If there’s one genre to be chosen that defined this generation of gaming, Metroidvania games would be high up the list. The many different interpretations of the genre have delighted gamers, none more so than Moon Studio’s debut effort, Ori and the Blind Forest. Their follow-up, Ori and the Will of the Wisps maintains the high standard set by its predecessor and improves upon that foundation to deliver one of the greats in the genre.
Despite being a self-proclaimed indie game studio, what Moon Studios has managed to achieve with the game is almost indistinguishable to that of other games which cost double its S$40 price tag.
A key part of this is the game’s art style — almost like watercolour painting coming alive. The different areas you visit within the game also lend nicely to the aesthetics, the lush greenery of the forest gives off an almost welcoming atmosphere in contrast to the sinister feel of the underground levels.
Accompanying your playthrough is the score which is angelic in its own right, subtly setting the tone for each area with musical beats while also racking up the emotional highs for important story moments. It’s an effective score created by the team and one where you will be remembering those constant familiar beats for some time.
At its core, Ori and the Will of the Wisps’ story is simple; Ori finds himself stranded on the land of Niwen and is separated from friend Ku after a flight gone wrong, now he must reunite with his winged partner while also helping to restore Niwen from the Decay that plagues it.
Once you start following its narrative however, you’d find that there is a certain maturity in the story, in equal portions heartwarming and depressing. This isn’t a by the books fairy-tale story by any stretch of the imagination.
The writing of the characters plays a role with that, getting you personally intimate with the various personalities of each character — not least the squirrel-like Moki creatures which dot across the map.
With that being said, Ori and the Will of the Wisps is a game of two halves. The first portion of the game flows nicely as you start to explore the map, with a sense of progression being felt as you start opening up the world to follow the story. The latter half though, suffers from pacing issues, with you needing to backtrack many times to previous portions of the game to open up new areas and continue the story.
It is especially egregious in the final third of the game, and it gets a little monotonous to navigate through the game’s obstacles if not frustrating as the latter portions get more intense. There are fast travel options in the form of Spirit Wells around the map, but they aren’t placed in convenient locations enough, making you question whether it is actually worth the effort to go back and get an item you missed because you have yet to learn the skill to get to it.
This is at least somewhat alleviated by the game’s platforming and traversal system, which is quite excellent and is the core of what makes Ori what it is. It starts you off slowly but by the end, you’ll be zipping around with ease using abilities like the iconic air dash and the bash skill which propels you forward by redirecting projectiles. It’s fast, fluid and intuitive.
Simply put, you feel in full control while platforming and going through the level hazards, which brings a different kind of joy in of itself. That isn’t to say that the platforming is easy — in fact, you’ll experience death more times than not. But restarting is instantaneous, which is a good encouragement to try again when trying to tackle an especially tricky obstacle.
Combat is another side to the game and it works for the most part. Attacks feel snappy and convey a feeling of weight when whittling down an enemy’s health, and the early stages of the game preach patience in choosing when to attack due to your limited range of attacks and low health pool. Traversal skills also play a big part in how you attack, with the aforementioned bash ability not only used to fire back enemy projectiles but also to catch enemies above that are on higher ground.
Consequently, as you start upgrading your health and attack skills, it starts to strip away the little nuances of the combat in the latter stages as it becomes more and more button-mashy since the risk from your low health pool is no longer an issue.
Ori and the Will of the Wisps lasts between 12 to 15 hours depending on whether you want to do a completist run on the game by getting every upgrade and finishing every side quest. It is a nice amount of playtime for a game of this price, though you might feel exhausted by the end from the previously mentioned pacing issues.
Whether you are a lover of classic platform-based Metroidvania games or simply are a fan of its predecessor, Ori and the Will of the Wisps should absolutely be on your must-play list this year. It’s not perfect, with over-excessive backtracking bogging it down over the second half, but it’s about as well-polished a title you can find right now on the market. It pulls on your heartstrings while being fun to boot; Moon Studios has another hit worth considering.