A beautiful, frustrating endeavor... just like your crazy ex.
I once dated a girl who “jokingly” threatened to burn my parent’s house down if we broke up. She called my grandmother a fascist to her face. Sometimes she would send me photos of my current GPS location to let me know she knew where I was. She was crazy; she was also unbelievably gorgeous. Like, Swimsuit Issue gorgeous. My relationship with her was not unlike my experience with the original Ori and The Blind Forest: Great to look at and fun when it wasn’t trying to kill me.
I wanted to like the game when it came out last year. Many critics described it as an emotional, heartfelt puzzle-platformer in the style of Metroid and Castlevania. While it is definitely one of the prettiest games I’ve seen on the Xbox One, the only “emotion” I felt was hot-blooded anger. Ori had a nasty streak, placing checkpoint management in the hands of the player and delivering cold, calculated platforming sequences that demanded perfection. Don’t let the Miyazaki-esque visuals fool you; this game will break your spirit.
However, just like any fool in love, I came crawling back to Ori with the release of the Definitive Edition. Boasting new areas to explore, new abilities to acquire, and a new fast travel system, this is definitely the version to play if you’ve never experienced Ori before. However, returning players will find these promises of change to be too little, too late.
You play as Ori, a child of the Spirit Tree who finds himself in the care of Naru until an event causes the entire forest to wither and slowly die. Ori becomes the only one who can save the land of Nibel, because this is a video game and of course it’s up to you. Despite the first ten minutes playing out like the beginning of the movie Up if it had been directed by Hayao Miyazaki himself, this is very much a video game with old-school roots. Ori will jump, climb, dash and dodge his way through enemies and obstacles throughout his journey.
Navigating the perils of the dying land requires split-second timing and elvish-archer precision, which makes Ori’s checkpoint system both a blessing and a curse. The checkpoint system is unique in that it is up to the player to set up Soul Links which save your progress and allow for ability upgrades. They can be set just about anywhere, but require energy—the same energy that is used for Ori’s special abilities. Saving becomes another obstacle for the player as they must decide whether it is worth saving before a potentially dangerous platforming sequence at the risk of being unable to open secret doors and passageways. This also requires that the player actually remember to save in the first place, as the game will only save after story sequences. Overall, it strikes a nice balance for players looking for a challenge and those looking to be cautious.
New players will get the most out of the Definitive Edition. Adding a selectable difficulty makes it more welcoming to players who are looking to enjoy the story. In addition, the new fast travel system makes backtracking easier (especially for those looking to 100% complete each region). Early on, players are granted access to the Black Root Burrows, which offers a glimpse into Naru’s past. The two new abilities, Dash and Light Burst, are neat but largely inconsequential, only being of use within Black Root Burrows.
The new area took approximately an hour to complete, which is where returning players may find it harder to justify the additional purchase. Players who already own the original Ori can upgrade to the Definitive Edition for five dollars, which seems like a great deal until you realize that the features you are paying for (selectable difficulty, fast travel, etc.) should have been included in the original release. Returning players, having likely finished the original game already, will still find little reason to return.
The Definitive Edition of Ori and The Blind Forest is the best this game can be. Returning players may want to tilt the score down while players who are discovering it for the first time will be in for a treat and should tilt the score up. As challenging as it can be, those sighs of relief after a particularly challenging sequence are still just as rewarding. Returning players may want to consider what their time is worth, however, as paying for additional “features” is not a route the industry should be going. If Ori burned you before (as it had me), don’t expect an apology here. It’s still pretty, fun, and occasionally frustrating, and it still might burn your parent’s house down.