there are three different trees to specialize in. One is the formerly-mentioned skill tree dedicated to combat, making attacks stronger and faster. The second is dedicated to exploration and visibility of collectables on the map–which I saved for last of course, since the Metroidvania genre flows through my blood so I have a knack for finding secrets. Most importantly however, is the ability tree. This tree gives you actual new abilities that make the platforming challenges much easier, such as the double jump. The best part is, that none of the movement-changing abilities from this optional skill tree are ever required to complete the game. You’ll probably be handicapping yourself without them but hey, this adds a layer of deciding your own difficulty. A no-ability run is even encouraged through an achievement, and one that I might attempt myself one day.
The best part is, that none of the movement-changing abilities from this optional skill tree are ever required to complete the game.
We have great platforming and a functional combat system, but perhaps most importantly of all: how is the world structured? And before I go any further, I would like to elaborate that this is a beautiful world that encouraged me constantly to keep going. Regardless of what I’m about to say, I genuinely had a good time exploring this world as a result. That said, what differentiates this world from the other pioneers of the genre is that it’s a bit more restrictive and less interconnected.
The issue with the original game, which not a lot of people brought up because it never existed until the definitive edition, was that backtracking wasn’t the most fun to do. Fast-traveling through save points wasn’t implemented then, and there also wasn’t a dash so it took longer to get to places. While the save points are definitely frequent, it also shows how more linear this world is than others. A lot of places don’t have connectivity with others and are on the outer edges of the map, meaning there’s only one way to reach them. There aren’t many discoverable shortcuts to begin with, but they have also lost most of their purpose now that the save points exist.
The game definitely teases you among your way to your next destination that there are collectables that you should come back to later, but it very clearly wants you to keep that next destination in mind. I say this because I’ve reached a new area on multiple occasions, just to have a stop sign slammed in my face as I didn’t have something story-related yet despite being able to go there. While you could make the argument that it’s my own fault as the game clearly tells me what I should do next, I feel that’s the most beautiful part about the Metroidvania genre: going against what the game wants you to do story-wise. While I certainly had the ability to go back and get some upgrades after every major new ability, exploring actual new areas was restricted by the story.
Let me explain a bit better what I mean by this. For example, you reach area A which is connected to area B, area C and area D. While this would be great in deciding your own path to take, usually the story forces you to go through area B, as C and D are off-limits. When you gain a new ability, it’s likely that either of those areas is now accessible, but also only them. You can use said ability in other places for collectables, but it’s unlikely that you can reach more than one new area with it. Hence why it’s a bit more restrictive despite being an otherwise open-ended Metroidvania game. Is this an issue? In the end, not really, but I wanted to bring my point across as to why this isn’t my favourite world structure in the genre. It’s still pretty good though, and the areas added in the Definitive Version do give you slightly more freedom.
Just me telling you how beautiful Ori and the Blind Forest is in both graphics- and storytelling would not do it justice, but I can assure you not a single word here is a lie. The latter is definitely mention-worthy, as the emotional story of loss and revenge is told mostly through expressions and movements. Fortunately, the game is not just a visual marvel to look at. Ori controls very smoothly in a game where platforming is definitely the main appeal, with challenging aspects but not necessarily unforgiving ones. Especially with the ability to place checkpoints anywhere you want given you have the energy, but also with the flexible- yet optional skill trees. Combat is definitely on the weaker side though; it does the job, but nothing more as you’re basically just mashing a button with no regard to positioning. The world is also not my favourite due to it being slightly more restrictive in terms of linearity, and also less interconnected than other pioneers in the genre. Fortunately, the Definitive Version did fix an issue with the latter part and has many fast-travel points as well as unique abilities that make backtracking far easier to do.
- Absolutely beautiful in terms of graphics and storytelling.
- Ori controls very smoothly.
- Flexible skill tree system.
- Combat is just ok.
- The world is a bit more restrictive than I would have liked.
And that’s a wrap! This review took surprisingly longer to write than I had intended, as I planned to publish it a week ago. I really love Ori and the Blind Forest, so I wanted to give it a review of a quality it deserves. For what it’s worth, I personally feel like that bar has been met. Also really had the desire to go more in-depth on the world structure as I didn’t really see many other reviewers do that–not for the original, and not for the Definitive Version either. Is that 1-0 for Nepiki Gaming? I’ll let you be the judge on that.
Also, Ori and the Blind Forest is one of those games lucky enough to have a randomizer mode! I have not attempted it myself as I was too busy with other games, but it’s definitely something I’ll be trying out soon. Be sure to check out my Twitch regularly as I’ll be streaming it live!
With Ori out of the way, I can finally start with the #MonthOfSonic on the website. Make it half a month since we’re already halfway through June but oh well, I’ll try my best to shoot some articles your way in the coming weeks!
What do you consider to be the most visually appealing game for you personally?
Both Ori and Hollow Knight are high up there for me due to their hand-drawn artstyle. Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap also has a really beautiful hand-drawn artstyle that I can just keep looking at for ages. As for pixel games: I’ve always liked pretty much whatever Mana game there is, and of course the recent Octopath Travellers artstyle.
Does this genre interest you? If so, I have multiple other Metroidvania reviews ready for you!