Ori and the Blind Forest

words manifested by: AJ Johnson

A game by Moon Studios for PC and Xbox One, originally released in 2015.
Ori and the Blind Forest is the tale of Ori, an orphaned forest spirit who lives with his adopted mother, Naru. A great deal of care is taken in introducing Ori and Naru in the game’s opening, which mixes cutscenes with short player-controlled sequences. While there is some narration throughout the experience, the two characters do not communicate to one another verbally; rather their relationship and motivations are conveyed through their actions.

The game features lush 2D artwork integrated seamlessly with 3D character models, allowing the developers to create some very expressive character animations, such as Naru scooping Ori up and tossing him lovingly into the air.

As the food supply dwindles in the area outside their cave, Naru and Ori set out to build a bridge to reach the trees on the far side of a river. Once the bridge is complete, they spend the evening gorging themselves on their newfound bounty. But the night brings with it a strange blue light that glows from a huge tree in the distance. Ori is mesmerized by the light, but Naru carries him back to the safety of the cave.

As time passes, the forest around them decays. Rotten branches no longer bear fruit, and what remains is hard to reach. Eventually Naru grows ill and Ori is forced to set out on his own, tired and weak – again with some fantastic animations to show Ori’s declining state – as he journeys into the forest. Eventually, fatigue overtakes him and he lies down.

Suddenly, the flowers around him begin to glow, as does the great tree in the background. And in the morning, Ori awakens, refreshed, and the game proper begins.

Rejuvenated, Ori now moves very quickly. He begins the game with only a 2x variable jump. However, this is a metroidvania title, so Ori earns new gameplay-altering abilities during his journey – nine in all – that allow him to reach new locations, and occasionally backtrack to access previously unreachable areas and pickups.

Ori has only three units of life at the start of the game, although he can gain 12 more by thoroughly exploring the environment. Early enemies and spikes only remove one unit of health, but later obstacles can remove two or more, making for some quick deaths. Supplementing this is a somewhat nontraditional save system…

By collecting blue energy, the player can store a certain number of orbs. Early in the game, you only have access to one orb, which allows you to drop a save point at any safe location. However, once the orb is used, you cannot save again until you collect more blue energy. In the early going, you need to use these orbs sparingly, but later in the game, you are able to carry up to 15 of them. These orbs eventually allow the player to open some doors and destroy certain objects in the environment as well.

Once you gain more orbs, you can essentially save wherever you like, and you will eventually have access to upgrades that allow you to re-use existing save points (they are one-time-use by default) as well as regain some health when activating one. Using a save point records the amount of health you have remaining, so you can’t just respawn with a full health bar if you saved with only one unit left. However, there are also traditional save points called spirit wells, which not only save your game, but also restore your orb and health meters to full… although you can’t access the upgrade menu from these save points.

Once the player has the ability to store more than one or two orbs, this somewhat convoluted save system puts saving into the player’s hands and allows him to drop a save point wherever he sees fit, which is handy because there are a number of situations where you can die quickly while traversing previously unexplored territory.

In addition to collecting green energy for health, and blue energy for saving, there is also yellow energy that acts as an experience point system, allowing the player to spend them at save points to upgrade various stats. The upgrade tree has three paths: one that allows for more offensive abilities, one that focuses more on healing and protection, and another that makes it easier to explore the environment. Each branch of the tree represents a linear upgrade path, but players are free to spend points across the branches evenly if they wish for a more well-balanced character… or just focus all of their points in one area to increase their offensive, defensive, or navigation abilities.

The player’s offensive abilities are a bit nontraditional as well, as the player does not aim and fire a weapon; in fact, aiming is not important to direct combat. Pressing the ATTACK button causes Ori to emit short-range wisps of blue light that hone in on the enemy and cause damage, as long as Ori is in close proximity to the target. Most enemies are killed by repeatedly attacking while standing very close to them… at least until some upgrades allow the player to strike enemies at a greater distance.

Many of the enemies attack by lobbing projectiles rather than by physical contact (although there are a few fast-moving physical enemies), which supports this lock-on style of combat. The player moves in close and begins attacking, while remaining free to move around and dodge incoming projectiles. Only moving out of range of the enemy will prevent Ori's attacks from making contact, so battles revolve around careful positioning, dodging of projectiles, and getting in close to the enemy… or attacking while on the run. A health meter appears over the enemy’s head when it is attacked, letting the player know how close he is to defeating it.

