Ori and the Will of the Wisps
A gorgeous game with an emotional soundtrack and a heart-warming story. This sequel is even more beautiful and vast than the first.
Playing video games is one of my all time favorite things to do in my spare time. And during this weird and unprecedented time of staying at home due to COVID-19, I've had plenty of time to explore video games I meant to play but didn't have time to before.
While most of the time I play 1st or 3rd person shooters, I enjoy playing the occasional sidescroller. About 5 years ago, I stumbled upon such a sidescroller called Ori and the Blind Forest that had me enamored, and eventually, obsessed. It's otherworldly and the artwork/animation is stunning. So when I heard a sequel was being made, I just about keeled over. I recently wrapped up my playthrough of the sequel and I want to share some of my favorite things about this video game.
If you haven't played this game and/or plan on doing so, DO NOT read this post. And if you haven't played the first game, Ori and the Blind Forest, definitely don't read this post! Turn back now if you don't want to read any spoilers. You've been warned.
The scope of this game, though greatly expanded from the first game, still managed to maintain it's narrative integrity. In this sequel, Ori has expanded his group of friends that have become his family. At the end of the first game, Ori, Naru, and Gumo are given the task of taking care of Kuro's last egg, upon her death. The sequel takes place immediately after the first game with the opening sequence showing the egg hatching. They name the baby owl Ku and raise her together as a family. It's during this sequence where the narrative establishes an emotional connection to Ku. Seeing Ku being raised by this group tugged on my heartstrings so much, especially knowing how the first game ended. We see her grow and learn to catch her own food, but she soon becomes the age where she learns to fly. Ku was born with a wonky wing, so the family use her mother's feather and attach it to her wing so she can fly. Isn't that so sad but awesome at the same time? Like, her mom lives on through her and HELPS HER FLY.
Anyway, when Ku and Ori go on a flight together they become separated in some bad weather, which takes them out of Nibel, their home, and crash land into Niwen. When Ori comes to, he's surrounded by creatures called Moki -- they're like a mix between cats/foxes/otters and super adorable. They're the first of many new kinds of creatures you run into in this game and Ori's interaction with them leads to Kwolok, a large toad creature. Kwolok tells Ori that Ku is in the Silent Woods, setting Ori off to find her. There are many obstacles in the way of Ori getting to Ku. Niwen is in a state of decay and corruption has settled in so your initial goal is to travel to The Wellspring and bring Niwen back to life, thereby removing the corruption in Niwen. Ori reunites with Ku where Kwolok said she would be but it's here where the game's main villain/boss is introduced and boy let me tell ya... she's a bad, bad bitch. Her name is Shriek; she's a disfigured owl that reigns over Niwen, terrorizing it's inhabitants. Ori and Ku try to escape Shriek but in an act of bravery to save Ori's life Ku is killed by Shriek. I want to take a brief moment here to say that I was bawling like a baby when this happened. Tears were streaming down my face. I've only ever came close to crying over video game stories two other times in my life and that was for The Last of Us and BioShock Infinite. But this... tore me to shreds. I was SOBBING.
Anyway, after the bullshit of Ku dying, Kwolok shares a bit of hope with Ori saying that the forest could bring Ku back to life (side note: I wish Kwolok would've shared this information earlier because Ori and the Mokie even did a mini funeral for Ku and I was crying the entire way through) but it's too weak in its current state. The Spirit Willow's passing brought on the decay and corruption in Niwen and the light the Spirit Willow carried shattered and has been spread out across Niwen into 5 different wisps. Here we learn why Shriek is such a raging hag. The decay and corruption is what killed her parents before she was born. Alone and rejected by her own kind due to her disfigurement, she becomes an absolute monster. Kwolok sends Ori to find the wisps and reunite them with the Spirit Willow. Ori eventually finds all the wisps and merges them to form Seir. Together, they attempt to revive it but the Spirit Willow doesn't have the strength to hold Seir and asks Ori to take on the mantle. Before Ori can do so, Shreik comes in to mess everything up and steals Seir. Ori dooks it out with Shriek in the final boss battle. When Shriek is defeated, she flees to the Silent Woods where she was born and dies. Ori merges with Seir which restores light and balance back to Niwen and revives Ku, as Kwolok said would happen.
