Gareth Coker’s astoundingly beautiful score for Ori And The Blind Forest is nothing short of a musical masterpiece. Need I say more?
How do I even begin to talk about this score. When I first heard it I was amazed – beyond that even, I was absolutely spellbound. There you go, that’s a good introductory sentence. Here’s another; a long time ago, at a time before I had ever laid ears on Gareth Coker’s orchestral wonder that is Ori, I must admit that I held a bit of a…prejudice against videogame music. Back then I had listened to a wide variety of film and television score and had dabbled in only a select few game ones, and from them had come to the conclusion that game music was usually far inferior (compositionally-speaking), disorganised and overly lengthy album-wise and generally – not worth my time. This I believed however, until I began playing Ori And The Blind Forest. Right as the game began I was suddenly immersed in this warm, gentle, and breathtakingly wondrous orchestral world, and I knew within just a few minutes that I had not only been wrong about game music, but completely, utterly and catastrophically incorrect. To this day, Ori remains one of my favourite scores of all time.
Let’s start with those opening minutes then – the moments that proved to me once and for all that not only could videogame music stand together with film and television – it could surpass it, by quite some degree. Ori, Lost In The Storm begins softly, with warm strings starting things off followed closely by wonder-filled vocals. Light percussive instruments and piano notes also flow gently in the background, and together all these different elements then gracefully introduce the score’s main theme; a calming, delicate and rather wistful motif that does a simply incredible job of not only representing Ori as a character but also the gentle, dream-like (at first, anyway) forest where the game is set. At only a minute long the cue expertly builds tone and atmosphere, and flows seamlessly into subsequent track Naru, Embracing The Light.
A light, playful piano takes centre stage here with percussion and strings swirling in the background, and upbeat woodwinds then arrive in the second half to boost up the track’s lively, cheerful nature. Calling Out then initially doubles down on the slower, more peaceful side of things with quiet woodwinds and a continually calming piano, before crashing drums arrive alongside dramatic vocals, introducing a brief hint of danger before then vanishing just as quickly as they arrived. Solemnity and sadness then creeps into the score in The Blinded Forest, where high-pitched strings and a sombre piano deliver several minutes of pensive, almost heart-breaking score that’s as mournful as it is beautiful. This rather depressed tone then continues into the opening seconds of Inspiriting, before rumbling percussion and somewhat hopeful vocals begin to rise and loud brass arrives to play a particularly powerful rendition of the main Ori theme to then close out the game’s rather emotional prologue.
A gentle, near sorrowful piano opens First Steps Into Sunken Glades, with light strings initially taking a position in the background before moving into main focus at about the ninety second mark. This piece overall serves as more of an atmospheric or world-building piece than the previous more narrative driven tracks, and this is something that the score now sort of settles into as the player begins to explore the game world. Up The Spirit Caverns Walls is a great example of this. The just over five minute long cue centres its focus on ambience, utilising strings and woodwinds to great atmospheric effect and introducing a new motif to represent the aforementioned Spirit Caverns, with elements of the main Ori theme cropping up here and there to keep things thematically grounded. The Spirit Tree then brings the main theme in fully, playing it rather beautifully on high-pitched strings and near ethereal vocals. Kuro’s Tale I – Her Rage then brings a shade of darkness into the score, adding crashing drums and loud, dramatic brass to the musical mix alongside a particularly distressed rendition of the main theme.
Thornfelt Swamp returns to the world-building ambience of previous cues, but this time bringing an element of darkness into its tone as well as a touch of solemnity. A sombre piano plays the main theme at various intervals with looming, not quite oppressive but certainly imposing electronics fading in and out of the background. Down The Moon Grotto then cheers things up a bit, introducing a new environmental motif in a similar manner to the Spirit Caverns and moving back into the light woodwinds and soothing strings combination introduced earlier in the album. The Ancestral Trees then brings in the main theme via some rather upbeat piano notes, with gentle strings and heavenly vocals stirring in the background before the peace is then shattered by Breaking Through The Trap, a fast-paced percussion-heavy cue that gives the score its first taste of action before then ending just as quickly and jarringly as it arrived. To calm things back down, Climbing The Ginso Tree then reintroduces the backing environment of light woodwinds and quiet percussion, with the main Ori theme occasionally floating through in the background. Towards the end of the piece the theme enters centre stage somewhat apprehensively on piano, and the music overall seems just that little bit tenser despite its gentle instrumentation, as if the track itself is aware of what’s to come.
