It has been five years to the day since Moon Studios first took us on a journey through the forest of Nibel in Ori and the Blind Forest, and now we catch up with the spirits in Ori and the Will of the Wisps. Few games capture the look and feel of concept art, but both Ori titles have done just that, and in doing so invite players into a unique world full of beauty, tragedy, life, struggle, and hope.
Ori and the Will of the Wisps begins some time after Blind Forest’s conclusion, reintroducing players to Ori, Naru, and Gumo, and introducing a new baby owl, Ku. Ori is the primary protagonist that players control, who teams up with Ku to help her learn to fly. The trouble is Ku’s right wing is not healthy; she cannot fly without help. Gumo fashions a way to grant Ku the ability to fly, and Ori and Ku take to the skies in a joyous moment of freedom and exploration. All of this comes crashing to an end, however, when a storm knocks the pair out of the sky, separating them in an unknown forest across the sea from their home land of Nibel. Ori must find his way through the weakened and dying forest to the now flightless and vulnerable Ku in order to save her and return home.
The game follows a familiar style and structure from here, a “metroidvania” title in a fairly traditional sense. As you explore this new forest of Niwen, Ori acquires abilities from the residents as well as from the scattered light of the forest, each of which allow access to more areas of the world and reveal more of the darkness and tragedy that has befallen Niwen. Throughout the journey, Ori gains a number of powers that were not available to him in the first game. This is the first major step forward for Will of the Wisps, as these powers bring a much deeper, more entertaining combat system to the game.
The tools available to Ori during combat range from a quick blade, to a slow but powerful hammer, and even to a sentry spirit and area-of-effect flame burst and more. These can all be assigned to X, Y, or B on the fly through a selection wheel that is accessed by holding down LT, making it fast and easy to mix up your combat style to your liking. Combat is fluid, fast, and fun, and nowhere is this more exemplified than in the combat challenges presented that offer additional modification slots - which brings me to another point: everything in Will of the Wisps leads to something else. There is nothing that is present just to be there; finding secrets increases your health or energy meters, which makes it easier to beat combat shrines, which unlock more slots for shards, which modify your attacks, etc.
On top of this fantastic combat, the game also makes a good step forward in its platforming. Among the earliest shards you can acquire is a triple-jump mod. With this shard equipped, platforming sections that required absolute precision become much more manageable, without trivializing them. For players like myself, who struggle with platforming games in general, this is a godsend - and it’s completely optional. If you are the type who loves a challenging platformer that requires that type of precision, you will not be disappointed by Ori’s level of challenge and creativity in its platforming. Jumping and momentum feels tight and fast, yet rarely, if ever, out of control. It’s simply a joy to move through Niwen whether you are wanting a challenge or something a bit more manageable; you will not miss out on the sights, sounds, and feel of this incredibly beautiful game.
That’s the other piece of this magnificently crafted game: it’s just flat-out gorgeous. The sheer variety of areas you explore, from a marshy forest to the snowy peaks to the desert ruins, is fantastically rendered and animated in one of the most unique and distinctive visual styles in games. The world seems to breathe in a way many games just don’t. As you hop, glide, and dive through the world, scenery passes by in the foreground, characters move around in the background, and even the trees have a slight movement to them that makes everything feel alive. The forest itself is as much a character in this game as Ori, Ku, and the all the new friends you meet along the way through the story.
This brings me to what is possibly the key to everything in Will of the Wisps: the story is impeccable. Throughout the narrative, you experience some of the highest highs and lowest lows I’ve ever experienced in a video game. The tale of Ori searching for Ku is just the appetizer for an emotional journey I could not have possibly been prepared for. Moon Studios tells the story through very minimal scenes, with as little dialogue as is required, allowing the stunning nuance of the characters’ animations to relay events to the player. Bring along a box of tissues; if you make it through this without shedding any tears, you might need to check your pulse.
I haven’t covered anything negatively here, and for good reason. I simply cannot find much to complain about. There were only two instances where I noticed any sort of problem: one minor animation that got stuck for a second during a boss fight, and another instance where my panicked jumping and attacking and attempting to stay alive actually glitched me through a wall and I had to reload to continue the encounter I was on. These were simply so few and far between that they did not impact my enjoyment of the game or desire to continue exploring the world.
Ori and the Will of the Wisps is a magical experience. This is not just a game, or a story, or even a visual marvel. It is all of these things at once, and it is truly a magnificent work of art. If you enjoy this medium, this is absolutely a must-play game for you.
Ori and the Will of the Wisps: 10 out of 10