Ori and the Blind Forest - Brutal Backlog
Brutal Backlog is a semi-regular feature where the JDR team plough through some of the unplayed games on their shelves (both digital and physical), disregarding their age or the technical limitations of their era. Only the very best games will stand up to scrutiny today.
Ori and the Blind Forest has been sitting in my Xbox One library for some time. Originally released in March 2015, it hasn’t lain totally dormant, but my first attempt at the Metroidvania-style game ended in a whimper and its presence in my library has been nagging me ever since.
With a sequel on the horizon, I’ve decided to put a stop to the feeling of failure that’s been haunting me and give saving the magical land of Nibel another shot.
Ten Minutes in
It’s rare that a game can make me cry within the first five minutes, but Ori, with its lack of dialogue and instantly loveable characters, does just that. It may be the second time I’ve seen the game’s introduction but this tender sketching of Ori’s origins is worth seeing twice.
The orphaned Ori is taken in by the bear-like Naru and has a childhood of safety and wonder until tragedy tears the pair apart. Learning that Ori must face the world alone once more is a tear-jerker on the scale of the opening of Pixar’s Up and by the end of it I am fully immersed in this fantastic world.
Two Hours in
With our protagonist out on her own, we learn through memory vignettes and the omnipresent narrator how a vengeful owl damaged the spirit tree that kept this world in balance. It is Ori’s job to bring back the spheres of light to three locations, restoring order to these ecologically-upturned areas.
While the story unfolds throughout the opening two hours, I spent most of it trying to get to grips with jumping around without being killed. With a skill tree to level up, skills to obtain from spirit trees, and collectable cells scattered across the map which level up your health and energy capacity, at several points I felt like I might need to write myself a list to stay on top of everything.
By two hours in I’ve learnt one new combat move, gained three skills and am a little confused by all the information that’s being thrown at me. Yet, I’m also allowed to treat this world as my playground, exploring relatively freely to work out Ori’s capabilities...
Four Hours in
… but I’m beginning to remember why my enthusiasm for the game faded the first time round. I’ve become so used to dying that it produces no emotion in me any more, becoming dejected enough that at some points I throw the poor mite against deathly spikes myself in frustration of messing up.
So far I’ve managed to get to the Ginso tree, the first area that Ori must heal and the first with particularly hard sections of platforming. To this point I’ve just been having fun jumping around and using my energy to ‘soul link’ (save game) whenever I want. Yet, with energy suddenly in short supply, things are getting trickier and any death frustratingly sends me right back to the beginning of a sequence.
It is half way up the Ginso that I realise I must have missed out on a fairly crucial skill somewhere. Throughout the game Ori obtains eleven main skills from spirit trees that memorialise the dead; a quick Google confirms it, I’ve missed the tree for dash. This is annoying not only because I’ve missed out on a helpful skill but also because I’ve just unlocked air-dash, a move unusable without the base skill of dash. I feel like a prized fool.
The difficult platforming of this area combined with the knowledge that it could have been easier sees me playing the remainder of the area whilst seriously pouting. I soldier on however, and after a particularly tough escape sequence, I’m out the Ginso and off to retrace my steps.
Six Hours in
I’m not dying any less and getting from A to B is no easier, but at this point I think I’m finally starting to get the hang of things. The world is starting to feel like a playground again, just as the story is beginning to really build in emotional weight.
A lot of areas are still off limits, but in a world as varied and beautiful as this, I don’t actually feel limited. Swimming in the clear water created by the healing of the Ginzo is a relaxing delight and I’m growing to love Ori more each second.
Nine Hours in
I’m starting to feel quite smug now, having cleansed two of the main areas with one left to go. Yet, on my second to last main objective, I’m getting absolutely slaughtered both by the spikey environment and the enemies within it. I decide to go back on myself and properly explore all areas of the map.
Thankfully the game gives good scope for doing this. Once you’ve unlocked spiritual wells – where you can also replenish health and save – in different areas, you can then warp between them. The map, which I have also unlocked through the collection of keystones inserted into map stones, shows the percentage of a section that I have explored, so I head to the areas with a lower score.
It turns out I’ve missed quite a lot. In around one and a half hours I almost triple my health and energy bars by collecting the orbs around the maps and I’m also able to level up almost my entire skill tree by picking up ability cells. I have by this point, stopped feeling smug.
Skipping through the locations a second time round, seeing how each environment type flows into another is a real pleasure. While boasting most of the contrasting environment platformer clichés, Ori’s use of ice, wind, water and lava never feel forced. By the end of my exploration I feel like I have fully OP-ed Ori, and I’m ready to take on the final stages of the story.
With my heart thumping away, it is at hour twelve that I eventually beat the final escape sequence and come to the concluding scenes of this greatly compelling narrative. After half a day of playtime, Nibel and its characters have become fully formed in my mind, and I’m not ashamed to say I let out a few more sobs at the end.
I’m really pleased that I gave Ori and the Blind Forest the second chance it so richly deserves. Like a big interlocking puzzle, I enjoyed unravelling as much of this world as possible, while the narrative itself kept me invested in the little ball of light that is the protagonist.
If you don’t cry at this game, you’re a stronger gamer than I, but if you pick up dash within the first three hours, you might just be a better gamer too.