Ori and the Blind Forest was a near flawless game, with little I complained about when I reviewed it at its initial 2015 release. An exceptionally vibrant painting in motion which cascaded an emotional nuance that was endearing and palpable; Ori and the Blind Forest was a brilliant experience that I thought required no level of improvement. Through the release of its sequel, Ori and the Will of the Wisps, I am blissfully elated to have been proven wrong. Ori and the Will of the Wisps is a pristine landmark for both the platforming and Metroidvania genres, polishing off established conventions and fundamentals, while respecting and retaining the essence of what made the original so special. With an exceptionally layered overhaul of its art design, the return of its exquisitely beautiful orchestral score, a heavier reliance on combat and gameplay customization, and a palpable world ripe with intrigue and discovery, Ori and the Will of the Wisps improves on all facets of its predecessor in all respects. Its emotional prominence cannot be overstated; the harmonious balances of its poignant narrative, melancholic melodies, and gorgeously rendered visuals of pathetic fallacy, cultivate into a profound experience of unparalleled proportions – a touching and moving ensemble that is seldom found in the platforming genre. With set pieces and encounters that rival the epic scale and destruction of Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, Ori and the Will of the Wisps never strays too far from the bombastic and remarkable. Ori and the Will of the Wisps acts in a similar manner to Super Mario Galaxy 2 – an immaculate experience that improves on nearly every element of its predecessor and is objectively superior, but also lacks the nuance of the original. While notable technical discrepancies and a questionably underwhelming final stage marginally stint the impeccable flow of the experience, Ori and the Will of the Wisps is an absolute marvel and is the best Microsoft/Xbox exclusive of the generation.
In similar fashion to the established conventions of the original, Ori and the Will of the Wisps tells a remarkably palpable and poignant tale of love, sacrifice, responsibility, and loss. The game’s intro mirrors the same whimsical stature of its predecessor, with the same dash of imminent melancholy simmering beneath the hood. Through unfortunate and unforeseen circumstances, Ori must venture through the desolate world of Niwen – which has succumbed to a deadly Decay – in search of their missing friend. The narrative manages to reach the insurmountable heights set by the original, retaining its established quality of emotional depth and tangibility. Throughout your journey across the vivacious landscapes of Niwen, you will encounter a vast array of lavishly diverse scenery and an assortment of creatures, both friend and foe. From the desolate sands of the Windswept Wastes to the glistening snow of Baur’s Reach, the level of visual diversity is vastly improved from the original’s luscious greenery. There is even an underground section that is downright unnerving, orchestrating a pristine aura of visual and auditory terror. On top of its diverse locales, the artwork has also been overhauled to incorporate three-dimensional models in multilayered backgrounds, adding a nice level of depth and nuance to the already gorgeous environments. Gareth Coker’s impeccable work on the original score was a stroke of genius and I am happy to report that his level of quality and perfection returns in full force for the sequel. His intricately melodic compositions are some of the most epically bombastic, yet emotionally soulful creations to have graced my eardrums, further complimenting and cementing the established world’s pristine sense of beauty and cohesion. Escape sequences and boss encounters are thunderous, forming into a bombastic crescendo and establishing a resounding aura of intensity. Quiet, tranquil moments of exploration simmer at a low-key melody of comfort and awe, while key story moments bring out an unwavering tune of melancholy or hope that will undoubtedly leave you in tears. Each presentation element further compliments the other, crafting an emotionally driven experience that not only outshines its predecessor, but also transcends the established conventions of the genre. While the game is a marvel in terms of its core presentation, it does suffer from a few technical issues, which are minor but still noticeable. I experienced some notable frame drops throughout my 15-hour playthrough, even in areas with low levels of character population or chaotic action. I also had to restart the intro sequence because the music decided to cut out and left what was supposed to be an emotional moment, feeling empty and awkward.
