Ori and the Will of the Wisps Review
Moon Studios released Ori and the Blind Forest in 2015 and it became one of the most charming and wonderful platformers of the decade in my eyes. The game packed emotion, whimsy, and tight controls into a brand new package, feature a loveable main character, Ori.
Now, five years later, Ori and the Will of the Wisps kicks off a new decade, but how does a studio who has shown prowess behind the Metroidvania genre one-up itself? The truth is, Moon Studios played it safe by double-downing on what made Ori so special in the first place. Harmonizing impactful storytelling, with an engrossing soundtrack, while continuing to focus on smooth gameplay mechanics, Ori and the Will of the Wisps is a delightful successor to the 2015 debut.
A Brand New World
Folks that explored the story of Ori and the Blind Forest will undoubtedly remember the emotional toll associated with the opening cinematic. It set the tone, introduced motivations, all while leaving us on the brink of tears. Ori and the Will of the Wisps loads you with emotion, but not in a gut-wrenching sense.
The game opens with Ori and her band of misfit friends, Naru, and Gumo, living peacefully. Welcoming a new member into their group, a baby owl named Ku, the group begins to raise Ku as one of their own. Ori and Ku develop an adorable relationship, one built around the fact that Ku has a damaged wing, but urns to one day take to the skies and fly. Ori grabs Kuro’s feather, a key item from Blind Forest, attaches it to Ku and the two set off on a whirling trip around the distant lands. It isn’t before long that Ori and Ku find themselves in the midst of a storm and are separated in the magical Forest of Niwen. Determined to reunite with Ku, Ori sets off across uncharted territory to fight new enemies, meet new friends, and find her friend.
The story does begin to tread on familiar territory after the first few hours. To return the Forest of Niwen to its prosperous state and help Ku, Ori must take down a number of Spirits. The game offers an emotional second act, which sets up the rest of the game’s narrative. Tugging at your heartstrings and leading you into one of the most memorable sequences the game has to offer, I was left crestfallen watching what was unfolding on the screen. The narrative does retread the virtues of light versus dark, similarly to Blind Forest. However, there is a certain greyness involved in that not all decisions made by certain characters are truly nefarious.
New Game, New Abilities
Taking your first steps as Ori, it felt like riding a bike. The tight, precise jumping and attack controls were just as I remembered, if not more refined. Unfortunately, as you begin, you’ll quickly realize that all the abilities gained in Ori and the Blind Forest are not at your disposal. The first few hours of playing, I felt a little overwhelmed, like a was made of glass as I evaded and attacked a new onslaught of enemies along my journey. Fortunately, the first ability you come across in the tutorial phase is a new Spirit Blade. Rather than blast enemies with a Spirit Flame, Ori now wields a powerful sword-like weapon with a multi-directional input.
The first few hours of exploring the Forest of Niwen were spent getting reacquainted with the controls and stumbling across the majority of abilities found in Ori and the Blind Forest. Along the way, you’ll be granted new weapons including a Spirit Arc Bow, which lets you damage enemies from afar. My personal favourite is a power spear called the Spirit Spike, of which Ori will conjure and hurl at opponents for a large amount of damage.
The abilities come in quick succession through slightly different means. Now, you’ll find active abilities such as Ori’s dash and double jump moves, but you’ll also come across Spirit Shards that you can equip. You’ll only be able to equip a certain amount of shards at any one time. Discovering and completing Combat Shrines across the map, you’ll be granted extra slots for shards.
Spirit Shards grant Ori passive abilities such as extra health, a damage buff, and a magnetic ability to pull orbs from across the screen. You can also purchase new abilities from vendors and upgrade those via the Spirit Light orbs you collect throughout your journey. It’s not reinventing the wheel within Ori, but it was a nice incentive to chase down enemies and invest the currency accumulated to build out Ori’s moveset. It was an enjoyable feature to mix and match abilities based on my preferred preferences at the time. If I felt overwhelmed during a portion of the story, I could lean on more defensive abilities, or push towards damage output. If I felt like exploring, certain shards hint when you’re close to finding Life Cells and Energy Cells which increases Ori’s health and energy when using certain Spirit abilities.
As Ori discovers more abilities, I began to feel stronger and more confident in the gameplay. It wasn’t before long that I was stringing attacks and leaps together, zipping across the screen dealing combo hits and feeling like I was unstoppable. Some enemies found in the Forest of Niwen hold your standard fair of attacks. You’ll have to evade quickly and understand their combat loops to know when and how to attack. Boss battles are when the game really kicks it into another gear. Even while playing the game on the Normal difficulty, there were many white-knuckle moments. Barely scraping by with the health I had, I’d ferociously pelt bosses, like the nightmarish spider Mora with Spirit Spikes hoping to chisel her health down enough to walk away victorious.
