Ori and the Blind Forest is a game I’d been wanting to play for months. It was universally lauded for its beauty, as well as its gameplay and if I was to give it a review I’d be saying similar things. If you haven’t played it, do so. Despite the ‘metroidvania’ structure, it is original enough with its use of the ‘energy bar’, has lovely progression and is challenging enough without becoming frustrating. There’s quite a few 2D platformers around now but this is towards the top of that list.
What hooked me, as well as seemingly many others, was the emotional punch the game delivers. You play as Ori, a joyful sprite that has grown from a leaf that fell from the Tree of Life, and is cared for deeply by the lumbering yet gentle Noru (The comparisons to Studio Ghibli are obvious). The two characters are torn apart though and Ori is tasked with bringing the light back to the Nibel forest.
However the way the two are separated is quite hard-hitting, especially how close to the beginning of the game it occurs. Without spoiling too much, the direction the game goes is equally as emotional, using the relationship between the main enemy, a large dark Owl called Kuro, and her children to reflect Ori and Noru.
From people outside the gaming community, we all know there is still that notion that video games are meant for ‘kids’, the ‘lazy’ or the ‘unemployed’ among many other ridiculous traits. Games are seen as shallow, emotionless time-wasters. As annoying as this is, it won’t go away. Video games however certainly have the ability to be heart-wrenching, and (as I’ve mentioned in previous posts) the fact that you control the pace and the characters involved is a massive influence.
There’s plenty of games that come to mind from my own experience, including the classic gut-punches such as ‘The Last of Us’, ‘Walking Dead’, and ‘Red Dead Redemption’. There’s plenty of examples from the Final Fantasy series, a huge shock in ‘The Darkness’ and even ‘Gears of War’ (2 and 3) have a decent attempt at pulling the heartstrings. There is one game though that completely blindsided me….
Elite Beat Agents. More popular now than when released due to the story I’m about to tell. I had never produced tears over a game (or film I believe) until this. EBA is a rhythm-based music game for the Nintendo DS where you must tap or slide the screen in time to the song being played. For each stage there is an accompanying story of someone in distress who requires the assistance of the agents. These stories are in the main, quite silly. A dog that is trying to find his way home, or two socialites trapped on a desert island, or Leonardo Da Vinci trying to impress a lady are what we’re dealing with.
*Spoilers ahead!* That is until the stage named ‘A Christmas Gift’. Up until this point I was very much enjoying the game, it is a well-made piece of work after all, while going along with the whimsical storylines and humming to the recognisable tunes. Suddenly the tone was completely different, with the intro to the stage revealing a family of a Mother, Father and Daughter. The Father leaves for work and makes a promise to his daughter that he’ll be back for Christmas, with a friend for her teddy. We cut to six months in the future and find that the Father died in ‘an accident’.
Already I’m on edge. I wasn’t expecting this. Suddenly ‘You’re the Inspiration’ by Chicago kicks in, a song which I had never heard before therefore the poignant lyrics were hitting me for the first time. Lucy, the daughter, is still refusing to believe her Father is gone, and recruits the agents to help her either overcome it or actually bring him back (this is left ambiguous). As the stage progresses, Lucy and her Mother (who herself is still reeling from the loss of course) find his diary, where a picture falls out showing his two girls together, as the lyrics ‘Always on my mind, in my heart, in my soul’ ring out. Yikes.
Next we go through what would have been the Father’s birthday, where the wind blows out the candles on his cake at the right moment. Next we see Lucy dreaming, where she is chasing after her Dad, seen from the back as a ghostly figure, and the better you perform with the song the closer she gets. The end of the dream sees him turn slightly towards the camera, Lucy wakes up and says ‘Daddy..’. The screen seems very blurry at this point for some reason!
Finally it’s Christmas again, and after tracing a star with the stylus, the song comes to a close with Lucy and her Mum standing at the front door. Ahead of them we see footsteps of a ghostly figure, then switching back to the girls with an amazed look on their face, before the camera pans from the feet of the ghost up to the face of the Father, holding a teddy bear as a present. The stage ends with the three embracing, before showing the two bears together above the words ‘Merry Christmas’.
At this point I was gone. I must have been about 17 at the time I think. I was not expecting it at all, and although it may not sound much written down, because I was the one controlling it the punch is a mighty one and I will never forget that. A game that looks so innocent from the outside, and is so tongue-in-cheek and light-hearted otherwise delivers one of the most emotional moments in my gaming history. The video, if you prefer, is here:
Describing emotions, whether it be from media or just generally, isn’t an easy thing for many people, myself included. I’m somewhat of a closed book even to my family and closest friends, yet when it comes to something like this, a 25 year-old lad can talk freely about blubbing like a baby! It’s amazing what games can do if you give them a chance.