Ori and the Will of the Wisps – First Sip Review
Ori and the Will of the Wisps is the acclaimed follow up to the also acclaimed Ori and the Blind Forest (which made our list of the best Metroidvania’s of the decade). The game is a Metroidvania once again developed by Moon Studios and published by Xbox Game Studios.
I have not played the original Ori and the Blind Forest, it has been on my wishlist for a long time. But unfortunately, I have not had the chance to play it. So why do I mention this? Well, because this game once again follows Ori and is set in the same magical world. However, even with no knowledge of the previous game I immediately knew what was happening.
The little light sprite (who is confirmed to be a Spirit a little way into the game), Ori is living a peaceful life with his eclectic group of friends. With the latest addition being a small owl who quickly bonds with the rest of the group. Together they teach the little owl to fly, but only after a few setbacks including a terrible crash resulting in a broken wing. But Ori’s clever use of a feather is able to fix things and allow the pair to take to the skies.
Soaring through the skies Ori and the owl much like Icarus flying too close to the sun. However, in this instance, the sun is a storm that causes the pair to crash and become separated. And so Ori must now embark on a magical journey to reconnect with his owl friend and journey home. But it seems there is a destiny waiting for Ori that might make things far less simple.
It’s a beautiful and highly emotionally charged story. But the most surprising element is how much of the story is communicated purely through visuals. While there are lines of dialogue including a narrator they are generally fairly minimal and the bulk of the storytelling follows the show don’t tell format.
As you may have guessed from the above statement about the visual storytelling. The art of the game is very important. Much like the Wonder Boy remake, the works of Oneshark (Great Hero’s Beard, Doors of Insanity etc.) or Thunder Lotus games (Jotun, Sundered and Spiritfarer), Moon Studios have opted for a hand-drawn (or in this case painted) visual style. And it looks amazing. The colors are rich and deep, Ori stands out with his glow. The backgrounds are works of art and still feel alive and natural. The creatures have a Studio Ghibli level of imagination to their designs. And the animation is incredibly fluid.
Overall the visuals of the game are mindblowing. It’s one of the best looking games I’ve ever seen, not just in this style but in general. While some games try for hyper-realism and that is fairly impressive when they can achieve it. Ori and the Will of the Wisps exceeds realism for me. While some of the characters would work as three-dimensional realistic looking animals (specifically the titular Ori). Others would probably look like scary nightmare creatures, but with the art-style, they have used one of the scariest looking creatures actually comes across as a cute and lovable creature.
There’s not much more to say here, have a look at the pictures or watch the trailer. Let the images speak for themselves and you’ll understand.
While the game is a visual feast the visuals aren’t the only thing Moon Studio absolutely nailed. They have opted for an orchestral score and it’s as lush and emotive as the art. Both work together so well in creating an atmosphere that there are times I just want to sit back watch and listen instead of actively playing. Which isn’t to say anything about the gameplay (more on that in the next section) but everything to say about the visual and audio aspects of the game.
I mentioned in the story section that there is dialogue and even a narrator. The characters are even voiced. However, they don’t read the words, rather they speak in a fictional language and we see the translations on screen. And again it really works in setting the atmosphere of the world. The fact that these magical otherworldly creatures speak in their own language that we are not privy too makes sense. And it’s overall a really nice little piece of polish on this magnificent gem of a game.
Sound effects are as you might expect from the other aspects, handled very well. Nothing sounds out of place, but it also doesn’t sound familiar either. Rather instead of using generic noises that we can associate with other games like Mario’s jump or the Zelda chest opening music sting. Ori and the Will of the Wisps has its own sound-design and it fits extremely well.
As mentioned in the into, the game is a Metroidvania or action-platformer. What this means is a mixture of platforming jumps, enemy combat (including large bosses), and some puzzle-solving. As I was playing the game I was highly reminded of the Guacamelee games (another series that placed in our best Metroidvania’s of the decade list). And while it does share some aspects with Guacamelee and other games just by virtue of being from the same genre. OatWotW still feels very much like its own game. Chiefly among the elements that remind me of Guacamelee are the area shortly after starting where you fall down and need to gain a new power before you can climb back up to backtrack. The first temple being a giant stone statue whose mouth you need to enter and just the overall fluidity of the combat.
But beyond these small links, the game has the typical Metroidvania open-world but not quite feel. Where you can explore however there are areas you’ll need to get a certain power to get through. You also have a map that shows all the items you haven’t collected if you’ve gone past them. A list of shards you can equip to modify your power like reducing damage, increasing health. And my favorite shard which allows you to stick to walls instead of sliding down them. Which brings me to the platforming aspects. At first Ori can jump, wall jump and even climb a single wall via jumps. But as you progress you unlock a double-jump and other traversal techniques.
You can even select 3 abilities to set as active commands which increases your combat choices. For instance, you can set your attack to one button, a long-range magic bow to another. And finally a healing option to the third in case you take a lot of damage.
OatWotW is an absolutely amazing game that left me in awe. Every aspect of the game feels like Moon Studios has put their all into. The visuals look amazing in both design and implementation. The music sets the scene and heightens the visuals. The minimal story is still emotionally charged and has you swing between happiness and sadness as the scene dictates. I mentioned recently that the game A Fold Apart felt almost like a Pixar movie. And well, OatWotW feels like an unmade Studio Ghibli masterpiece. In fact, I almost wish there was a full animated feature film I could watch as Studio Moon have proved they have the skills to do it.
I feel like I should mention some negatives so the review isn’t 100% praise. But really there’s not much there. I had occasional frame lag and audio tearing and quite long load-times. But I have the game installed on an external drive and I had other things running as well. So really I can’t blame the game for those issues. The size of the game (roughly 15GB) was somewhat surprising at first, but again once you see how densely the world and its inhabitants are painted it makes a lot of sense. So overall I just have to say, I enjoyed the game thoroughly and I will attempt to complete it (which is a rarity in my line of work).
In Coffee Terms
OatWotW in coffee terms is like an expertly made black coffee, it’s a classic flavor and is handled perfectly. But more than that the cafe is a lovely out of the way little place with ornate paintings and a zen garden. And sitting aside from you is an amazing storyteller regaling you with a sad tale that has a happy ending. The coffee is everything you could want, but the setting and atmosphere still manage to take it to the next level.
Ori and the Will of the Wisps Links
One half of the YouTube brother duo, The Game Bros with Sirhc and Ar0n, Chris is a lover of games, movies and other great things you can do from home.
Coffee of choice: I like the sweeter kinds, mixed with chocolate, coconut, caramel etc. but I won’t turn down a flat white or a straight black either.