Ori, a human spirit
Ori, round 2 ! In the first article we went through Nibel and Niwen, now things are getting serious, it’s time to have a closer look at the hero, Ori, and their relationships with the NPCs. What does the game teach us about the little spirit ? A lot of good things ! Here we go.
(All the images and game files (audio & video) are property of Moon Studios & Gareth Coker. Screenshots and videos are from my own gameplay unless there’s a mentioned source)
Ori is a forest spirit ; despite this spiritual origin (they’re a child of the Spirit Tree), many things about them are decidedly human. Both games of the Ori franchise emphasize very human feelings, motherhood for the first, through Naru who adopts Ori and Kuro who loses her children, and brotherhood for the second, with the strong relationship between Ori and Ku. We could find an ecological message in these games, but honestly, if we look at the choice of covers for each of the games, the emphasis is put on the relationships between the protagonists and how Ori will be shown ; for the first game we see Naru smiling, holding Ori asleep in her arms, rocking them : Ori is seen as a child, and the game will treat them as such (we will come back to this).
For the second game, Ori is standing back to back with Ku their adoptive sister : it is Ori as the little owl’s sibling that will be explored.
There is also on each of these covers a tree, the Spirit Tree for the first and the Spirit Willow for the second. They are key elements since they represent the hero’s origin, then their sacrifice : the spiritual nature of Ori is challenged by their human upbringing and relationships, and the two games will lead to a kind of choice between these two natures in order to save Niwen as well as the relatives and friends of the little spirit.
When I mention humanity, of course some aspects of the characters are not purely human, but Ori features animals – and spirits – who are very humanized, by their bipedalism (by the way, where are Gumo’s organs ? His head is perfectly spherical, which has nothing to do with it, but where are his organs ? He at least needs a stomach, what the hell !) and the emotions we can see them feeling.
It’s very classic (and logical) to see anthropomorphic animals when they are the main characters of a game although Seasons After Fall’s playable character is a non-humanized fox, unlike the little hero of Tunic, also a fox, who does rolls as if he were in a Souls game and fights with a sword while having reached the ultimate level of cuteness.
But it takes a particular dimension in Ori given how expressive the characters are (despite the few dialogues, especially in O&BF in which only Sein actually speaks) and how their feelings are humanized with great accuracy : we see them laughing, suffering (too much, too much suffering !) ; the prologue of the second game is moreover very striking : following the end of the first game, Ori’s waiting as the birth of their adoptive sister is imminent.
Ori’s story is above all the evolution of a little being, from birth to adulthood.
At the beginning of the game, it is indeed the birth of Ori that we witness : we first see them as a leaf of the Spirit Tree, a spirit leaf if you will, then when Naru finds them, the leaf transforms and they’re already a cute little creature, who deserves without any doubt the title of living plush toy.
Then they’re shown as a child, who accompanies their mother in the harvest, helps her build a bridge, shows courage when the forest, blinded, deprives them of food (a forest spirit eats fruit, that’s good to know if you want to befriend one). After that, the drama begins, everyone dies. Yes, yes, Naru then Ori. But without them, no game, so they will come back to life. How convenient.
Even the DLC, added in the Definitive Edition, explores Ori’s family even more and especially childhood, evoking Naru’s youth with her father and and her sadly brief connection with two forest spirits.
To reinforce what I was writing about the strong humanization of the characters, we see Naru’s father giving her a very sonorous kiss, and, more prosaically, both of them cooking with a cauldron. Do you know many animals that have a cauldron ? I don’t.
The figure of the child dominates in the first game until the very last image, the egg Kuro saved, cracking : a new birth. Ori thus gets a different position in their family ; the whole forest of Nibel could be the symbol of childhood (in particular the Ginso Tree, I’ll come back to it).
Many other characters also have family roles, which reinforces Ori’s position as a child in O&BF.
We don’t know how much time elapses between Ori’s birth and the Light Ceremony that will lead to Nibel’s decline, but the prologue suggests that it is not immediately after, precisely by the way the bond between the two characters seems to be established : there’s a drawing of Ori and Naru next to the nest where the little hero sleeps, they build a bridge together (Naru’s teaching, Ori’s learning, and it’s something that seems well-established), they seem to share everything ; moreover, Ori stays with Naru after the forest has been saved, not with the other spirits.
Not much is needed to make the bond between mother and child meaningful : to Naru’s smile when she holds Ori against her at the very beginning, answers the one she addresses to them to reassure them, whereas she is sacrificing herself for them : she suffers but as soon as they look at her, worried for her, Naru smiles while refusing the last fruit.
Before that, the way she looks at them, eyes wide open, smiling while they are both hiding away in Swallow’s Nest mixes worry and strength, so as not to let anything show in front of her child.
When Gumo brings her back to life thanks to the Gumons’ knowledge (a mix of magic and technology), her first (and only) decision is to leave for Mount Horu, looking for Ori, decision that she will take again in O&WW to find her two endangered children : she will do anything for them.
In the same way, at the beginning of O&WW, Gumo appears as a very fatherly figure ; we can guess in the first game that the character will be important : we see him in the foreground at the end of the prologue, while Ori fights in the forest and then in the Spirit Caves, still in the foreground.