Platforming was at the front and center of Ori and the Blind Forest, with combat taking a back seat due to its simplistic nature. While platforming is still key focus in the sequel, combat has been completely overhauled and its role is far more prominent than I was expecting. The auto-aimed Spirit Flames from yesteryear have been completely removed, with the introduction of Spirit abilities, which can be accessed on the fly through an intuitive radial menu. Spirit Edge is a blade of light that allows Ori to unleash a flurry of swift slashes. The Spirit Arc is essentially a bow of light that allows Ori to attack enemies from a range. The Spirit Smash is a hammer of light that bludgeons enemies with a strong, yet slow sweeping blow. Attacks and abilities are extremely varied and add a dynamic level of complexity and flexibility to the gameplay that was simply not available in the original. Additionally, attacks and abilities can be enhanced through the new Spirit Shard system. Shards are equippable collectibles that enhance a respective ability of Ori’s. For instance, it could be a Shard that increases the fire rate of the Spirit Arc, allows Ori to fire additional arrows at once, reflect a percentage of incoming damage towards the enemy, or provide the optional ability to wall climb. Some Shards can also be upgraded to enhance their efficiency. While combat is robust and relatively satisfying, it never reaches the level of fluidity and gratification of its platforming counterpart. I am happy to report that not a single element of its responsive platforming was sacrificed for the implementation of combat. Platforming is just as smooth and responsive as it was in the original, accentuating a pristine sense of mobility and fluidity. Paired now with an intuitive combat system, Ori and the Will of the Wisps finally feels like a proper Metroidvania, respectfully catering to both gameplay aspects of the fostered sub-genre. Unlocking abilities – such as the new grapple and burrow ability, which allows Ori to sling onto objects covered in blue moss and dig through sand or snow, respectively – allows you to reach previously unattainable areas, in true Metroidvania fashion. The simple act of movement is sublime given Ori’s vast move set, resulting in an elegant display of traversal that is satisfying to both play and watch. Both prominent factors of gameplay are at their best during the climactic boss encounters. Due to the heavier emphasis on combat, Moon Studios decided to have Ori square off against gargantuan creatures in enthralling set pieces that rival the invigorating escape sequences of the original. These boss encounters shift between moments of intense, visceral combat to heart-pounding chase sequences that will test your platforming reflexes. Complimented with the thunderous musical score and you have pure art in the form of adrenaline.
Exploration and discovery have always been at the core of the Metroidvania sub-genre; while Ori and the Blind Forest encouraged exploration to discover Life and Energy Cell upgrades, Ori and the Will of the Wisp has a more identifiable purpose for exploration through the introduction of additional collectibles and intricately hidden goodies. From Spirit Shards for ability enhancement to Gorlek Ore for hub world upgrades, there are a bevy of incentives for exploration, encouraging you to unlock hidden paths in previously explored areas while utilizing newfound abilities. Additionally, Combat Shrines and Spirit Trails can be discovered throughout your journey and provide tantalizing rewards. Combat shrines pit you against waves of enemies and will reward you with a Shard Slot upgrade upon completion. Spirit Trails are timed platforming challenges that have you race against the ghost of other players, rewarding you with Spirit Light – which is used for upgrading Shards and purchasing new Shards and abilities. As I previously mentioned, Ori and the Will of the Wisps has a hub world filled with NPCs to interact with. Here you can upgrade your Shards, learn new abilities, or upgrade the hub world – allowing you to access new areas, goodies, and characters within the hub world. Ori and the Will of the Wisps also incorporates a side quest system. These optional tasks amount to nothing more than the standard fetch quest, offering little to no value in terms of depth and ingenuity. Granted, the act of engaging and interacting with the NPCs further compliments the established aura of a living, breathing world. A major improvement over its predecessor is the sequel’s inclusion of a fast travel mechanic. The convenience of this mechanic cannot be overstated as it unsurprisingly adds a layer of ease and accessibility to exploration, crafting an enjoyable factor that compliments navigation and backtracking. This level of convenience and accessibility is further enhanced when you unlock the ability to fast travel from anywhere, as opposed to solely travelling from specific warp points. While Ori and the Will of the Wisps continues the original’s challenging legacy, it is most definitely more forgiving and accessible than its predecessor. For starters, the soul link save system has been completely removed, replaced with the modern conventions of auto-save functionality. I, for one, enjoyed the level of nuance and weight that soul links brought to the experience; having to use one energy cell to manually create a save point brought a sense of deliberation and consequence to each decision. I can understand the frustration this system may have caused and their removal results in a more approachable and player friendly experience, but ultimately this removes a core aspect of the original’s challenging persona. The final stage also felt surprisingly underwhelming and shallow in comparison to the many exceptional puzzles and segments encountered throughout the journey.
As with its predecessor, Ori and the Will of the Wisps is a near masterpiece that beautifully harmonizes poignant storytelling and engaging gameplay. Its somber narrative reaches the meteoric heights set by the original and continues its legacy of exemplifying an immaculate painting set in motion. From the breath-taking art direction to its masterful melodic compositions, Ori and the Will of the Wisps is an absolute marvel for the visual and auditory senses. This is an emotional experience that mirrors the visual and spiritual beauty of the impeccable work at Studio Ghibli and Pixar. While it may lack the innovative challenge established in the original, it is a far more accessible and enjoyable experience that has a conspicuous focus on rewarding exploration, encouraging player freedom through its improved combat and navigation systems. A complaint I had with the original was its lack of a new game plus option and the ability to explore after the credits roll. While its sequel does not include a new game plus option, it does allow you to venture in post-game exploration, which is great if you are looking to find every last collectible and explore Niwen to its absolute fullest. Its notable frame issues, shallow side quests, and underwhelming final stage hold this sequel back from the masterful status it easily could have achieved. Despite the negative inconsistencies, Ori and the Will of the Wisps transcends the modern conventions of the established sub-genre, crafting a wholesome experience that is exceptionally engaging and extraordinarily touching. Moon Studio’s sophomore creation is a breath-taking work of art that simply should not be missed.