Moon Studios’ 2D action puzzle-platformer Ori and the Blind Forest is one of my favourite games of all time; to hear that a sequel was being made, I couldn’t help but feel hyped about it. That’s an enormous thing for me nowadays, what with buggy releases, aggressive micro-transactions, uncooked early access titles, and an overabundance of cookie cutter releases over-saturating the market of gaming.
What’s worse is that, for some, it’s very easy to have high expectations that a game simply cannot meet; regardless of what the game offers, it doesn’t hit the same dopamine high that the hype for it originally did. For that reason, I keep clear of those hype trappings before a game gets released. I want to keep as neutral as I can so, that when I play, I can enjoy the game for what it truly is.
This is not the case with Ori and the Will of the Wisps (or Ori 2 as I’ll be calling it). Before release, I was counting the days for it to come out. I was watching all of the trailers, and checking out snippets of the gameplay until I finally got my hands on it. The question is, does it live up to the hype that I had in my head? Would it follow or supersede the previous masterpiece that is Ori and the Blind Forest? After playing through the game in all its entirety, I feel that the answer is a resounding “YES!” — with my hype having a great sense of vindication. To tell you why, I have to start with the story of Ori.
The story kicks off almost immediately after the end of the first. The egg of Kuro (the antagonist of the first game) hatches into a new baby owl called Ku, who is immediately taken in as part of the family of Ori, Naru, and Gumo. The three show love and care for Ku, eventually helping her fly, despite her injured wing. Ori brings out the training wheels, Kuro’s Feather, which Ori kept as a keepsake; they attach it to Ku and, with courage and a bit of effort, Ku is able to fly. Ori hitches a ride into the sky on Ku’s back and eventually meet with a ferocious storm which, regrettably, tears them away from each other, scattering them into a forest lost to decay.
Ori’s initial quest is to find Ku, but this ultimately leads to restoring the forest to its former glory. Without giving too much away, as the game progresses it touches on some pretty heavy hitting topics. The cycle of death, decay and darkness, along with its counterpart of life, growth and light; the innocence of children contrasted with the prejudices of adults; what impact love and affection can have on an orphan, and the impact without; and dealing with death, rejection, and the feeling of hopelessness. The game shows a level of maturity in conveying these issues in a very empathetic and mature way through seeking out the Wisps: Memory (Mind), Eyes (Clarity), Strength (Will), and Heart (Love).
The hand painted graphical style of Ori 2 is more vivid in its colours. Biomes across the land are varied and show beauty, whether grim or glorious. The embracing blues of the night sky, the sickening purples of poisoned waters, the warm reds and yellows of fire…the menacing neon green eyes of Mora a giant spider…the shivering cyan-white of the snow lands. Everything can be screenshot and look like an amazing work of art. Colour also assists with emotional story moments too, which I find to be a pleasant touch, such as when it becomes significantly muted.
I found movement and combat with Ori to be very fluid, especially with the wide and varying range of skills and abilities that you collect along the way. With the right skills, you can triple jump, stick to walls, dash, slingshot yourself against walls, bash (kick off an enemy or projectile or object), drill through the sands, catapult, lunge through water, and even launch yourself through the air. These abilities all make Ori’s movement agile, fluid, and fun. That’s right, moving is fun. There are a even few trial run locations scattered throughout the forest that you can train to master these movements, and eventually show off on leader boards.
The combat has evolved sevenfold from Ori 1. Ori never attacked in the first game, it was only Sein’s weak attacks that provided some offensive moves. Considering Ori no longer has Sein, you initially resort to wielding a flaming torch…until Ori evolves into an absolute master of combat. Ori’s primary weapon becomes Spirit Edge (basically a soul sword), making swift slashes against your foes in a 360 degree range of movement. You can also gain a Bow and Arrow, a Javelin, Throwing Star, Sentry Turret, Fireball, and my personal favourite, a War Hammer. Due to your many abilities and limited amount of buttons on the controller, Ori 2 gives you a radial wheel to select which abilities you want, on whichever of the three buttons (X,Y,B for Xbox Controller), on the fly. When selecting the radial wheel, time stops so you can change abilities mid battle, which is helpful. I was soon able to master the weapon change without breaking the flow of combat too much.
While traversing through the forest, I died a number of times (more than I can count), whether through intense combat, running around recklessly, or landing into something I’m not supposed to. And each time was fair. The game is forgiving in your death; you’re promptly sent to a checkpoint close to where you died, to go about your way with little to no break in gameplay. They’ve done away with the controversial Soul Link save system, which I personally didn’t mind; however, I can see how it could be frustrating for some to not have enough energy to create a save point at a hard moment. Still, a decision that I believe is best for the wider audiences.
The bosses in the game are a sight to behold. Whether it’s a 1v1 battle against a giant wolf, or a rushed escape, drilling your way through the sands and away from a massive sandworm. Those who have played Ori 1 and absolutely loved the rush they got from escaping the water from the Ginso Tree will really enjoy Ori 2. There are a handful of these great escapes, which give a very similar feel to the rising tides of yore.
Along the journey, Ori finds a hub area and a handful of new friends, each with their own ways to help out Ori and the forest. Rather than Spirit Light being EXP, you use it as currency to trade with your new friends for skills, abilities and upgrades, improvements to your new home, and maps. I really like how the upgrades to the hub area work as well. Ore goes to infrastructure improvements, and seeds go to natural improvements, which not only opens up the hub area, but shows significant development visually and personally to each character. You find seeds and ore — as well as Spirit Light clusters, health upgrades, energy upgrades, ability shards, and even side quests — hidden in nooks and crannies across the world, some locked by some pretty enjoyable puzzles.
And I mean enjoyable puzzles, as they vary in challenge and the way that you overcome them, using the abilities that you gather over the course of the game. Regardless of the difficulty of one or two, I felt a great sense of achievement in solving them, but an even greater achievement executing them (as most of them require skill and swiftness in movement). As you go throughout the game, into each biome, you’ll find that the puzzles are mostly, but loosely, tied to the skills that you’ve gotten at that location. But don’t worry if you can’t solve it at that time; as you progress and gather more skills, there becomes more than one way to solve them, which not only makes it easier for less skilled players, but makes puzzles more open-ended.
I’ve left the single best part for last: the music. Ori 1‘s soundtrack is my favourite original game soundtrack of all time, and Ori 2‘s soundtrack is now definitely tied. It’s one of the key drivers of emotion for the game, filling the sounds of the forest with woodwinds, bass clarinets, and other orchestral instruments that harmonise the sounds gloriously. Like the rest of the game, the music of Ori 2 is fantastically fluid and empathises with Ori very well. The sights of each biome, rush of each boss fight or chase, and feel of a touching moment is all greatly expanded upon through the music. I believe that the music is representative of Ori as a being. In the first game, Ori was newborn and figuring things out as he went. In this game, Ori shows an impressive deal of growth and maturity. But all in all, it’s the same tune. It’s still Ori’s song.
The game as a whole took me about 13 hours to finish completely on Normal, which I felt to be the perfect amount for the overarching story. It didn’t feel short, and it didn’t overstay its welcome. That being said, I can only hope that they make a sequel. I feel that Ori and the Will of the Wisps is a gorgeous, complex masterpiece that is definitely up there as one of my all-time favourites.