Ori And The Will Of The Wisps is an excellently composed and gorgeously orchestrated sequel to Gareth Coker’s beautiful Blind Forest score. In short; it was absolutely worth the wait.
Ori And The Blind Forest is one of my favourite scores of all time. Naturally, you can imagine my excitement and anticipation for Gareth Coker’s latest soundtrack release, the long-awaited sequel to Ori and one that is quite literally filled to the brim with new material – as it’s three hours long. As such, you might want to strap yourselves in, as this is probably going to be a rather lengthy review.
Light, fluttering strings open Main Theme, and it’s not long at all before the titular motif itself arrives – on melancholic, almost wistful vocals. Within thirty seconds, Will Of The Wisps has managed to completely and utterly perfectly recapture the fantastic musical identity of the first score, and by the end of the sadly short ninety second opening cue, we have floated gently back down into the dream-like atmosphere of Ori like we had never left. As opening tracks go, this one really works. To start the score proper, we are then introduced to a brand new woodwind-based theme with We Named Her Ku, another fairly short cue but one that again wastes no time in establishing its mood – a lighter, more upbeat feeling to represent the game’s new character Ku, an owl. Uplifting strings and woodwinds then continue the happy mood in A Yearning For The Sky, with the main Ori theme arriving on piano halfway through to help boost the tone. Things then quieten down for A Keepsake From The Past, a slow, peaceful cue that focuses more on singular woodwind-based instrumentation for much of its two minute runtime. A rumbling of drums then begins Ku’s First Flight, and before long the aforementioned character’s new motif arrives in a loud and soaring manner on vocals, accompanied by soothing percussion and the occasional note or two from Ori’s theme. The tone turns rather dramatic towards the end however as loud, threatening brass and ominous vocals arrive – closing out the piece on a curiously worrying note.
Pensivity is then the focus of subsequent cue Separated By The Storm, where quiet strings and a rather solemn piano play out a particularly melancholic rendition of the new theme for Ku. Additional, warmer strings then arrive at the two minute mark, lightening the mood slightly but not deviating from the continually sombre tone. Hope then rises up in Now Use The Light, We Want To See, with bright, upbeat vocals opening the piece before strings and gentle piano notes join the fray. Ori and Ku’s respective themes are then played in a pensive yet quietly hopeful manner at various intervals through the remainder of the cue. A Shine Upon Inkwater Marsh then focuses on piano, with Ori’s motif appearing near the start to brighten things up a bit. On a bit of a side note – one thing that I am always happy to hear in sequel scores is thematic continuity, so it’s really great to hear Ori’s theme return in such frequency here. Things then get quite atmospheric with Overlooking The Mill, which is what sounds like our first proper environment-based track of the album. Blind Forest had quite a few of these – quiet, ambient mood-setters that are just so utterly relaxing to listen to, and this one in particular is simply sublime.
The score then takes a rather dark and depressing tonal turn with The Eyes Of Kwolok. Low-pitched, morose woodwinds open the piece with some rather ominous-sounding strings and percussive instruments then arriving a minute or so in. Ku’s theme then brightens things up a bit in the back half of the cue, and the new upbeat yet slightly ominous tone is then continued through into Kwolok’s Hollow, a three minute piece that serves more of an atmosphere-establishing purpose, utilising the same instrumental and stylistic combinations as that of the previous track. Loud, dramatic brass is then the centrepiece of the rather short Meeting With Kwolok, with Ori’s theme making a brief and quietly hopeful appearance towards the end. Lighter, more spirited woodwinds then begin Sanctuary In The Glades, a decidedly more cheerful track that I found particularly reminiscent of the happier atmospheric setpieces of Blind Forest‘s score. Following cues The Ancient Wellspring and A Look Inside also continue in much the same mood-setting vein. The first hints of action music then arrive with Trouble Within, where rapid percussion and tense woodwinds occupy the majority of the track’s sadly short but still quite enjoyable forty second runtime.
Action then vanishes just as quickly as it came with Turn, Turn, Turn Again, and quiet calm descends over the album once more with light percussion and gentle strings. There is also however a slight hint of tension throughout the cue, perhaps indicating at musical events to come. Amelioration then kicks the pace up a notch with rapid percussion and elevated strings, as well having a few note-based nods to both Ori and Ku’s motifs towards the end. Loud, menacing brass then bursts into the score with Escaping A Foul Presence, and the rapidity of the previous track then continues in the back half with many a frantic appearance from the main Ori theme. It’s not long however before hope returns (if only for a short while) in Reunification, where dramatic vocals and spirited strings play out a particularly rousing rendition of Ku’s theme. Sadness then envelops the score in Fading Of The Light, opening with ominous vocals and quiet woodwinds before a wistful piano and decidedly solemn strings then arrive to really hammer the sorrow home. To top it all off, the vocals then return right at the end for a loud and near heartbreaking rendition of Ori’s theme. The Story Of Niwen then picks up right where it leaves off, with a melancholic Ori’s motif appearing once again, this time on reticent woodwinds and melancholic strings.