He uses the knowledge of his fellow Gumons to bring Naru back to life, accompanies her when she leaves in search of Ori and naturally settles in Swallow’s Nest. We see him calling Ori at Ku’s birth, but above all the two little creatures call on him to repair Ku’s wing : the Gumons were engineers (not that it is really necessary to tie a feather with a bit of string, but it is a way of recalling his past). I think Naru could have done the task with great ease (she builds anything you want), but Gumo needed to be highlighted as well.
His role as a father is also reflected in a detail that always makes me smile : when Ku finally takes flight, in the foreground we see him make the gesture of flapping his wings, to encourage her as a parent would. I think Ku knows about that, Gumo, it was the plumage that was the issue.
Kuro & Mora
Both mother figures and child figures are highlighted in the Ori games since we have of course as the main antagonist of O&BF Kuro, whose rage was triggered by the loss of three of her children during the Light Ceremony ; there’s also Mora in O&WW, immediately joined after the fight which opposes her to Ori by one of her babies (a moment which earns its place in the top 3 adorbs moments of the franchise), which comes to raise one of her legs as if to help her and then snuggle with her. Awwww.
Finally, the owls meeting Shriek are interrupted by their parents. Their reaction is portrayed without a word, dramatically and seemingly animal-like, but it is rather human (alas). It is so intense that one of the owls, putting their head forward when threatening Shriek, hides the little children, as if to show that this decision is not theirs. They are hidden again (voluntarily this time) at the end of the scene.
Speaking of which, concerning the respective antagonists of the two Ori games, they are treated – seemingly – a bit differently. At first sight, Kuro does not appear as humanized, while Shriek is presented another way especially thanks to the scene she shares with the three little owls (including Kuro perhaps as a nod) and especially, after Ori has defeated her, she returns to her parents, petrified by the decline of the Silent Woods. But what characterizes them is an extreme reaction facing a tragic event (for Kuro) or rejection due to an infirmity (for Shriek), reaction which turns… to genocide. But finally, wouldn’t this cruelty pushed to the extreme be a way to humanize them ?
A sibling, a friend
After Kuro sacrificed herself to save her last child, Naru and Gumo take care of this egg, Ori will thus become sibling. The whole prologue of the second game is centered on this relationship, since it begins with Ori, eyes in the horizon, waiting for the birth of their sister, their reverie interrupted by Gumo : that’s it, Ku is born.
They carry her in their arms, and over the months, the years maybe, help her when she learns to walk, tries to fly. Above all, they will be a support when it becomes too difficult for her to be far from her fellow creatures as she’s still unable to fly : they find Kuro’s feather so that she can finally fly away, and Ori accompanies her in her journey.
The flight is real but also metaphorical (ah, I had to talk about metaphors !) : it is time for them to grow up, to leave Swallow’s Nest, without Naru nor Gumo, for Niwen.
After being separated from Ku, Ori’s interactions with the NPCs show that their place within their family has changed : with the Mokis, they’re like with their sister a rather brotherly figure, the one who will complete quests, look for a small talisman, retrieve a lost object, warn a family in danger (ah, the Moki’s family in the Silent Woods… another fun story… no Moki ended up as a statue, I promise).
It’s similar with Grom or Tuley from the Wellspring Glades, we act as an apprentice (well, we don’t do much, we watch them randomly hit things with a hammer and plant a few seeds, but you get the idea). And unlike in O&BF where we were just helped by a spirit light, here Kwolok is different from a fatherly figure, he’s rather a kind of master, a guide, which could have seemed strange in the first game.
These aren’t particularly innovative interactions or quests, but they make a lot of sense because of Ori’s careful characterization.
Although their personality responds, as I had mentioned in the previous article, to codes of the tale, Ori is an extremely defined hero. They almost never speak, only listen to Sein during the whole first game, but the rich cutscenes as well as the animation and sound design give Ori a strong character, readable emotions, where Hollow Knight‘s vessel supposedly felt no emotion and remained mysterious though for me very endearing (even if Silksong comes out one day – of course it will ! – and is even better than Hollow Knight, I will always remain faithful to the first game : the little vessel is my favorite character).
We see them for a long time helping her to build a bridge to collect fruits ; they go from joy to anxiety when they see their weakened mother, then find the courage to go and get some fruits to save her.
In the second game, Ori wakes up Gumo by tickling his face with a feather, showing their bond with Ku.
In a shot of the trailer (shot that does not appear like this in the game, the character however remained) we see them showing great curiosity as they meet Twillen, the elusive shards guy :
…Curiosity that we find in the game when they touch the racing pedestals or when they’re at the bottom of a wall and turn their gaze upwards as if to examine it (it’s much less cute when they do this while being chased by a giant sandworm and I destroy the RB button on the controller to make them dive into the sand, in vain. Always blame the game and/or the hardware, always. Why does it work on any snow or sand wall EXCEPT during the Sandworm chase ? Sadness).
Then they meet Grom, and there again we can reasonably speak of extra-cuteness when we see their surprised look, wondering where this voice comes from, then they see the Gorlek, squinting, shielding their eyes with their hand : these are very nice details in the animation that reinforce their humanity by showing how they react to others.
