The last guardian

Ori and the Blind Forest speaks to the best of what video games can offer. It’s rare that you find a game that’s not only beautiful to look at and to listen to, but that also delivers a poignant, powerful story—which is told while providing a wonderfully tight platforming experience that pushes your reflexes to their limits.

The game begins when a freak storm catapults a young guardian of light named Ori from its home among the branches of the greatest tree in the Forest of Nibel. Found by a citizen of the woods, a bearlike creature named Naru, Ori is nursed back to health and quickly looks to Naru as a mother. While it’s seemingly innocent in nature, this turn of events serves as a catalyst that will shake the whole of Nibel to its very core. Ori must set off on its own to reclaim its purpose as a guardian of the light before Nibel succumbs to an encroaching darkness.

From the opening cutscenes to the end credits, the one thing that consistently amazed me about Ori and the Blind Forest was its beautiful look. The game offers a variety of different locales—icy caverns, flower-filled grottoes, volcanic mountaintops, barren woodlands—and they all look stellar. The exquisite hand-drawn art style offers a bevy of bright colors that seem to jump off the screen and make each area feel special.

Once you start playing, though, it might be easy for the graphics to fade into the background as the story takes hold. Complemented by a hauntingly beautiful soundtrack, Ori and the Blind Forest tugs on your heartstrings in such a way that it stays with you long after beating the game. At its core, it’s a coming-of-age tale plainly divided into three acts, but the themes the game conveys about life and death, falling from grace and finding one’s redemption, and persevering in the face of adversity are all things that we, as humans, can relate to. And they’re driven home all the more emphatically when playing as the undersized Ori, alone in a world on the verge of being torn asunder.

As good as a game may be creatively, however, it can always easily come undone if the technical side doesn’t hold up its end. Fortunately, Ori succeeds on this front, too. With an emphasis on puzzle-solving and exploration, the game offers only a limited combat system, forcing you to instead focus on deftly guiding Ori through a labyrinthine world full of traps and hazards.

The game also incorporates some RPG elements, and Ori can learn a dozen different moves over the course of its adventure that will help open up new areas and allow for more efficient traversal across previously discovered locales if you decide to backtrack. The Forest of Nibel is a massive world, but I found that with Ori’s full complement of powers, I could run from end to end in no time flat.

I also enjoyed the fact that combat only came in short bursts—usually just enough to put me back on my heels a bit. This allowed me to better appreciate the overall design. As a platformer, Ori and the Blind Forest toes that fine line between being too forgiving and too punishing. I died more than 300 times on my first playthough, which took me about eight hours—an average of one death per 90 seconds of gameplay. Not once did I feel frustrated during my entire time playing, though. Some sequences, of course, skew these numbers, where you’ll likely die a lot, such as in the seemingly Metroid-inspired dungeon-escape sequences.

What also helped quell any possible annoyance was Ori’s quicksave system, a rarity on consoles. Just by holding the B button down, I was able to place a marker almost anywhere in the world that would serve as a makeshift save point. So, if I saw a harrowing-looking cave filled with spiked walls up ahead, I’d just drop a quicksave. Admittedly, it took some time to get used to the game not having any sort of traditional checkpoint system—and I sometimes had to play large sections over because I forgot to save—but once you get used to it, this method allows you to be a bit more reckless than normal, which is especially nice when exploring new areas.

Unfortunately, unlike Ori reaching its full potential by game’s end, Ori and the Blind Forest slightly stumbles in a couple of key areas. For example, I experienced some noticeable framerate drops at various instances—almost two dozen times during my playthrough, most often when moving quickly through different areas.

The most grievous issue, however, may be the fact that, once you complete one of the game’s three main dungeons, you can’t re-enter them, leaving any possible collectibles you missed lost. This goes the same for the end of the game—if you finish, you can’t replay that particular adventure and instead must use one of the other three save slots and start completely over. Consider this a warning for all you completionists out there.

If you’re less worried about seeing 100 percent of the game, though, and just want to have an action-packed adventure, Ori and the Blind Forest fits the bill completely. It’s the kind of story that knows how to find the soft spots in even the most hardened of gamers (like me!), and once it digs its adorable claws into you, it’s polished enough to rarely break the immersion it inspires. Ori and the Blind Forest had me coming back just to reexperience all the wonder and fun I had along the way the first time through, and it’s one of my favorite titles of 2015 so far.

Developer: Moon Studios • Publisher: Microsoft Studios • ESRB: E – Everyone • Release Date: 03.11.15
A terrific blend of story, gameplay, and graphics, Ori and the Blind Forest is an unforgettable debut for indie developer Moon Studios.
The Good Beautiful world, amazing soundtrack, and an unforgettable story.
The Bad Similar-feeling powers; occasional framerate issues.
The Ugly Forgetting to quicksave before tackling a spike-infested area.
Ori and the Blind Forest is available on Xbox One and PC, with a version for Xbox 360 coming later this year. Primary version reviewed was for Xbox One. Review code was provided by Microsoft for the benefit of this review.