Almost horror-esque strings open Shadows Of Mouldwood, switching the atmosphere instantly from solemn to frankly spine-chilling. A piano arrives at about a minute in to add a hint of the now staple peacefulness to the music, but it isn’t long before this then disappates, giving way to sombre strings and eerie-sounding vocals. Mora The Spider then doubles down on the scary mood, elevating it with intimidatingly loud vocals and in-your-face percussion. A particularly frantic and rather fragmented Ori’s theme also appears a few minutes in alongside rapid, tense strings, making overall for one of the more hair-rising action pieces on the album. Things then calm down considerably for Luma Pools, another quietly atmospheric environmental piece that makes excellent use of peaceful vocals and a particularly soothing piano. This calm doesn’t last long though as menacing brass and some very intimidating vocals then arrive with Kwolok’s Malaise, and these alongside the dramatic backing percussion make for quite a villainous-sounding piece of music overall. Ori’s theme then returns in Resolution In Paradise, a cue that brings things back into happier musical territory with an upbeat piano, optimistic vocal work and some rather cheery string instruments. Baur’s Reach continues this hope with rousing vocals to start before then moving onto peaceful woodwinds and gentle strings. So far, Will Of The Wisps is making for a very relaxing listen (mostly, anyway), though if I’m honest it doesn’t quite have the same momentum that the first one did. Perhaps this is just because of the decidedly lengthier three hour runtime, though.
In Wonderment Of Winter is an absolutely fantastic track title, and a pretty enjoyable cue to boot. Hopeful woodwinds open the piece, with rapid strings and dramatic vocals then joining the fray. The back half is particularly good, with the woodwinds taking centre stage for a rather uplifting performance before the track draws to a close. Escape With The Memory Of The Forest then kicks the action back into gear with loud percussion and frantic strings, bringing both Ori and Ku’s themes back in for their most epic performances yet before sadly then coming to quite a short finish. Atmosphere then takes back over with The Windswept Wastes (again, these track titles are stellar), and you really have to hand it to Gareth Coker – mood-setting is his strength. Simply sit back for three and a half minutes of pure, utter relaxation. Burrowing then kicks tension back into the score, with some not quite fast-paced but certainly not slow strings along with rather worried-sounding woodwinds and percussive instruments. Approaching The Ruins then continues in a similar vein while also bringing Ori’s theme back into the mix, though this time in an uncharacteristically concerned manner on strings. Switching back up again, The Windswept Ruins sets a considerably melancholic mood with the Ori motif on woodwinds and pensive strings, before Seir then adds almost mournful vocals into the mix alongside some light and rather wistful percussion.
A fast percussive pace starts off Escaping The Sandworm, joined swiftly by tense strings and a particularly dramatic rendition of Ori’s theme. Things calm down slightly for the track’s back half, with the main theme returning again for a spectacularly heroic playthrough on brass before the cue then closes. We then get a few more slow, gentle atmospheric cues with Willows End and Decay before things start to reach a bit of a finale with the rather emotional The Spirit Willow, where solemn strings and dramatic brass play out a particularly powerful and uplifting rendition of Ori’s theme. The standout action cue then arrives with Shriek And Ori, a thankfully lengthy six minute cue featuring frantic percussion, tense strings and several superbly epic playthroughs of the main Ori theme towards the end. It’s the cue I’ve been waiting for the entire album, and boy was it worth it. Mournful vocals then return for the slow and saddened Remaining In Darkness, with both Ori and Ku’s motifs then returning in similarly pensive fashion for much of A Stirring Of Memories. To close this absolutely wonderful album off, Coker then treats us to the beautiful Ori, Embracing The Light. Here the titular character’s motif gets several tear-jerking farewells in fantastic-sounding orchestral majesty. As album conclusions go…I cried.
Overall, Gareth Coker’s score for Ori And The Will Of The Wisps is, much like the first one – utterly, breathtakingly gorgeous. The orchestration is once again sublime, with the woodwinds and vocals being particularly standout. It was great to hear Ori’s beautiful theme again, and I’m very glad that not only did it remain present throughout the album, it also had some of its most dazzling renditions yet. Ku’s theme was also great, though it perhaps could have done with a little more album presence. One minor nitpick I did have was that the album did feel a little disorganised (likely because of its three hour length). On the whole though, Will Of The Wisps more than lives up to its predecessor, and in a similar fashion will likely go on to be one of my favourite scores around.
Did Gareth Coker knock it out of the park? Of course he did.
Standout Cue: 60. Ori, Embracing The Light