Their relationship with Ku is very touching, Ku who also shows all her humanity, the loss of her mother, her loneliness, her desire to join the other birds and fly with them (she “air-flies” while looking at them). Ori is compassionate and does everything to help her : the scene when they find Kuro’s feather in their secret box is also a beautiful illustration of their character (I really like how the sound design gives a more tender character to the scene : the objects’ sound isn’t realistic when Ori throws them behind them).
The fact that Ku is flying thanks to Kuro’s feather is a very strong symbol : she carries something that belonged to her mother and it allows her to emancipate herself.
I recently read that Ku was supposed to die after Shriek’s attack ; quite sincerely, I don’t see what Ori could have done after that, except to let themselves die : their bond with Ku is so strong, from the beginning (it’s even stronger than with Naru : as soon as Ori carries baby Ku, the little owl snuggles up to them), that I can’t imagine how it would have been possible to make the story progress from Ku’s death.
The Mokis also show a beautiful range of feelings : from curiosity (who is this little spirit sleeping in the rain ? Who is this spirit that confronts Howl ? It’s funny, we see them during the fight, they appear in the background and flee once Howl has been scared away to find little Ori and give them the spirit blade), affection, even friendship, sadness when Ku is wounded : the scene is very beautiful when they meditate in front of the owl, their faces turned towards the ground, almost as if in prayer.
They also grow during the game : at the beginning rather curious but shy, they do not leave Ku when she is suffering and Ori can trust them.
I used to flee, now I attack !
But Ori evolves : from (only) child they become sibling and you can feel it (but, really, can you ? Can you feel it ? Sorry) in the gameplay and the way they attack. In the first game, Ori is alone in the forest : Naru is dead, the little spirit (the little child) is completely left to themselves until the discovery of Sein who attacks in their place. Indeed, the first game of the Ori franchise has this particularity that it is through Sein that the hero attacks : they have no weapon, rather a light orb that launches one or more spirit flames. According to the developers, this was a way to combine the need for an attack with the particularity that Ori is a “fleeing” hero.
Indeed, the second distinctive element in the Ori games is the emphasis on platforming rather than combat (especially in the first game) ; therefore, bosses in O&BF are actually escape sequences : Ori escapes a deluge inside the Ginso Tree, a storm within the Forlorn Ruins and finally the antagonist Kuro in a burning forest.
In Ori this ranged attack works very well (I found it strange at first, got used to it, and then in O&WW it’s the spirit blade that I found strange… Contradictions, you know).
Recently, ENDER LILIES : Quietus of the Knight also used a gameplay in which the playable character doesn’t attack but is protected by spirits that appear and attack in her place ; this seems a bit less organic because the playable character protects herself when her spirit attacks, as if she didn’t want to look, and the standard attack mostly comes in series of three, which interrupts the movement a bit but it makes sense with the playable character’s design.
In Ori, although the hero doesn’t attack themselves, this hinders the speed of the gameplay even less as Sein attacks very quickly.
Nevertheless, the first enemies we meet underline this escape since they are the famous… um… giant toads ? No idea what they are, in any case they have a very aggressive pattern, they jump very forward and the safest way is to run away from them while attacking. Good old attack, run, attack, run technique.
But Ori can hit now !
After the Ginso Tree, this approach is a bit different because in that dungeon, Ori acquires a skill that allows them to attack : the famous bash, quite unique. You can redirect the enemies’ projectiles or the enemies themselves and thus kill them. With this skill, the gameplay changes since instead of avoiding the enemies by letting Sein attack, you can move towards the enemies by making your way with them, like this :
Ori grows as their approach to enemies changes drastically – this is always the skill I’m looking forward to the most as I know it will open up a lot of movement and attack possibilities. This is why, for me, the Ginso Tree is, in addition to being an extremely pleasant dungeon, a very strong symbol of evolution in this forest of childhood, a step.
This escape is not necessarily synonymous with weakness : Ori escapes the dangers of the forest (otherwise they would die (choose your favorite) drowned in the Ginso tree, frozen in the Forlorn Ruins or burned within Mount Horu) ; this reaction reinforces their human aspect : they’re precisely aware of this danger and does not face it blindly (in Hollow Knight, the humanity of the playable character is very complex to apprehend – for example, is their attack a reflex ? – and this kind of puzzle would seem a bit strange : the only time we have to escape from something is when the Cast-Off Shell collapses after we have recovered the King’s Brand, and there we necessarily fail – it is indeed scripted to see Hornet’s reaction, who saves us from danger and leaves without a word, as usual).
In the second game, we immediately see the evolution of Ori thanks to the presence of Ku : they take care of their adoptive sister, comfort her and encourage her when they find her mother’s feather, to finally leave with her. The goal of the second game is to restore Niwen’s balance, to save it from decline in order to save Ku, attacked and left for dead by Shriek (a very sad moment again), Ori is thus in a more active posture : at first they look for Ku, then face the forest’s mysteries and dangers to save her.
