America - Front
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22nd Sep 2020 | 790 views
Before we get into the review proper, since this is a new release, let's just get the Switch port stuff out of the way first, for those who came here for that. The game runs at 900p resolution when docked, and 720p in handheld mode. The game targets 60 frames per second and achieves that standard the vast majority of the time. This isn't to say the port is without its issues: the game has some difficulties regarding loading, so sometimes you'll see pop-in when moving between areas quickly, or end up out of sight because the game's camera is waiting for the area to finish loading - in three or four occasions, I even got stuck out of bounds because the game hadn't loaded collision yet. The game also crashes somewhat often, probably mostly due to loading issues but it can happen in some pretty random times too. Thankfully, these issues are minimized by the game's backup autosaves, meaning you're never gonna lose more than a few seconds of progress, but it is annoying regardless, especially given the long initial loading time. Despite the flaws, it's a highly impressive port - hopefully the few issues do get patched out.
Edit: as of update 1.2.0, the crashing issue seems to be fixed mostly, or entirely (I played through the whole game again without a single crash). The game still has trouble loading sometimes, but this happens less frequently and doesn't seem to be leading to soft locks like before. It really does run beautifully, now with barely any technical hiccups.
Now, let's talk Ori and the Will of the Wisps.
... But how? It's so difficult to describe this experience in words, a day on from finishing it. It's heartbreaking, and heartwarming. Breathtaking. It left me speechless multiple times, and made me care about its characters in a way most games never could come close to - even its predecessor, as emotional as it was, didn't make me this invested. Just about every friendly face I came across in this journey had me rooting for them and hoping they'd find happiness, regardless of whether it was a major player in the story or just a nameless side character. And not just the friendly faces, either. Ori and the Blind Forest already had these qualities to some extent, but like everything here, Will of the Wisps has greatly improved upon all aspects of its founding game.
So, let's split this write-up in two different segments.
The game. You know, how it functions mechanically, how fun it is to play, and all that stuff.
The most obvious departure from Ori's first adventure here is the new combat system, as now the titular character attacks enemies with melee weapons, as opposed to the indirect auto-lock attacks of the original. The new combat isn't the best you'll find out there, largely due to many enemies being designed in a way that doesn't take advantage of the new mechanics, but it is a massive improvement over the combat in Blind Forest, and adds a whole new dimension to the game - even boss battles, this time! And while the bosses aren't too numerous and not always amazing, I was very impressed by a couple of these encounters.
Thankfully, the boss fights are an addition rather than a replacement - the memorable escape sequences the original game was known for are still here, with one in particular being quite breathtaking. For as much as the combat has improved, the developers here know that the game's biggest strength is its platforming. This is the area with probably the fewest improvements, since Blind Forest was already so good at it, but there were several positive changes, mostly down to a reworking of how you acquire certain power-ups, and certain new upgrades that make full use of the game's most fun mechanics, while scrapping some of the iterative, boring items you got in the second half of the previous game.
There's a new "shard" system, similar to the charms from Hollow Knight, where you can equip up to a certain amount of a wide variety of items that give you all sorts of different enhancements. One shard you acquire quite early on gives you the Climb ability. This was one of the most uninspired upgrades of the first game, being a minor upgrade to your Walljump that you only ever needed in very specific circumstances - it being an optional power-up now makes a lot more sense, as it gives you the choice to spend that one shard slot into something that'll give that little bit of extra control.
These sensible decisions and little changes are everywhere in the game, and it really feels like Moon Studios went out of their way to perfect their formula, removing or overhauling most of the stuff that wasn't too interesting, while improving even more on the things that were already good. Still, this is very much their formula - so what you're getting into is a Metroidvania that foregoes the open-ended exploration the genre is known for, and instead focuses more on making each area separate and distinct as a platforming level first and foremost. Just like the first game, there's not much worth to backtracking here except for finding optional items like additional health or money (speaking of which, turning the Spirit Light into a currency was another great little change). There's nothing like that feeling you get in the likes of Metroid or Hollow Knight, where you suddenly open up a new path to an area you've already been to, and find new major progression points you couldn't encounter before. Ori is all about platforming, not so much an interconnected world, but if that linearity made the first game a little stale, it's nothing of the sort here in Will of the Wisps. By allowing the player to at least choose the order in which they can tackle each of the major areas, it easily feels a lot more open without losing focus - in many ways, it reminds me more of classic Zelda games than Metroid, despite it technically belonging in the latter's genre. This type of game design bothered me a little bit in Blind Forest, but it's been perfected in Will of the Wisps and now I can see the issue was never the concept, just the execution.
The gameplay here is really good, nothing groundbreaking, but very well executed. As for everything else, I don't think anything in the medium comes close to this...
The work of art. Where to begin here... The visuals... The music... The story... On a sheer artistic level, this has to be up there with some of the finest creations people have made.
