Ori and the Will of the Wisps has a message about diversity and inclusion

By Heidi Nicholas,
Beyond the beautiful design and compelling gameplay of Ori and the Will of the Wisps, the highly anticipated sequel to Ori and the Blind Forest, another key philosophy of both the designers and Team Xbox in general is at play. Will of the Wisps contains a message about diversity and inclusion that ties in neatly with Xbox's desire for greater accessibility in games.

Note: Spoilers for the end of Ori and the Blind Forest ahead.
Ori and the Will of the Wisps

Ori’s journey in Blind Forest was mostly solitary, with only Sein for company and the occasional glimpse of Ori’s family. Despite that, the story was extremely effective. That’s something Dan Smith, Senior Producer at Xbox Game Studios, says they wanted to carry into the sequel.

“We had a number of design pillars that we wanted to keep and improve upon that came from Blind Forest,” Smith says. “One of those was that a number of people felt a real strong affinity to the characters in Blind Forest, and the game really resonated emotionally for a lot of people, and we were able to achieve that with four characters, which is crazy. So this time around we wanted to expand the universe of Ori”. Ori and the Will of the Wisps goes beyond the forest of Nibel and into the world beyond, and Smith says that plays into their desire to expand the game as “a much more grand adventure… one of the easier targets for us was like, “let’s just make more characters”, he added. This change was clear in my playthrough of the game’s first act. In Will of the Wisps, there’s a range of NPCs and background characters to interact and trade with. “It’s a lot of fun,” Smith says. “We hope people really fall in love with all the new characters.”

Ori and the Will of the Wisps

One of these new characters is also the newest member of Ori’s family; Ku, the teeny baby owl who we saw just begin to hatch at the end of Blind Forest. The owlet’s mother Kuro is gone, and so Ori’s adoptive mother Naru has also taken Ku under her metaphorical wing. Smith’s favourite part of the story was the love that Ku’s family has for her. “I will say that I have a very strong connection with the components of the prologue”, he says. “I have a son with special needs, and at Moon and Xbox Game Studios we really take diversity and inclusion very seriously.” Smith notes that in the prologue, when Ku hatches, she has a disability: a broken wing. She’s also born from the creature who was the main antagonist of the first game, “although misunderstood really at the end. But nevertheless Ku’s newfound family loves her immediately, and the whole primary concept of the prologue is that everybody loves her so dearly that they’re trying to teach her how to fly, because she has this very deep longing to fly. I think that’s very beautiful and very touching.”

Ori and the Will of the Wisps E3 screen 1

Microsoft is open about their desire for wider inclusivity and accessibility in gaming in general; one of their main slogans being “when everybody plays, we all win.” Their adaptive controller was a big step for accessibility in gaming. Just recently, Phil Spencer talked about the controller and about Microsoft’s goals in a podcast, saying, “”We wanted to be completely open, we didn’t want it to be an Xbox thing.” He references a tweet where a father showed how he’d used the adaptive controller and the Switch to help his daughter be able to play The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. “It is amazing to see her light up”, he says. “Everybody should play. I believe that playing video games is innately good. The more people play, the better it is for all of us.” Meanwhile, Head of Xbox Game Marketing Aaron Greenberg was recently made the honorary VP of the SpecialEffect charity. SpecialEffect works at creating equipment to help gamers with disabilities to play the games they love, with the wider goal of improving mental health, confidence, and rehabilitation.

Ori’s story revolves around a message of love. Naru adopted Ori and took on Ku, despite her mother having been the first game’s antagonist and the cause of the “Blind Forest”. Gumo becomes one of their strongest allies after Ori shows him kindness. And in Will of the Wisps, everybody loves Ku and want to help her fly. It seems that although Ori will once again be setting off alone, we’ll still be seeing snapshots of their family throughout, as they work to come back together. “Without any spoilers, yeah, you’ll see Gumo and Naru,” Smith says. “They’ll be involved in the story for sure.” Smith says the Ori team loved seeing player reactions to the storyline: “let’s take people on an emotional journey again.”

Ori and the Will of the Wisps releases on March 11th. You can check out my Ori and the Will of the Wisps first impressions and more thoughts from Xbox Game Studios’ Dan Smith ahead of launch.
Heidi Nicholas
Written by Heidi Nicholas
Hey, I'm Heidi! I've just finished studying a Masters in English Literature, but I've been obsessed with gaming since long before then. I began on the PS2 with Spyro, before graduating to the Xbox 360 and disappearing into Skyrim. I'm now a loyal RPG fan, but I still like to explore other genres — when I'm not playing Assassin's Creed Odyssey, or being lured back into Red Dead Redemption 2 or The Witcher 3!