They want to progress, to move forward, they don’t intend to escape, this is why the second game puts much more emphasis on combat : there are more enemies and especially real bosses, but always some escapes (some in complete replacement of a boss (the Wellspring, Baur’s Peak, the Sandworm), sometimes in short section before a boss – Howl & Kwolok – or between two phases of a fight – Mora & Shriek) ; and to highlight that Ori is now taking the initiative in this new adventure, from now on it is they who attack. First with a flaming torch, then with spirit weapons ; we can even speak of a complete arsenal, since they have a sword, a bow, a light burst ability, the flash (an aura of light damaging enemies) and in addition to that they can acquire : the blaze (a fire skill), the spirit star (a boomerang attack), the spike (a light spear), a sentry (a bit like Sein but with a much greater range, and when it is not attacking, it has the shape of a butterfly. An attacking butterfly, Moon Studios, you like turning cute things into monsters, right ?) and most importantly THE HAMMER. In capital letters, of course. No kidding, the hammer. And some spirit shards on top of that. That’s a bit much.
In general, Moon Studios seems to have a certain inclination to turn lovable characters into killing machines, the developers themselves finding that Kuro tried genocide after all (those poor spirits), the Spirit Tree is responsible for the death of Kuro’s three children, Ori becomes in the second game a killing machine (try the bow with the right fragments and enjoy)…
I have already detailed here the ambivalence of combat, almost cathartic when you’re attacking basic enemies but more poignant when it comes to bosses.
Stronger than me ?
The mechanics also diversify in the second game, and sometimes Ori takes the lead : they choose to face enemies in combat shrines, or compare themselves to other spirits in races (spirit trials). This idea that Ori can choose, this idea of additional challenges (which weren’t in O&BF) illustrates how their position has changed in relation to the world around them. One could almost say that all this is a training for the little spirit (even if it’s more for the player), before facing dungeons and bosses.
They also have to carefully choose their weapons (and spirit shards), like Link’s radial menu (in Skyward Sword for example), it is no longer a passive ability tree, and also from now on Ori can heal, more actively than in the first game, and with a very badass pose.
It’s also a story that they don’t experience alone : there are NPCs in O&WW, and these are synonymous with help, modest if we think about the Mokis (but they are cute) and the merchants, because when there’s combat, there’s also fancy weapons and better shards to buy (if we choose the right ones, Ori becomes almost invincible, to be honest).
In O&BF, they were almost alone, accompanied by Sein who talked to them from time to time, but the two other characters (except the antagonist) were not here at their side, we knew very little of Naru and Gumo’s story since Naru was resurrected by Gumo only after the second dungeon, thus in the last third of the game.
This is still the case in the second game : Gumo and Naru are with Ori and Ku at the beginning and at the end of the game, in between we see them only briefly, we’re not that close to them : it is still a metaphor of individual construction, Ori and Ku’s adventure is lived without their parents, they face dangers alone.
Witness and actor
Ori’s story is told in a very explicit way : a narrator with a very deep voice can regularly be heard, it’s the Spirit Tree in O&BF and they turn out to be Ori in O&WW (according to the end of the game) ; this intended distance is part of the storytelling elements.
The characterization of the characters, through a rather emphatic animation (we’ll see that in a few paragraphs, don’t leave right away), puts even more accent on the story they live.
At the same time, Ori, in both games but especially the first one, is a witness. They discover the history of the forest, they react (reactions that Sein verbalizes) to what they learn. We see this, for example, when they look at Kuro’s egg or when visiting the Windtorn Ruins ; when they enter the Silent Woods, they look at the petrified owls (Shriek’s parents) ; they are therefore an actor but also a spectator, a witness to the pain of the antagonists whose backstory they always learn, a witness to the suffering they (the antagonists) have caused.
If some things cannot be undone, Ori can however bring help or show some kindness, friendship : in various degrees with the Mokis, with a lot of tenderness in front of the distress of their sister Ku, even towards the antagonists when they prevent Seir from attacking Shriek, then in a position of weakness and clearly frightened (she closes her eyes and turns her head when Seir charges their attack then stares at Ori during a short moment, as if astonished by their gesture) ; Ori is undoubtedly an altruistic character, quality that they’re going to take as far as sacrifice.
Finally, after being shown as a child then as a brother, they become an adult through their sacrifice (which they won’t actually live, not in a human form anyway), becoming Niwen’s new Spirit Tree, and incidentally, as we discover at the very end, the narrator of the whole story. Each forest thus seems to represent a transition, an adventure to be lived in order to pass from one state to another, from one age to another, it is almost allegorical.
The image of the passing of time concludes this Ori cycle : the first game ends on vibrant colors (green and blue when the forest “regains its sight”) ; the second one ends on a sunset, then night, while Naru rests against the new tree to which Ori gave birth : it’s the end of a lifetime for some characters, the end of an adventure for the player (the Ori games are in my case very immersive by their sonic and visual beauty, their nervous and inventive gameplay, as well as the empathy easily created with the characters), of a cycle for the developers (it seems to me that the Ori franchise won’t be explored after this game – at least not for now).
The loop closes on several levels, since at the very end we find the graphic palette of the beginning of the game, when Ori is under the storm, but it is also similar to the beginning of the prologue of the first game, when the leaf that’s coming off Ori-tree recalls Ori-spirit that came off the Spirit Tree during the storm.
