The most beautiful game ever made
There is something truly special about the Ori franchise. The developers, Moon Studios, absolutely nailed this incredible feeling of being so tiny, and achieving such dramatically huge things, yet also focusing so deeply on a captivating yet simple storyline, which was filled with melodrama, bittersweetness, and intense emotion, coupled with incredible gameplay, art, color, and music, in their first game, Ori & The Blind Forest, back in 2015.
Five years later, to the day, the independent team of developers from all across the world and backed by the full force of Xbox Game Studios publishing, the talented team at Moon Studios have done it all over again. Ori & The Will of the Wisps is purely and simply, art in video game form…
A PRISTINE PLATFORMER
The design of this Metroidvania-style, action-platformer is truly unique. Crisp visual design, with so much beauty in its choice of color, not to mention its hand-painted and intricate level design, with deep layers of the foreground, middle ground and background art that is sublimely created and positioned, using incredible parallax to give a sense of depth to what is essentially a 2-dimensional game. The areas you explore in this vast map change from gorgeous verdant forests and picturesque treetops, to dry deserts, beautifully colored underwater scenes, treacherous caverns filled with bodies of dead insects and dangerous footings, and so much more. The way each area is connected and seamlessly links two different biomes with the game’s winding map design and traversal of these areas is something that is almost unmatched in any platformer that I’ve played.
The way the player learns new abilities and traversal skills throughout the game not only allows you to find creative ways to traverse the game’s areas as you progress through the story, but also, in typical Metroidvania style, inspires you to return to areas you’ve already visited, to find secrets, more abilities, and to improve your health and energy stats. Some of the traversal puzzles are quite difficult and require thinking outside the box occasionally in order to progress, but thankfully, a very forgiving autosave system allows you to use trial and error to your benefit and there is no significant loss of progress as there is in games more focused in the roguelike genre. I died a lot in Ori and the Blind Forest, and I died a lot in Will of the Wisps, but thankfully death is just part of the game’s mechanics and doesn’t leave you crushed at the huge loss of progress, which I, for one, am thankful for.
TINY HERO, BIG WORLD
The combat in Ori 2 has been highly improved also. The player now has the use of multiple weapons or abilities to give more freedom in the way you want to deal with enemies. At any one time, Ori can have three abilities equipped, mapped to the x, b and y buttons, and can be changed on the fly by holding the left trigger. This freedom means you can easily adapt your combat style to the type of enemy you face, whether you require close range attacks with the sword-like default attack ability, or you want something heavier or slower yet more powerful; or ranged abilities like the spirit bow or fireball, or even to have a gorgeously designed, auto-attacking butterfly that assists you in combat at the press of a button.
As you progress you get more and more hot-swappable abilities, but you also unlock new traversal mechanics like air dashing, bashing off enemies or projectiles (which can also be very helpful in combat scenarios too), launching yourself midair to reach heights previously unattainable, underwater dashing and drilling through soft sand. There are a lot of buttons to think about as you traverse different areas, especially during the game’s signature escape sequences, which make a return from the original title. But as you learn each move, and use them more and more, you begin a certain flow of button presses and knowing when to trigger each move, and it gives a real sense of progression and power, even though Ori himself is such a small figure in this sometimes huge and imposing world.
With improvements to combat being so integral to this sequel, the addition of boss fights breaks up the escape sequences when completing major quests and reaching significant story beats, and these are no less impressive than the eponymous escapes. Ori is tiny in comparison to these boss creatures, and they are imposing, screen hogging and dangerous. Using all your learned skills, you battle against these beautifully crafted enemies, all intent on complete destruction of Ori, and some of them are more difficult than others. I had particular trouble on one of the final bosses I fought, the giant spider, and unfortunately thanks to my incompetence, as well as inconvenient graphical glitches and occasional black-screen issues, but also a frustrating level of health on the boss, this fight took much longer than I had hoped.
But, in general, the bosses were tough, but not to the point of infuriation.
The combat, however refined, could definitely be improved upon. Boss’s hitboxes can be problematic, some attacks are really hard to see coming, and the bosses can sometimes be erratic and seem to attack without any pre-emption. But this is all part of the game’s difficulty and could be there by design, so I’ll give the benefit of the doubt, and it definitely doesn’t take away from the magnificence of Ori & The Will of the Wisps.
The spectacle of these boss fights is what really shines through, and this is expanded on in the escape sequences. Everyone who has played Ori and the Blind Forest remembers specifically, the water escape scene, which was just so incredibly well put together, backed by an immense soundtrack, and was incredibly tough – these are similar of course – and it’s a unique feature in Ori games that I really love, so I’m glad they return. The music really ramps up, the whole world is crumbling around you or trying to destroy you, and the satisfaction of completing both the boss fights and the escape sequences is undeniable. Heart-racing moments of tension and pure satisfaction upon completion is something that Ori & The Will of the Wisps nails, from start to finish.
Despite the beautiful, and I truly mean beautiful in a way that cannot really be expressed in words, artwork, the incredible level design, great and emotive story, and everything else in between, there is something that really sets Ori above anything else in the industry, in particular games of this caliber or genre, and that is the music from composer Gareth Coker. The music in Ori and the Blind Forest was incredible as well, and the sequel takes this to new heights.
Each area has its own theme and score, each boss fight is complemented by high energy and perfectly matched composition. The dramatic story, thanks to the games almost entirely absent voice work, is permeated and underpinned by the soundtrack itself, and the emotion that seeps into every pore of this title is held together by the incredible work of the composer and the musicians behind the soundtrack.
This is, in my opinion, one of the most incredible musical scores every created and rivals some of the most classic soundtracks from across the industry. Coker has proven that the first game was definitely not a fluke, and if you’re a fan of video game music at all, I highly recommend listening to this score and experiencing this game even if it’s simply for its music. The main theme is unforgettable, the way the music is used to accentuate the different levels and areas is perfectly achieved and makes what is already visually the most beautiful game ever created, a delight for the senses.
THE FINAL VERDICT
Ori and the Will of the Wisps is a phenomenal experience. It’s a beautiful and artistic creation that doesn’t lean on its gorgeous design as simply an aesthetic success but uses each and every part of itself to create an immense title filled with genre-leading traversal, pristine level design, platforming genius, fun puzzles, great combat, a range of abilities and customization for players to get immersed in, and is backed by a soundtrack unlike any other. The addition of NPCs scattered through the world gives this game less of a feeling of isolation than the first title, and expand the game with small yet exploratory side quests, and a feeling that there are others affected by the darkness that has enveloped the forest. From the adorable Mokis to the awesomely designed Tokk and Lupo characters, to name just two, who you can find across the game’s world and who are used for bites of lore, purchasing maps and much more.
The boss fights, new enemy types, escape sequences, and improvements to combat make fighting just as fun as traversing the world, and the sheer beauty of every single pixel makes The Will of the Wisps a joy to behold.
There are negatives, including a serious number of bugs that I encountered throughout my playtime. Ranging from the minor, like frame stutters and drops, long load times into certain areas or after death, to audio glitches where some of the audio channels would just entirely drop out; this particularly occurred during the spider boss fight for me as well. There are more frustrating and near-game-breaking issues like getting nothing but a black screen with only Ori’s health and energy bars at the bottom, visual glitches (again during the spider boss fight) that caused flickering and flashing across the entire screen, and one time where launching the game caused my actual console to shut down. These are incredibly unacceptable, especially after the game’s predecessor.
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