Gareth Coker was the composer for the first game's soundtrack, and he's back for the sequel with an even better score. This time the music is maybe a bit less catchy, but it feels a lot deeper and even more emotional. Everything about the writing, to the instrumentation featuring a live orchestra, to the production, to how it's implemented into the game, it's all done with such fine taste... Each area has such a distinct and memorable theme, and it's always so exciting when you get a new upgrade and the music gets a little more upbeat, making you feel more powerful. The music across the game is also so dynamic, it'll have you changing your TV's volume all the time if you're trying to listen to the music but not annoy the people in the other room (I know I did that a lot!), but that's a great thing especially if you're playing with headphones - that wide dynamic range really accentuates the more epic moments, while keeping the exploration music more quiet is a very sensible choice even if it is still amazing to listen to. If you open any of the game's songs in an audio editor, you're likely to see it shifting from maximum volume to very quiet multiple times, and it's not something you tend to see in any kind of music these days, certainly not game soundtracks. Another thing that's done amazingly in this score is the use of leitmotifs - there are a lot of songs here that reuse certain melodies from the original game's main themes, and they don't get old at all, quite the opposite. Everytime one of those melodies pops up in an epic moment it just amplifies the moment even more, and the effect seems to work no matter how many god damn times it happens. If I had to pick some of my favorites from this beautiful score, I'd have to mention A Shrine Upon Inkwater Marsh, Dashing and Bashing, Luma Pools, and a certain escape sequence (this last one's a spoiler!). But probably my very favorite song here is the Main Theme, which kept me staring at the title screen for the better part of half an hour when I first booted up the game. It was so wonderful, I couldn't stop watching and enjoying it for as long as it felt right... but of course, that is also in large part due to the beautiful sight I was being shown.
I don't have nearly as much to say about the graphics as I did about the music, but what I can say is that... Ori and the Blind Forest was up there as one of the prettiest games I had ever played. The art was so beautiful and clearly made with so much care - I remember reading how the whole world was hand-drawn with no reused assets anywhere -, and the artstyle had this charm to it that was unlike anything else in the industry. In fact, it was the game's visuals that first drew me to it, when I saw glimpses of it for the first time at The Game Awards 2015 (yeah, I know). I was very much expecting Will of the Wisps to continue looking as gorgeous as its predecessor, but I was wrong. It looks far better. I don't know exactly what happened here, other than the characters themselves now being 3D models instead of 2D animation, but something happened, because the game looks so much nicer than its predecessor. It wowed me like nothing else, and I don't mean that lightly. It's the prettiest game I've ever played. At several points, the art itself made me emotional much in the same way the story and the music do. That's how good it was.
As for the story, well... it's really, really hard to talk about it without wanting to spoil anything for those who haven't played it. Blind Forest was already a story-driven game, but it never felt like anything important happened between the opening and the ending. Will of the Wisps, on the other hand, has major plot points occurring in the present time (not flashbacks) in several moments across the experience, and it feels like an ever-evolving tale, with an innocent beginning and an incredibly profound conclusion. Although there are many twists and turns over the course of the game, nothing in there feels forced in by the writers, in fact it's quite the opposite - the story feels exactly as it should be. I talked earlier about caring a lot about every character, and there is a reason why that feeling is so powerful: not everyone can be saved. There is a certain sidequest in the game that ends in quite a sad way, and from that moment on I realized that I could take nothing for granted. If I found anyone in a dangerous place or situation, I feared that they wouldn't be able to overcome it - and on the occasions where they did, it always made me feel incredibly happy and relieved. The characters in the world of Ori are so cute and innocent, it's really hard to accept that there can be tragedy in there, but it is another area in which Will of the Wisps feels like it has grown and matured over its predecessor. It's no longer playing with your emotions just for the sake of it, this time the stakes are very real. And when everything can be at stake, you will become attached to people, in hope that everything - or, as much as possible - will turn out okay. It's one of the finest examples of storytelling in videogames, all while using rather minimalistic dialogue, and it all builds up to an ending that will stay with you forever.
(This image isn't from the ending, don't worry, I'm not that senseless!)
The best works of art are those where you don't associate them with the people who made them. As a musician myself, when I listen to some of my worse tracks, I often think about how I should've done better - but when I listen to some of the better ones, it's just "I love this song". To me, it doesn't feel like those better works were written by myself, just like... they came to be, and it just so happened that they came through me. Of course, a creator's experiences and artistic direction will always dictate what their product will be like, but Ori and the Will of the Wisps is a sequel that feels absolutely right. At no point in the game did I ever feel like Moon Studios should have done that one thing differently, and at no point did I feel like Moon Studios got it right with that part. It always just felt like Ori and the Will of the Wisps, the sequel to Ori and the Blind Forest, exactly as it is, as it should be.
If it sounds like I'm taking credit away from them by saying art "just comes to be", it's... quite the opposite, really. The best artists are those who have these strokes of inspiration, and manage to follow along the ride without interfering with it in an unnatural way. That's the biggest compliment I could give to the people at Moon Studios.
(converted to 9.7 out of 10)