Oh man this game. What an emotional roller coaster. I’m about 6-7 hours in and it’s been really cool so far. The music especially impressed me, specifically during the opening of the game. It really draws you in.
The score is written by Gareth Coker, and features a number of well-known soloists. It’s so refreshing to hear woodwinds again, a family of instruments that was left behind in the recent film and game scoring world because they sounded “too classical”, or because they lacked the power that brass and strings could offer. In contrast to that, Coker’s score makes heavy use of woodwind solos, bringing back colors of the orchestra less seen today. This is the first time I’ve heard his music, and I’m excited to see where he goes after this game. Much like Austin Wintory and Journey, I hope that Ori will help put him on the map as a composer. But okay on to the game itself! SPOILERS AHEAD!
Implementation is EVERYTHING
So the prologue. There are so many awesome moments. Many people have commented that this is their favorite part, comparing it to Pixar’s film Up, and the music plays a huge role in making that opening so moving. Why is it so successful at this? Aside from the obvious answer of “it has pretty music”, the real factor is that the implementation of the music is amazing. As the game transitions from cutscene to gameplay and back, the music follows and scores it SO well, and this adds so much to the experience. This is difficult to do in games because the player determines how long certain sections take. However, the music of the prologue and other “scripted” portions of the game (such as the Ginzo Tree) are synced perfectly, because there the player only has so much time to complete the task. This allows Coker to write a score that really highlights the emotions of each moment because he can easily predict where the player will be at a certain time. He writes great music, and the strong implementation of it makes it that much better.
Connecting Characters via Music
The opening cutscene plays and we see a beautiful forest in a harsh thunderstorm, and this huge orchestra with a solo female voice as the lead. The music plays through like you would expect, and fades out to wind as you transition from cutscene to gameplay. From there, we come upon our first character, the huggable creature named Naru who looks a lot like Totoro. Ambiences play in the background, and the game sits on that screen until you move our huggable friend forward. As you do, the music slowly flows over from the big epic orchestra to a lighter feel with strings, harp, and guitar that will loop until you reach the next scene. Once Naru reaches our main character Ori, the music swiftly crossfades from the gameplay loop into the cutscene. It works so well, and completely immerses the player in the storytelling.
We awake in Ori’s home after the cutscene, and are now in control of Ori. A simple ambient loop plays as we explore the cave we call home. As we go outside, the music follows us with a harp gliss and cymbal swell and suddenly we’re in the beautiful forest with a happy orchestra chugging along with us. We hop onto Naru’s back, and the music loops until we see all the yummy fruit across the river, and they begin to build a bridge together, triggering another cutscene and a change in the music. It’s adventurous, heartwarming, and I totally fell in love with both characters.
Then the big storm hits, and once again as we move Ori towards the next cutscene, the music shifts to mirror that change. Now the forest has died, and the music has become a lot less hopeful. Unknown to Ori, Naru sacrifices herself so that Ori can eat, and passes away before Ori can bring her back some food. As the player enters the cave where Naru died, the music swells to a hit, has a brief moment of silence, and then a solo piano starts playing, emphasizing the loneliness Ori suddenly feels. Everything is synced perfectly so that as the music builds, the player doesn’t realize what’s going on, and then suddenly with the silence and solo piano, we understand what’s happening in the scene in front of us.
All of these moments I listed above would work well on their own and convey the story. However, because of the meticulous implementation and sync of the music, the narrative becomes so much stronger because the music changes are immediate, and mirror the player’s emotions and reactions so well. If Naru finds Ori without the music swell, it’s less exciting. If the music doesn’t jump in excitement when Naru and Ori decide to build the bridge, I lose connection with them. And if the music doesn’t swell and drop out when we see that Naru has passed away, we don’t feel the heartbreak in the same way that the characters do.
What about the actual gameplay?
So after the 10 minute prologue I described above, we begin to play. The music during gameplay is fairly simple, and much less synced. The game asks itself “What area is the player in?” And depending upon the answer, a different track is selected. When the player moves to the next area, the music just crossfades to the next track. There’s no battle music to switch to, the game smartly opts to just give you pretty flute and oboe melodies since as you explore the HUGE world they’ve given you. Combat sequences are too short to warrant a change in the music, and it would totally throw off the vibe. Surprisingly, the music continues to loop regardless of how long I’ve been in the area. I tend to prefer when the music goes away briefly, but the constant music certainly helps get you into the vibe of the game. Regardless, it’s written in a very unobtrusive way, which definitely helps make it listenable despite the continuous loops.
Go Play This Game
The music in Ori & The Blind Forest is beautiful, and helps immensely in conveying the storytelling. It’s strength definitely lies in the scripted moments of the game, the prologue being my favorite part so far (although the Ginzo Tree part was super cool too. Great music there.) Coker’s writing is made ten times better by some incredible implementation. Without that, the music becomes just “good”, not great or incredible.