Most modern games are made by first creating a series of art assets which are then mass-produced and used as the building blocks for each area. Not so with Ori and the Blind Forest, which takes a more artisanal, organic approach. The entire land of Nibel seems to be manually illustrated, and the result is as visually distinctive and cinematic as a Hayao Miyazaki film. There’s so much color to the Moon Studios game, in fact, that its protagonist, Ori, is represented largely as a glowing, cat-like creature whose plain white appearance helps players to better focus on controlling this guardian spirit.
The game’s lovingly handcrafted approach extends beyond world-building, manifesting also in unique platforming puzzles. Standard navigational tools like the double- and wall-jump or ground-pound make appearances, but Ori’s advanced acrobatics quickly outpace those. A third of the way through the game, Ori gains the ability to bash off projectiles and enemies, a design choice that serves to emphasize movement over combat. The Definitive Edition of Ori and the Blind Forest adds even more flexibility with the inclusion of new areas and the ability for Ori to fire off miniature light grenades, which allows players to generate their own projectiles to bash against.
Though all the game’s areas are interconnected, the unique challenges of each zone (and the difficulty spikes) make Ori and the Blind Forest feel more like a spiritual successor to platformers like Rayman than to similar Metroidvanias like Dust. In the Misty Woods, for example, the hallucinogenic fog causes the camera to slightly distort around the edges, while the Forlorn Shrine introduces a gravity-altering device that’s never reused elsewhere. Not only does the Ginso Tree have a completely different palette and layout than Sorrow Pass (green, as opposed to ochre; tight and gnarled corridors versus wide aerial canals), but they also rely on different mechanics, with teleportation portals in the former and wind-gliding segments in the latter.
The original was already a classic, so where the Definitive Edition finds ways to improve is largely in making the challenging game more accessible to newcomers. There are new abilities that increase movement options, and the game’s lore has been extended so as to provide a background for Naru, Ori’s adopted mother, whose heartbreaking death at the game’s outset is the primary catalyst for Ori’s journey. There’s also now an Easy Mode, along with an option to fast-travel between unlocked areas, both of which serve to ensure that more people can experience the full story with a minimum of frustration. And that’s important, because Ori and the Blind Forest is surprisingly moving, with proper motivations given to both the spidery misfit Gumo and angry owl Kuro. Just as the game isn’t content to rest on clichéd gameplay conventions, neither does it lean on stereotypical villains.
A few minor issues remain, especially for those playing on the new Hard or One-Hit difficulty. For one, there are three skill trees to upgrade, and those who focus on anything other than the combat branch may end up having to grind experience in order to progress. In addition, the game never directs players to the two new areas introduced in the Definitive Edition, and because the first one is initially shrouded in darkness, intrepid explorers might be fooled into thinking that they need to visit another area of Nibel before pressing onward. More irritatingly, the game occasionally faces graphical hiccups when there’s a lot of on-screen activity, as in the escape sequences, which are both timed and require precision platforming.
These small blemishes are obvious only because of how otherwise perfect Ori and the Blind Forest is as an action-adventure game. It’s not just a matter of superficial beauty, either, though the game’s artwork could very easily be hung on a gallery’s walls. Looks can be deceptive, but the rich, deep gameplay and sorrowful, triumphant story never ring false.