Killed enemies usually drop yellow experience energy, but may also drop green and blue energy as well. Players may also destroy certain thorn bushes, plants, and lights in the environment for additional drops. All destructible objects and enemies respawn after a short time as well, which allows for some resource farming, but this is in no way necessary. Permanent stat upgrades may be found by thoroughly exploring the environment and looking for false walls.

On occasion, the player is required to explore the area to find stones that open certain doors, although most progress is made through general exploration, as well as discovery of trees that offer gameplay altering abilities. The first of these abilities is the wall jump, which not only allows players to jump back and forth between walls; but they can also ascend any vertical surface, which opens up more of the world to them.

Backtracking is only occasionally required for narrative progress. The player is very often pushed forward into new areas as the game unfolds, with short stints of backtracking to reach new objectives… which often sets the player onto a previously inaccessible side path. For the most part, players only need to traverse earlier areas if they are seeking out stat-increasing pickups.

Ultimately, your quest is to restore light to three regions of the world, which puts you at odds with a giant owl named Kuro, who hates the light. The world is divided into a number of very organic environments, each themed to fit the region, and each containing its own unique obstacles. There is very little in the way of machinery or “manmade” stuff, and what there is tends to be made of stone or wood, sometimes tied together with vines. Most environmental challenges come from organic sources, such as swimming underwater, dodging walls of thorns, or moving through magical teleporting root systems.

Players occasionally uncover map stones that may be placed into certain ruins to show areas of the map that have not yet been explored (shown in gray as in Super Metroid and The Legend of Zelda). The map is a very good representation of the world itself – and is not represented by the traditional metroidvania blue and red squares – with objectives clearly marked. Some of the more powerful ability enhancements allow for the world’s better pickups to be displayed on the map as well, as is done in the Metroid Prime series.

As you play, you gain a number of traditional metroidvania staples, including a double jump that lets you cross larger gaps, and a butt stomp that lets you smash down through certain objects. However, the “bash” move requires special attention, as this unique mechanic could very well have been used to support an entire game unto itself.

A bash move works by holding a button when the player is close to a lantern, enemy, or projectile. Doing this causes time to stop for a moment, and an arrow is overlaid onto the screen, allowing the player to freely aim the arrow in any direction. Letting off the button (or waiting a couple of seconds) causes the player to be flung in the direction of the arrow, while causing the related object to fly in the opposite direction.

The most basic use of this ability simply allows the player to fling himself across gaps or onto higher ledges, but there are many other gameplay altering abilities as well... For one, performing a bash on an enemy projectile lets you fling yourself and redirect the projectile, potentially letting you break through otherwise indestructible walls. There is a sequence where the player is required to use this ability to guide a single projectile through a complex environment and get it safely to a breakable wall, which also involves the player performing a complex series of jumps and double jumps, while also taking out a room full of enemies.

Players can even fling certain enemies into walls to destroy the enemy and the wall simultaneously, and a number of more complex puzzle solutions require the player to make multiple midair bashes over pits of thorns or other obstacles. This unique skill takes some practice, but it is the key to reaching some very out-of-the-way pickups, as well as making your way through a very intense and chaotic escape sequence soon after it is earned.

Ori and the Blind Forest was developed by Moon Studios, a studio founded in 2010 by Thomas Mahler and Gennadiy Korol. Thomas was formerly a cinematic artist at Digic Pictures, Rabcat Entertainment, and Blizzard Entertainment, and his credits include Starcraft 2. Gennadiy worked developing graphics applications and served as a senior graphics engineer for the feature film studio Animation Lab.

The pair works with a team of developers around the world. The game’s soundtrack was composed by Gareth Coker, along with Aeralie Brighton, Rachel Mellis, and Tom Boyd, and featuring performances by the Nashville Music Scoring Orchestra.

In 2011, the studio became a first party developer for Microsoft, which is the game’s publisher, and the game was developed over the course of four years. This was the studio’s first commercial release, although they did originally tease a game called WARSOUP in 2010, which was being developed as a mix of RTS and FPS genres.