I spoke about Ori the other day, and I still stand by all those words. It’s beautiful and wonderful and magical in all sorts of good ways.
It’s also deeply, immensely frustrating. Let’s talk a bit about why.
In most Metroidvania games the primary focusses are exploration and combat. You explore the space to find upgrades to help you explore further and shoot the things you find there.
Ori chooses a different pair of primary focusses, using exploration and movement instead. Combat is present in the same way that platforming is present in Metroid, a perfunctory nod to a system that’s intended to give variety to the major focusses.
The movement upgrades in Super Metroid serve the exploration and the combat, with the screw attack and speed boost providing new ways of engaging in combat, the others providing new ways to reach enemies to shoot. This is present even in the first two upgrades, the Morph Ball and Bomb, powers to help you reach new enemies, and then blow them up.
In Ori, all the upgrades focus on movement, and only movement. This different focus has a remarkably interesting side-effect:
There are no boss fights.
Run, run, run, run away
In Ori, the player never engages in combat with the primary antagonist, and only in one scene do we even injure the antagonist directly. But, we still have major challenges that we face, challenges that are analogous to the missing boss fights.
In Ori we are expected to repair three major Temple constructs, each of which has world-changing repurcussions when completed, and would normally have a boss battle at the end.
Ori challenges that normality by making platforming itself the boss fight, placing the player in a challenging and stressful environment and requiring them to escape using the movement tools unlocked so far. I thought this was a great idea, as Ori isn’t a combat-oriented character and the game isn’t about combat. A boss battle would have violated the theme and the style of the game and the world and broken our expectations on how things worked.
Again, from the top
Unfortunately, these were the sequences in Ori that I found the most grindingly frustrating.
Throughout the game, the player is expected to manage their checkpoints, and the game is usually good about allowing checkpoints to be spawned pretty much anywhere. This permission to checkpoint at whim drives a considerable amount of the challenge in the platforming, as once you’re through a difficult patch you can checkpoint, and relax. It’s a powerful reward.
It’s also an action you can’t take, at all, during the escape sequences.
The escape sequences in Ori are difficult, requiring considerable precision and timing to succeed at. This would be fine, but what you are escaping from is a mechanic that will instantly kill you. Every time.
Over and over and over and over until you get it just perfectly right.
Each new subsection of the escape will be filled with new hazards, that will kill you, pushing you back to the beginning of the whole sequence. What should be a challenging, stressful but ultimately satisfying sequence turns into a frustrating grind of making it far enough to discover the next thing that will kill you, dodging that, and repeating until you’ve reached the end.
This leaves that final run where the sequence is completed, what ought to be the glorious culmination of skill and precision to overcome incredible odds as merely the last episode of seething frustration. I didn’t feel glorious or rewarded or like I had mastered the mechanics when I completed these sections, I felt finally I am done that fucking awful bit.
This isn’t a good feeling.
While I was playing, I really lovedOri. It was the Metroidvania game I’ve wanted to have since I played Shadow Complex and Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet. I loved the amazing graphics, I loved that all the characters were female.
Having completed the game, do I want to replay it?
No. Categorically no.
Unlike Metroid, where I want to revisit and discover and explore more, the Forest of Ori remains more frustration than enjoyment, more endured than pleasant. I remain glad I played it, but it’s become considerably harder to recommend to anyone but those who truly love the Metroidvania style or are looking for precision platforming gaming.