An animation (sound and vision !)
O&BF is almost a silent game except for Sein’s dialogue, who appears as a rather loquacious spirit. Neither Naru nor Gumo are seen talking, nor Kuro.
O&WW being richer in NPCs, one could think it is more talkative. This is partly true. We are in a rather classic system where we only hear a few syllables for each NPC intervention, even for those who reveal a large part of the lore (Kwolok and Baur among others). But surprisingly, for the characters closest to Ori, their family, there is no dialogue. Only Ori shouts Ku’s name when they’re looking for her. Apart from that, neither Ku, nor Gumo (well, ok, sometimes Gumo growls a little and says his name) nor even Naru speak. For these characters, everything is done through animation and music, hence the need for a certain emphasis on their attitudes to make their emotions very readable even without dialogue.
I’m always fascinated to see that you can make emotions, a relationship, extremely readable with very little. Look at the Dung Defender (I so love the Dung Defender) – the little knight is supposed to be with them :
Everything is perfectly understandable, and yet his eyes are simply drawn. But their shape, quite big, convex, as well as the posture, slightly forward to show his interest towards the little knight but not too much so as not to be intimidating, his hands on his thighs to show he won’t attack, perfectly show the respect, the affection the Defender has for the hero.
Ori‘s graphic style is more detailed, more realistic too, but not completely, it sometimes has a “painted” feel to it (unlike Braid though, which looks like a painting that would have just come to life).
Especially, concerning the characters (anyway imaginary for the most part – I never met anything like Gumo in my life, but maybe I didn’t go to the right places) the faces remain rather simple (Naru’s for instance) ; Moon Studios never hid their strong Princess Mononoke inspiration.
To compensate for this, the postures and reactions of the characters are often emphatic. While the animation of Ori’s platforming is very lively, everything that is specific to the cutscenes or the interactions (with the merchants for example), the emotions, will be slower, more emphatic.
Thus Naru has only a few poses when she meets Ori : dazzled, she then moves her head forward to see them better, approaches to take them and hugs them, in a rather slow rhythm. Moreover in this prologue there are many short ellipses : before building the bridge, Naru shows Ori the trees on the other side of the lake then we see only a few steps, which also gives the impression that this day is very long, that this is their whole life (it makes the bond between the two characters even stronger).
Another example : when Gumo enters the Forlorn Ruins and discovers the dead Gumons, his reaction isn’t spectacular : he slowly blinks while looking around, stunned, and then crouches while putting a hand on one of the Gumons. The scene is short yet its rhythm is slow, Gumo’s two attitudes are very emphatic, but his reaction is perfectly translated and we are even more easily in empathy with him.
Ori is often seen with a distraught Ku to show her some support, we see them hesitating, cautious with the desperate owlet who’s slowly shaking her head while moving away to watch the other birds near the lake (you can watch the scene here).
But let’s take a closer look at the animation of Ori‘s playable characters. This is what we call a high quality transition.
Ku has very expressive eyes, and it’s quite funny : when she refuses fruits and prefers slugs (owlets don’t eat peaches, that’s basic nutritional knowledge), she closes her eyes and shakes her head.
We read her anxiety when she hears Shriek’s heavy steps when she has just found Ori : the way the characters look at Shriek in this scene speaks for itself, Ori does not take their eyes off her and looks much less worried than their little sister, who’s glancing at Ori and Shriek alternately : again it’s a way to show Ori’s protective role (it’s Ori who tells Ku to hide behind a tree stump) as well as their strength : they know that they will have to face her sooner or later ; their posture is more determined, their head froward – but we still see their breathing speeding up.
Yet Ku manages to change her attitude, and there’s a mutual protection between the two characters : shortly after this first impressive meeting, a game of hide-and-seek starts between Shriek and the two little heroes, but when Shriek attacks Ori directly, Ku changes her attitude as we see the look in her eyes ; it was fear, now it’s anger : having no other choice, glaring at Shriek, she waves her wings and shakes her head defiantly to then return to a more childish attitude, when she staggers at the end of the platform (her attention is no longer on Shriek at this time). It’s both extremely cute and perfectly unwatchable : Shriek doesn’t hesitate to attack the owlet when she’s at her most vulnerable.
Another little detail : at the very end of the game, when Ori has merged with Seir to become the new Spirit Tree and the plant starts growing, we see Ku blinking frantically, as if she couldn’t believe it. That is also very cute. Ku is cuteness (and Baba is you. Wait, what ?).
Ku has a little more interactions because she is one of the playable characters : in the Silent Woods, after finding her, we go on to a gameplay section where we fly with her, and there again the animation is remarkable because, and that’s a very nice detail, Ku looks down when she flies, to underline her lack of confidence (we saw in the prologue she struggled when learning to fly).
In the case of Ori, the main playable character, the animation obviously covers different aspects : the game animation, the movements, and the little spirit’s emotions (Ori’s ears that fall down when they’re sad. It is well known, when you’re sad, plop, the ears fall down. Yeah, plop, that’s the sound).
