THE 2015 platform-adventure game Ori and the Blind Forest struck a chord with gamers – from its beautiful music and gorgeous art style to a touching story, it quickly gained a wide appeal and plenty of critical acclaim too.
Four years later, developers Moon Studio and publisher Microsoft are putting the finish touches on its eagerly awaited sequel, Ori and the Will of the Wisps.
With the game due out on March 11, I spoke with two of the game’s development team to get some insights into what fans can expect from Ori’s second outing.
Moon Studios executive producer Daniel Smith said the team’s number one focus going into Ori and the Will of the Wisps was carrying the spirit of the previous game and everything made it great into the new title
“As we added a lot of new features to the sequel, we wanted to make sure it felt cohesive, so players felt that all of those new features always belonged in Ori and the Blind Forest,” he said.
“We want fans, who are die-hards of Blind Forest, to pick up Will of the Wisps and immediately feel like, “Ah, I’m home”, while at the same time, anybody who is new to the drama, have it feel fresh and exciting.”
Lead composer Gareth Coker said the multiple new characters in the game gave him more opportunities to write theme music for them, in contrast to the previous game which was largely focussed on Ori.
“Whereas this game, you spend quite a lot of time with the sub-characters, so there’s more melodies to work with,” he said.
“What that means is when I really need to use Ori’s theme – I call it the Golden Bullet, because Ori’s theme, especially for anyone who has played the first game, will be incredibly powerful, especially if it’s not overused.
“I only use it when I believe that it truly matters. That was something that me and the design team came to agreement early on, we were like, ‘Let’s avoid using Ori’s main theme, only using it when it truly will have maximum impact’.”
Mr Smith said the game had been optimised for the Xbox One X with 4K HDR graphics, and the team of 3D artists had done a wonderful job bringing the game to life – particularly the large bosses.
“In terms of tech, and art tech, I think people will notice right away the difference in the environments themselves, they just live and breathe so much more,” he said.
“Everything’s very physical, everything is very reactive to Ori’s movements – all of the set dressing is alive.”
There were some very sad and touching moments in the previous game, and Mr Smith said that would definitely be the case for Will of the Wisps too.
“You can probably expect to cry again,” he said.
“The story within the first game had a lot of moments of joy and a lot of moments of sadness. I feel like this had an impact on the Metroidvania genre all up – I don’t believe we’ve really seen a Metroidvania game, before Blind Forest, that had such an emotional impact on people, and more importantly in people who related to specific characters.”
Mr Smith said it was crazy how the development team managed to achieve all that with only four characters in Blind Forest, so the sequel offered a huge opportunity to go bigger and deeper.
“It was a pillar of ours to make the story as emotionally impactful, if not more so, to everybody who played Blind Forest,” he said.
“We simply loved people writing about how they related to specific characters, or moments, in Blind Forest.
We had a lot of people reaching out to tell us about how they lost a loved one and found solace with the game and the characters. I think we’ll get some of that in Will of the Wisps, and I think that’s exciting.”
Mr Smith also confirmed the story continues on from the end of Blind Forest; it begins with the egg from the end of that game hatching.
“For fans who completed Blind Forest, they’ll notice that there’s a very clear continuation of the storyline,” he said.
“That’s said, there’s more or less a reason why we didn’t call the sequel Ori 2; we also want this to be a fresh approach for anyone who’s new to the franchise.
“We want them to pick up Ori and the Will of the Wisps and get going right off. We want it feel like a fresh game that they don’t need to have all this reference or law from the first game to play.”
The game has been in development for four years, Mr Smith said, with a lot of blood, sweat and tears involved too.
“I feel there’s a lot of very personal passion from every key member who’s worked on the game to get it to where it is now,” he said.
“We’ve had early indicators that people are loving the game and it’s going to feel amazing to release this, we really care deeply about what the entire community thinks of the game.”
Bringing the game to life had involved its challenges, both development team members said, with Mr Smith pointing to the number of new systems in particular.
“The combat has been completely revamped, there’s a whole new shared system that’s replaced the skill tree, and large boss fights which we never had in Blind Forest,” he said.
“There’s also a lot of accessibility options for those people who want a lower skill level to engage in the game, so there’s difficulty settings.
“There’s a lot of moving parts that, at one time, felt very compartmentalised and separated. I feel like we’ve gotten the game balanced and fine-tuned to where a lot of these elements complement each other. everything feels cohesive. I think making sure that all these differing elements are cohesive has been one of the biggest challenges.
“Another challenge we came up against is that the game is three times the size, scope and scale of the first game. Getting the world to feel rich and captivating enough to get people’s attention from every moment they play in a game that’s much, much, much larger was a big challenge.”
Music helps bring an experience like the Ori games together and Mr Coker said one of the challenges for the game was bringing all the disparate elements of the work – like art, music and gameplay – together in synergy,
“It’s something we managed to achieve on the first game and you kind of hope you can catch that lightning in the bottle again,” he said.
“Because we had to spend a while defining how we want to make this game better, it took us a while to get to that point. In the last year of development, we’ve really seen things come together in the same way as it did on the first game but in a much larger game.
“It’s been a challenge to get to that point, but it’s always cool to see all the elements working in harmony.”
Ori And The Will Of The Wisps is out on PC and Xbox One on March 11th.