A crashing of cymbals opens Restoring The Light, Facing The Dark, with rapid percussion and an intense new piano melody following quickly behind it. This new “action theme” contains several elements from the main Ori motif but in a more streamlined, intensified manner, and it gets a thankfully lengthy showcase here with just over two minutes of fast-paced action score. The mood then settles back down into calming atmosphere with The Waters Cleansed and Lost In The Misty Woods, where the established woodwinds and high-pitched strings return together with several appearances from the main Ori theme. Escaping The Ruins begins gently with the main theme on piano before then diving right back into action territory at forty seconds in, bringing rapid percussion and woodwinds into the fray before then unleashing the epic new action motif once more. This doesn’t last for long however before darkness begins to take over the score again with Kuro’s Tale II – Her Pain, where intense vocals, imposing brass and at times mournful strings tell a rather gloomy musical tale.
Peaceful woodwinds and light percussion are the centre of attention in Riding The Wind, another more ambient but nonetheless enjoyable five minute cue that does a great job of building up to Completing The Circle, one of the best pieces of music on the album. Quiet woodwinds open the track, with more fast-paced percussion building in the background before strings enter the fray and the music feels like it practically explodes with grandiosity. At about a minute into the cue its one of the soundtrack’s most epic moments, and one that should certainly not be overlooked. Solemn vocals then pensively sing the opening notes of the main theme in Approaching The End, before a piano arrives to play it through in its entirety, though this time rather sorrowfully. Rumbling brass then rudely interrupts this moment of tranquility with Mount Horu, and the album starts to fall into darkness and gloom again with slow strings and ominous electronics, though things do get a little more hopeful towards the end of the piece as near ethereal vocals arrive.
Tension forms the musical backbone of The Crumbling Path, where low-pitched, ominous-sounding piano notes along with quiet, worrisome vocals occupy the background and a shortened, more focused rendition of the main Ori theme takes centre stage. Loud, striking vocals then open Fleeing Kuro, with strings arriving quickly afterwards to introduce another new motif; this time a more action-focused, anxious piece that does a pretty excellent job of setting you on edge for the entirety of the track’s near four minute runtime. Things then slow right back down for The Sacrifice, where a once again gentle piano plays the opening notes of the main theme before the ethereal vocals return along with brass for a particularly loud, dramatic and triumphant musical moment. To end the piece quiet vocals then arrive, humming sections of the main theme before the final, standout cue arrives; Light Of Nibel. Gareth Coker kept a real treat in store to close out the album, which begins with a vocal-heavy and truly beautiful rendition of the main Ori theme before the pace then picks up and the action motif returns for one last heroic appearance. For the final moments of both the cue and the score, the main theme then comes back for one last piano-based farewell, and the album then closes just as magnificently as it began.
Overall, Gareth Coker’s score for Ori And The Blind Forest is astonishingly, breathtakingly beautiful. The orchestral style is simply phenomenal, with the composer utilising percussion, vocals, brass and particularly strings to great emotional effect across the score. Woven throughout is also a truly excellent main theme, which not only thematically ties the entire album together but is also used to just the right extent; not too much, and thankfully not too little. At just under ninety minutes long the score is also a pretty perfect balance of action and ambience, with both appearing just enough to interest without overstaying their welcome, which is a rare feat in soundtrack design, particularly that of videogames (which tend to be overly long). All-in, I honestly have nothing negative to say, Coker’s Ori And The Blind Forest is superb, and I loved every minute of it. Perfect Score? Oh my, yes.
Ori And The Will of the Wisps, here we come.
Standout Cue: 32. Light Of Nibel