The animation of Ori emphasizes their human character. We see them breathing when they talk to other NPCs, or when they’re static (we also see their little tail moving, it’s very cute) – it shows that they’re mortal ; they yawn, stretch (it’s the first action we see them do in the first game) : they’re a child, undeniably.
Physically, they’re very agile (they do wall jumps with their hooves !) and their movements show quite a childish joie de vivre (the way they run, very fast, their arms backwards, their jumps : they have a little salto if you time several successive jumps correctly) ; when they jump on the spring plants they do spins and we often hear them shouting for joy (when they jump or when they obtain a new power – we hear it at the very end)
Their liveliness is underlined by the physics, which are quite… “slippery” when you are on some narrow platforms : the little guy can’t hold still (I do tend to make said little guy move a bit too much). The movement being fast, there is no latency : you run and dash instantly (for example, in Rayman Legends, there’s a short latency when you want to run or fly – it’s short, but it’s there : it feels different ; the jump is slower anyway).
The spatialization of the sound emphasizes the hero’s speed, as we hear the sound effects (Ori’s and the world’s) pass from one ear to the other depending on our position on the screen and our distance from enemies and objects.
More generally, the gameplay offers a lot of freedom and you can easily play with your abilities (or your weapons) to go where you are not necessarily supposed to go (no need for flowers to explore the Glades !).
Even their evolution is highlighted in the abilities they have : they’re even more acrobatic in the second game, as if they had grown and gained power ; thus, they can swing on horizontal branches to propel themselves and have a Mario-like animation when they’re doing a handstand on some branches. On one hand ! Before sprinting they’re in position, ready to run.
The second game is generally vaster, especially more vertical and faster : in addition to the famous bash that Ori finds again much to my joy, the grapple ability, the launch (the equivalent of a bash without enemy or projectile : Ori propels themselves in any direction), multiple dashes (the usual one, the water dash and the burrowing ability) allow to reach great heights even faster (Grapple is more efficient than Charge Jump in the first one, which did not go that high and required to be, well, charged – duh !) : the vertical dimension is more used (in Baur’s Reach for example, where the Light Burst ability allows you to reach greater heights, and in the last fight you can’t put your foot on the ground in the last phase, since there is no ground !). The locations themselves now provide us with new mays to move, such as the physics of the wheels in the mill : by turning the building’s mechanisms back on, we can propel ourselves and reach high places (Heelloooo, Lupo).
All of Ori’s moves, already very pleasant and dynamic in O&BF, are now even more connected, as if to show their power, their mastery. The Spring Plants have been improved : there are no jumping levels (before you had to keep the jump button pressed while jumping on these flowers to jump higher, in the second game this is no longer necessary), you are directly propelled.
On top of that, the moves are even more organic, the dash in particular, reworked, shorter but better integrated because Ori makes a roll instead of being vigorously pulled forward, and its cooldown is extremely short. The sound design of the dash is also better integrated because it’s more discreet (I tend to spam the dash as soon as I can and in O&BF, it’s quite noisy) : the dash of O&BF was an addition from the Definitive Edition, so it wasn’t necessary to finish the game, while in O&WW it’s there almost from the beginning.
Precisely, the sound design reinforces the animation and underlines the character and the reactions of Ori although they’re almost silent : if we listen to the jump (sorry, the woosh) on the Spring Plants :
There are three elements : the propulsion (the contact with the trampoline, quite percussive – in any case very brief), a “lasso” effect (which transcribes the spin that Ori makes when they jump on these trampolines – yes, they’re already that good) and Ori’s cry, as if surprised and amused by the experience. Logically, when they make a double jump, we only hear the sound of the jump itself. It would appear – and I can understand – that it’s less fun than being propelled several meters high (or sometimes diagonally) by a cyan blue plant with butterflies all around.
Another very well-rendered effect is the sound when you save your game on a spirit well :
As with the animation, it’s in two parts : Ori performs a spin on the well and then makes a funny little movement with their front paws, to show their zen attitude, in the sound design we therefore have (after an element acting as a feedback) the sound of the spin (the same as for the spring plants) with a last element crescendo, calmer and more crystalline, the spiritual aspect of the wells powered with spirit light, which accompanies Ori’s relaxed posture and synchronizes perfectly with their little paw movement. Paws or hands? Good question… In any case Ori is a biped. Do they have opposable thumbs ? Second existential question, to which my plush gives the answer : they have opposable thumbs, three fingers, so I would say that they have hands.
Beyond the sound design, to finish giving Ori a personality and a unique dimension, they have of course their own theme : when the vessel’s leitmotiv in Hollow Knight is very poignant because it refers to a function, that of all the vessels in the kingdom, the games of the Ori franchise have a named hero, completely shaped psychologically : when we hear it in an escape sequence or a boss theme, it’s Ori who expresses themselves, it’s Ori we’re talking about.
Ori’s humanity is also shown through their fragility.
Dead or alive ?
Ori may be a spirit, but they’re far from being immortal (so many deaths for my first run…) and if the sound design shows them as an active character, by the very detailed foley, it does not fail to emphasize the mortal character of the little hero, not always in a positive way.