In the end, Naru, Gumo, and Ku visit Ori, who has turned into the new Spirit Willow. The Spirit Willow has been narrating the story for both video games but it's during this sequence that it's been Ori this entire time. Both games have basically been the Spirit Willow retelling its past. We see Naru, Gumo, and Ku continue to live life with the Spirit Willow as it continues to age and grow.
So now you know the basic plot for Ori and the Will of the Wisps. It's such a wonderful story of love, family, and sacrifice and it's a message that comes from a video game! Moving on though... I wanted to share a few of my favorite things from this game.
Similar to the first game, the story directs you to places across the unknown forest of Niwen that are visually spectacular regardless of the polar opposite environments. For example, the Luma Pools (shown above) show soothing yet vibrant colors of blue and purple which is a complete contrast to the to a dry and desolate desert that is the Windswept Wastes with hues of red and brown (shown below). No matter where I was on the map, I was fully absorbed into the world shown to me. There's a great deal of cohesiveness within each environment and it's not just with the color palette. Using the Luma Pools as an example again, you're surrounded by crystal clear water, lush fungi-like plants and moss. While in the Windswept Wastes, you see rotted wood, crispy grass with sand everywhere.
The abilities you unlock as you discover more of each area plays a vital role in helping you explore the area more. For example, in the Windswept Wastes, there are patches of sand that can connect to a hidden area with collectibles. However, the only way for you get through the patches of sand is an ability called Burrow that you unlock by playing all the way through Windswept Wastes. Another element they add to help sell the area your in just a bit more is the modified look of some of the small creatures that attack you based on where you're located. It's such a minor touch but I love the tiny details that help sell the world you're in.
Just as the environments are beautiful yet different, so is the music. Composer Gareth Coker has returned to fill your ears with the most gorgeous music to envelop you more into the world of Niwen. If music exists in video games to emotionally drive the story, then the music for Ori and the Will of the Wisps nails it 100%. Gareth Coker brings the theme of Ori back but with a little bit of a twist and added variations to the familiar female vocals and orchestral elements.
There's something about the music for this game that makes it such a vital part of storytelling. Each area of Niwen has its own theme but still connects to the overall vibe. Whatever scenario you're in, the music fits the mood perfectly. When you're at an Ancestral Tree absorbing light to gain an ability, you hear uplifting music with female vocals. During intense fighting sequences, the music gives off the same intensity without being negative or distracting; there are times when it can be even encouraging. I've gotta say, there were times I wanted to throw the controller at the TV because the puzzles and boss fights in this game are TOUGH, but I have to give a bit of credit to the music for guiding my emotions without exacerbating them.
One last thing I wanted to mention that was so nice to see was the interaction with other creatures/characters that were friendly! A lot of times in the first game, any big creatures would mean that they were hellbent on destroying Ori. I mentioned Kwolok earlier but there's also Bauer that played a small part in the story. When I approached him, I thought in my head "Great, I have to wake him up and he's gonna be pissed," when that wasn't what happened AT ALL. I woke him up and he's like "Oh, hey, what's up?" and the interaction following waking him was so pleasant.
The Moki were also a great addition with side quests to help you gain points or unlock certain abilities. With the goal of making this second game bigger than the first, side quests helped with adding exploration in the game. Another nice thing was that a lot of the friendly characters gathered in a "safe-zone" area called the Wellspring Glades. Here you can speak to characters that might sell you maps, skills, show you your stats, or even provide a way for you to help the Moki do a little remodeling in the area. It's a nice area to just hang out and do simpler tasks versus figuring out complex puzzles and fighting mean bosses. Getting to interact with these characters didn't feel like "filler" either. Doing the side quests for the Moki or helping them improve their homes felt like a different type of immersion and that was really refreshing to see in this sequel.
Overall, Ori and the Will of the Wisps delivers on a level of execution, both visually and sonically, that has to be respected. The style of storytelling in this form of video game makes them so unique and everyone at Moon Studios should be incredibly proud of this game. It's sensational and an absolute joy to play. I'll fully admit that I played starting in the late evening to the early hours of the morning. It was so much fun I couldn't put the controller down.
If you haven't played any of the Ori games by Moon Studios, please give it a go! If you've already played either one, I'd love to know your thoughts about it!