Although the combat is sometimes overbearing in the beginning stages, the game’s revamped checkpoint system ensures that even if you die, you’re no more than a screen or two from where you were defeated. This makes dying and reattempting a section a lot more manageable than the manual checkpoint system in Ori and the Blind Forest.
A Visual and Audible Delight
Ori and the Will of the Wisps features the expansive map of the Forest of Niwen. Although the layout is very reminiscent of the Forest of Nibel, the beauty of the locations stand out a lot more this time around. The vividness of the colours grabs a hold of you with every transition of the screen. Despite Ori being this bright white sprite, my eyes often drifted into the background, taking in the rich scenery and smattering of colours flowing across the screen.
Moving from one location to another, the art direction eases you in as it changes colour pallets and atmosphere. Bar none, Ori and the Will of the Wisps is a real looker. You could take a screenshot of any location and it would be a deserving background photo for your Xbox One, PC, or even your phone—it’s just that good!
The various biomes within the Forest of Niwen are quite refreshing. You’ll begin in a fairly traditional forest setting with deep greens and yellow light poking through the foliage. Down the road, you’ll embark through an ocean-inspired portion where bright pink colours pop out of the screen at you. The game isn’t all flash and flair, however. There are also dark elements as well. Home to the aforementioned Mora, a foreboding portion of the map is centred within the spider’s nest, littered with webbings and dark grey and brown tones.
The Forest of Niwen also houses a central hub, Wellspring Glades. This is where Ori will come across friendly vendors selling upgrades. You’ll also find the Moki, an adorable species of critters who dwell in the forest, looking for a new home. As the forest has begun to suffer from an unnatural occurrence known as the Decay, many of the residences have had to leave their homes and find a new place to stay. Seeing as though Ori is of the helping kind, you’re able to find Gorlek Ore, which can be used to build new houses turn Wellspring Glades into a fruitful little settlement for your new friends.
Quests are also a new feature in Ori and the Will of the Wisps. Chatting up some of the locals, Ori will be asked to complete certain tasks for vendors and the Moki. These various tasks usually lead you to find specific items lost around the map and bring them back to their respective owners. The completion of side-quests will grant you more Spirit Light to purchase abilities and upgrades so they are worth the time spent.
Platforming and traversal is such a joy. Ori’s movements are wonderfully smooth and precise. By the end of the game, you’re combining so many different movements together to cross a specific section, it’s a wonder how you managed without all the intrinsic movement options to begin with. Puzzles are apart of the natural progression of the game and in typical Metroidvania fashion, returning to previous locations to explore an area not previously accessible is part of the fun. The game never throws you for a loop. If you register the limitations of the current abilities, you’ll be able to recognize that you must return at a later point to complete an area.
Another aspect of Ori and the Will of the Wisps that can’t be understated is the soundtrack. Award-winning composer Gareth Coker created a hard-hitting and impactful score that accompanies this magical adventure. It masterfully transitions from a peaceful and calming lull to a fast-paced supplement to what occurs on screen. As you’re being chased by a boss or the ever-threatening big baddie, Shriek, the music swells and creates tension almost instantaneously. As Ori and the Will of the Wisps is void of comprehensible dialogue, often replaced by a made-up dialect with subtitles, much of the story is told through visuals and music. When sadness or hope are conveyed onscreen, the music supports it to make the sequence all the more memorable.
From a technical perspective, Ori and the Will of the Wisps did falter in a few ways. Over the course of my roughly 20-hour playthrough, I experienced a few performance bugs while playing on Xbox One X. When backing out of the menu screen, framerate drops were very noticeable. While proving to be a slight blemish of the game, the real issue that affected my playtime was the pre-patch save bug. Checkpoints and saving at the game’s Shrines would not correctly save my current data. This resulted in a loss of roughly 4-5 total hours across my play session.
Moon Studios was very transparent during the review process and issued a Day One Patch ahead of the release of Ori and the Will of Wisps. After downloading the update and jumping back into the game for completion, the patch appears to have remedied the bulk of the issues I had experienced. Saved data has been properly registering, however, the frame drops when leaving the menu screen is occasionally experienced every so often.
Despite the technical frustrations, Ori and the Will of the Wisps delivered the charm I was hoping Moon Studio would bring. Pairing breathtaking visuals and a delightful soundtrack with on-point platforming mechanics, Ori is back and better than ever. All the new incorporations helped flush the game out to avoid it feeling too samey without bursting the game open, losing what made the first outing so special in the first place.
Ori and the Will of the Wisps’ story was entrancing from start to finish. There wasn’t a second where my mind trailed off as the game captured my attention from the opening cinematic all the way through to the credits. By the end, I immediately wanted to jump back in and obtain the full 100% and continue finding all the hidden corners of Ori’s new world. Ori and the Will of the Wisps is 2020's first must-play game.
Verdict: Strongly Recommended
Available: March 11th, 2020
Platforms: Xbox One and PC
An Xbox One code was provided for review purposes.