Their sound design often features small screams as I mentioned above, but also of very light breaths, gasps, when they jump (like in the triple jump) ; they’re not the only one because many NPCs have a sound design based on breath (Mora!).
When they swim and go back to the surface, we hear them take their breath noisily (there are nine sound effects, I chose one of the highest-pitched) ; when they get hit, they scream (so that we understand that they took a hit, eh)
They’re also a little guy who dies before the beginning of the game, in the introductory cutscene, in Psycho mode, the hero is killed after a few minutes ; we see them without any strength, walking on their fists, literally throwing themselves to move forward, their paw stretched out, trembling. Sadness.
Fortunately they’re resurrected by the Spirit Tree, without which there would be no game (but sometimes There is no Game), and even before we really start playing, we already have a lot of empathy for them : we have seen them be born, die and be brought back to life before our eyes.
But Ori is a die and retry (the first one especially) and Moon Studio surely thought : “If we’re going to make a die and retry, we might as well insist on the fact that the hero dies“. So we have a nice drowning animation, in which Ori puts their hand to their throat and then we see their lifeless body floating as a little bubble pops underwater : it is very unspectacular, very realistic and therefore quite confusing. Apparently, Ori was supposed to have more violent deaths. That’s enough, Moon Studios ! Otherwise, they explode in a bloodless way.
Nevertheless, each type of death has its sound design. The height is reached when Ori dies in the lava. The sound speaks (no pun intended) for itself : we hear them burning.
When they’re instakilled by a laser, we hear them shouting, broken into a thousand pieces by the laser.
In Ku’s case, when she falls into the swamps of the Silent Woods, her little scream is just as disturbing. I didn’t manage to find it among the 2400 sound files, I do apologize. Here it is in a video :
Despite this clear suffering, the gameplay manages to maintain a small distance as there is no interruption when Ori gets hit : in Death’s Door, our little playable bird falls heavily to the ground and the music muffles a lot when you’ve just been hit, as in Hollow Knight where the little vessel has a different posture when they only have one HP left, leaning forward, panting (they did the same in Greak : Memories of Azur).
Ori is shown in danger throughout the game, by the fact that they’re on the run and so small in front of the blinded forest and its dangers : many times they suffer dizzying falls, they’re Kuro’s prey : after the Ginso Tree escape, and especially when Nibel’s ablaze, while they’re about to bring back Sein in the Spirit Tree, Kuro takes Ori in her claws, crushes them (we clearly see that she exerts a pressure like she did with Sein at the beginning, she wants to kill them) before throwing them on the ground, as Naru rushes to help them.
In the second one it is rather Ku who’s in danger ; Ori goes to look for her, there is an evolution. The sound design of the deaths is still disturbing, but Ori is nevertheless seen differently, they suffer less (there are moreover very few instakills, which is nice in a game that challenges you not to die. Not even once ! Well, if you want the achievement, since – if I’m correct – there is no one-life mode in O&WW, contrary to O&BF. I’m not there yet). In this regard, the presence of NPCs helps because it allows them to interact, they make themselves useful and especially create bonds with the little Mokis.
Small detail : Ori has a ledge grab which is integrated with fluidity to the movements of the little spirit ; this kind of element can bring some humanity (life ?) to a character because it gives them reactivity to the environment in which they evolve, in addition to showing some dynamism (for example with Hornet who will have a more dynamic gameplay in Silksong) since it requires strength, and at the same time it can highlight the character’s effort thus a certain weakness. No such thing for Hollow Knight’s little hero, and it was very well chosen. It emphasized the only moment when we saw them in a real situation of weakness, when after the ascent of the Abyss they watched the Hollow Knight and the Pale King both standing at the platform overhanging their birthplace before falling down.
Adara, one of the playable characters in Greak : Memories of Azur has a very particular ledge grab : she puts her hands and feet on the ledge she is climbing : her effort is clearly visible.
Ori also has an animation when they’re on the edge of a platform (a classic) :
Or hanging from a rope :
Ori’s attitude in their run is interesting too : they Naruto-run (like Gris, the eponymous character from the wonderful video game I’ve talked about at length – sorry, you have to do internal linking in a blog), body and head very much forward, which is quite surprising, especially for O&BF because they don’t seem to be trying to protect themselves despite how hostile the world around them now is. They’re not the only one running forward : the playable luchador from Guacamelee! moves very intensely, also very forward (even too much, it’s unrealistic but it’s a way to accentuate the athletic aspect, it looks graphic because the character is tall, at the same time the run is slower than Ori’s because the luchador is much more powerful – well, if Ori brings their spirit hammer, I doubt that the luchador will survive) ; here it’s a less active run, not necessarily for the purpose of exploration, but a bit more passive, discovery, which does turn into exploration in the second game since Ori has a personal goal at that point.
In the excellent Katana Zero, the playable character also runs this way, arms behind him, but it looks quite different :
And of course there’s Sonic ! He has his Naruto-run too, like everybody else, but where the determined posture of the blue hedgehog translates his crazy speed, for Ori it’s a completely different effect : it’s slower and especially more organic ; their tail undulates, their ears too, their arms (a little), I find that, besides the discovery/exploration aspect I mentioned above, in O&WW it amplifies the beautiful design of Niwen’s forest, where the platforms are completely part of the landscape : Ori moves like the platforms do.
