Saturday, April 4, 2020

Ori and the Will of the Wisps

While I have not formally reviewed Ori and the Blind Forest (Blind Forest) as of this writing, I wholly enjoyed the experience due to its gameplay and art direction. When a follow-up game, Ori and the Will of the Wisps (Will of the Wisps), was announced at E3 2017, I was immediately eager to play it to see where developer Moon Studios would take Ori’s story next. Overall, I found Will of the Wisps to be a worthy successor to the previous game, though not without some minor frustrations along the way.

Following the events of Ori and the Blind Forest, a bird named Ku is born from the egg of Kuro. Due to having a damaged wing, Ku is unable to properly fly, however this does not stop her from trying. After one of Kuro’s feathers is attached to her wing, Ku goes on a test flight with Ori, however the two get lost in a storm and land on the island of Niwen. After being separated in the crash, Ori tries to find Ku so they can get back home.

The story, much like Blind Forest, is told largely through narration, which helps to move the story forward without interrupting the gameplay or visual presentation. Though there is some voice acting, the characters and narrator speak in a fictional language, which contributes to the presentation and the feeling that you’re exploring another world. There is also a great amount of world-building in the story to help this game stand out from the original.

The story continues from where the previous game left off.
From left: Naru, Ku (Jennifer Losi), Ori, Gumo

The gameplay is largely similar to Blind Forest, expanding upon the Metroidvania 2D platformer style in numerous ways. The island of Niwen is much larger compared to the forest of Nibel, offering a lot more to explore while somehow not feeling overwhelming. Rather than a level-up system, Ori has a wider range of unlockable abilities at his disposal, which are mapped to the face buttons and can be swapped out at will. Without spoiling anything, these include a small variety of physical attacks and spending Energy to heal yourself, among other things.

Ori also has a wide range of Shards to equip to grant him more passive abilities, the maximum capacity of which can be increased by defeating waves of enemies through Combat Shrines hidden in the world. Some Shards that I found more useful for me were Magnet (which attracts objects to you from a distance), Sticky (allowing you to stick to walls) and Triple Jump. Shards can also be upgraded by talking to a particular merchant, as can the special abilities.

There are also a number of side quests, each of which adds more to the world. In one particular section, Gorlek Ore can be used to build structures and planting Seeds allows further access to certain areas, though gathering Seeds and Ore requires exploring the rest of Niwen. One side quest, Hand to Hand, is particularly lengthy, however the payoff is well worth the effort.

While I did enjoy the new style of gameplay, I did run into a few issues over the course of my playthrough. One that came up a lot was the game freezing frequently for at least a second, even while looking at the map screen, which has more than once thrown off the timing of certain actions a little bit. There was even one time where the game crashed back to the Xbox One home menu, though thankfully it only happened the one time.

The appearance of Howl (Patrick Seitz) is when the game starts to ramp up.

During the game you can unlock abilities by absorbing the light from special trees, however I found out the hard way that unlocking the Dash ability, which allows Ori to quickly move in one direction, is required to unlock for other abilities such as Swim Dash and Burrow to function. Burrow, a new mechanic, allows you to dig through sand, however the mechanic can be a bit finnicky, not helped by the fact you have to be very close to the sand in order to dash through it. This came to a head during a chase sequence towards the end of the game, which relies on the Burrow mechanic and became so rage-inducing for me that I needed assistance to get through it and remain level-headed. Despite being similar, I didn’t have much of an issue with the Swim Dash ability.

The art direction is consistent with Blind Forest, with sharper visuals and more varied designs. There’s a plethora of new enemy types and side characters that add to the world-building of Niwen and allow it further stand out from Nibel. That said, while the backgrounds are gorgeously detailed, foreground objects in some areas can occasionally obscure some of the on-screen action during combat. The sound design is also similar to Blind Forest, creating a more uniform experience, while the lack of full voice acting allows the music to stand out more.

Ori and the Will of the Wisps is a great follow-up to Ori and the Blind Forest. Technical issues aside, the gameplay improves over that of its predecessor in just about every way and provides a very intriguing world to explore. Though a great experience on its own, I would recommend playing Blind Forest first for story reasons if you wish to pick this one up.

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