This is one of those games. One of those games that makes it all worth it. Any fan of video games will tell you how they love games because they can offer unique and interesting stories. They will tell you that games can offer a fun and sometimes challenging escape from day-to-day struggles. They will tell you that games can be incredible pieces of art with beautiful soundtracks and amazing visuals. Ori and the Will of the Wisps is all of these things and so much more.
Developed by Moon Studios, Ori and the Will of the Wisps is a Metroidvania, and the long-awaited sequel to 2015’s Ori and the Blind Forest. After the events of the first game, title-character Ori finds himself torn from his family and friends due to an unfortunate sequence of events. Stuck in the middle of an unknown land with its own set of problems, Ori must now strive to rejoin his loved ones while avoiding the dangers of the forest Niwen. As you join Ori and journey through the game, you will discover an emotionally charged story, pitch-perfect gameplay and an enthralling host of characters and locations.
Allow me to mention that I played the first game several years ago, and I have been a huge fan ever since. I have discussed with friends on multiple occasions that Ori and the Blind Forest is one of my favorite games I have ever played. When I learned that a sequel was in the works, I was immediately excited, but I had no idea what they could do to make a sequel - especially story-wise. The first game made me cry in more than one portion of its tale. What are they going to do for this one? If I could send a message to the past, I would tell myself to relax and buy some tissues.
Will of the Wisps does not pull any storytelling punches with its emotional highs and lows. One moment, you will be smiling at the gentle wholesomeness of adorable mythical forest creatures, and the next you will be gasping for air because of heart pounding, adrenaline pumping action. There are so many wonderful moments between characters both new and old. The highly detailed animations of each character perfectly convey their every thought, decision and motive. If I sound like I'm not giving enough details, it's because this story is genuinely best experienced personally. Going into the game knowing as little about the story as I did was an enormous benefit. It made each twist and surprise that much sweeter and kept pushing me to play and see more.
The story is amazing, and it is bolstered by the fact that getting from one narrative moment to another is pure, canned joy. As mentioned above, Ori and the Will of the Wisps is a Metroidvania. You can expect platforming, challenges, puzzles, twisting maze-like levels with hidden collectibles and upgradable abilities. The abilities that specifically cater to Ori’s navigation of the world are a masterclass of fun game feel. You begin with some basic wall climbing and jumping, but eventually you will get a dash move, a grapple and the defining power of the series: bash. This ability lets you hurtle yourself, your enemy or any projectile in opposite directions. It is not long before you have intensely choreographed moments of grappling from one point to the next so you can dash to a wall, bounce off of it, catch a projectile with bash, rocket upward into an enemy, bash off of them and then grapple to safety.
Of course, abilities that enhance the way Ori moves are only half of the deal. Combat abilities in Will of the Wisps provide a veritable buffet of options. As you unlock abilities, they will fill out a weapon wheel you can access at any time in order to assign them to different buttons for immediate use. I had, and am still having, a total blast joining the abilities together in different ways in order to test out different combinations for different battles.
The combat is electrifying. Even before you unlock later abilities which allow you to zoom circles around your foes, the controls are razor sharp and wonderfully responsive. You can combo your hits and aim precisely where you want you or your weapons to be. Hits have a powerful smack to them, and defeating enemies makes you feel like a true force of nature hiding in the deceptively cute body of Ori. In other Metroidvanias, I often find myself doing my best to speed past enemies if I do not want to fight them or feel like I am in a hurry. In Will of the Wisps, no enemy is safe because destroying them is amazing.
Now, I am a huge fan of animation. It is my firm belief that the story, movement and combat of Ori and the Will of the Whisps would not be nearly as satisfying if it were not for the ridiculously well done animation of this game. It's just spectacular. The animations are so seamless that every move Ori and other characters make help to sell the idea that they are living inhabitants in this striking and vibrant world - a world which does not sacrifice gameplay or level design for its beauty. Each portion of the map is a brilliantly constructed jungle gym that rewards exploration and experimentation.
Before I get too far from the topic of how pretty this game is, let me say that I cannot believe that we live in a time where video games can be as drop-dead gorgeous as this. We are still months away from the end of the year, but if Ori and the Will of the Wisps does not get every single award for best art direction when award season comes around, I will eat every pair of shoes that I own. If they do not get the awards for art direction, they had better get it for the soundtrack.
Each and every moment of Ori and the Will of the Wisps is brilliantly underscored and guided along by its music. This is unforgettable stuff. Key scenes in the story, picturesque locations in the world and breathtaking moments of terror and intensity are brought to new heights because of Gareth Coker’s score. The music feels like it has just as much to say to the player as the story’s themes and characters.
Speaking of characters, there are so many wonderful ones to meet. From the slightly pessimistic traveler Tokk, to the upbeat mapmaker Lupo, speaking with each NPC that you find can lead to a lot of great interactions. Some of those interactions are sidequests which are completely new to the series. I do not always love sidequests, but the ones in Ori and the Will of the Wisps never disappointed. Whether I was rewarded with a new item, an amusing bit of dialogue or, on one occasion, soul-crushing sadness, the sidequests offered even more variety and enjoyment to an already marvelous game.
I cannot stress to you just how magnificent this game is. It is the kind of game that I did not want to finish. I knew that once it was over, I would immediately wish that I could play it for the first time again. The perfectly paced and engaging story, masterfully crafted gameplay and absolutely stellar presentation were completely worth the wait. I did not think that the first game could be improved upon, but Ori and the Will of the Wisps surpasses the original in every way, and it is a game that I will fondly remember for years and years to come.
Cade reviewed Ori and the Will of the Wisps with a personally purchased copy.