Ori’s fragility, and even that of other NPCs (notably Ku) is always seen in a positive way : they’re not clumsy (on the contrary, they’re extremely agile), they’re just in danger because they’re surrounded by monsters (often disproportionate) : they do extraordinary things and put themselves in danger for the sake of others. For instance, after the Wellspring chase sequence, Ori falls (as usual you might say) and while regaigning consciousness the first thing the Mokis say to them is that they’re brave, very brave. And soggy, but that’s a fact. A soggy light being ? Wait a minute !
Ku’s weakness (her having trouble learning to fly in the prologue) is related to her disability, not to clumsiness, whereas Link (Link ? Link ! What the hell are you doing here ? Well, there is a triforce in O&BF) is often shown in a weak situation in a rather humorous way (the game over motif for instance, or even Link’s sound design during combat).
A forest spirit
Wouldn’t you be a spirit ?
However, Ori is a spirit, therefore they have kept some very distinctive “spirit” features : when they yawn, or wake up, we hear a strange sound, as if the sound effect was played in reverse, and it’s bathed in an aura, like the light around them (I can always imagine Ori in a Twin Peaks-like dream…) :
They’re also a little guy who shine(s ?) a lot, what the NPCs spend their time to tell them, and that the game itself highlights by some light effects (they create light effects on pretty much everything, Ori IS the light). They can’t hide the trail of light that follows them all the time, as if they were ripping through the air (like their fellow spirits), as well as the small particles of light that come off them like petals.
They’re also modeled very differently from the other NPCs, if you look at Opher and Ori side by side, Opher seems almost made of… clay (it makes sense, he is more agile than Ori), while Ori seems to be made of pure light. Well, they are. Classy.
We hardly hear it, but when Naru meets Ori in the prologue of the first game, the sound of Ori-feather when they fly during the storm is very surprising but reminds us that Ori is no ordinary feather :
You move really well, you know !
And then, Ori is a metroidvania essentially focused on platforming, and known for its very versatile and, for some, original movements (notably the bash, signature ability of the Ori games) ; Ori therefore has quite phenomenal moving abilities, and once again the animation will emphasize it.
Ori‘s characters (and objects) are animated in “squash” mode : they are deformed in a non-realistic way to give more amplitude to their movements. Thus, during a jump the legs will become very small when you land (it can give the impression of a very strong and fast fall and a rebound just as dynamic), during the jump itself the proportions of Ori’s body will completely change (their tail becomes bigger, their body stretches).
Even Ku is deformed when she falls into Naru’s arms after her failed flight attempt : her body lengthens, her face flattens ; I find that it makes more sense for Ori, the fact that they can deform so much can show their extraordinary nature.
In addition to that, there are the abilities you gain : during the double jump, Ori rolls into a ball, protected by their tail (in O&WW it’s even more detailed, you can see their eyes open) :
The dash consists of an elegant and swift roll (in O&WW), and there are the two other dashes, the burrow ability and the water dash where Ori seems to transform into a small torpedo.
Even in combat Ori can deform to be part of the weapon, like during the hammer’s down attack : Ori almost disappears and becomes one with their weapon.
Plants also deform :
This duality of Ori being both a forest spirit and a very humanized one is illustrated in one of the last shots of O&BF‘s epilogue in which we see Ori watching forest spirits appearing in Nibel as the spirit leaves from the Spirit Tree land on the forest, but they remain apart, waiting for Ku’s birth. Their family is an important part of their humanity (because this family is very humanized), which also makes them a very complete character, very defined, by the multiplicity of their attachments and therefore of their relationships despite their independence and the fact that we often see them alone. Despite being a spirit, we always see them interacting and helping characters who do not have this spiritual nature in them, nevertheless they do not hesitate to accept this nature with which they seem to be less close (we do not see them joining their fellow creatures at the end of O&BF but they look at them) when the time comes to save Niwen, and thus its inhabitants, from decline. They give up their humanity (they will not be able to age) to save her.
Finally, in addition to being a metaphor for Ori’s “fast-track” childhood, Nibel could also be a metaphor for Ori’s spirituality : they run away from Nibel (at first), as they would run away from their spirituality (in a way, Naru prevents them from having access to it by hiding them during the ceremony, prevents them from living it, she wants to keep them near her because it is her child and also maybe because of the link created with two spirits when she was little), spirituality which is besides an ambivalent element : if it brought Ori back to life, the Spirit Tree’s light killed Kuro’s three children, it also frightens Naru ; they must however accept the light of the ancestral trees, the powers of their fellow spirits, they must remain in Nibel to save it as well, the escape is thus not complete ; after that Ori accepts Niwen (they move differently there, they actually confront it for Ku’s sake), as they completely embrace their spirituality to save what makes their humanity. After all, Sein is as blue as Ori’s halo but Seir is almost as orange as Ku’s eyes, as if Ori’s spiritual nature was only important to them in order to save their family : first Nibel shows them who they are, then Niwen shows them for whom they live.