Review: Child of Light

ChildOfLight

It is always refreshing when a video game doesn’t need to use a modern military setting or require the highest resolution or hyper realistic textures in order to convey a rich and compelling story. Relying on narrative and character building, set against a fairytale inspired world, Ubisoft Montreal’s Child of Light presents a highly enjoyable JRPG-lite adventure about a young girl, Aurora, who wakes up in a different world from her own, and sets out on a quest to return to her father.

There are several design choices that make Child of Light unique. First off, is the watercolor-style art design which the UbiArt engine (the same framework behind the last two excellent Rayman games) brings to life like a flowing, living canvas. The animation of Aurora, her eventual party members, and all of the enemies that inhabit the world of Lemuria are absolutely stunning to see in motion without relying on overly complex character models. A second unique design element is the way every line of dialog rhymes. The rhyming can feel forced at times, but the sheer fact that the this style of writing works throughout the entirety of the game is still pretty cool. And finally there is the option to allow a second player to take control over a fairly significant character in the game.

Early in the game, Aurora befriends a firefly named Igniculus who acts as both a guide and a very useful tool, by collecting hard to reach objects, illuminating dark passageways, helping solve environmental puzzles and healing party members or slowing down enemies during combat. Igniculus is also a great way to provide a second player sitting and watching the game unfold to participate as an integral part of the journey. While Aurora can fly around the 2D side-scrolling world, Igniculus can pass through walls and isn’t slowed by wind. Learning how Igniculus can serve as a beneficial second player early on means kids (or spouses or friends) can play without necessarily needing to learn the finer points of combat.

Aurora’s journey takes her through several areas of Lemuria, and along the way she meets new characters who offer to help in her quest. From decaying ruins, windy caverns, spooky forests, underwater caves to enchanted gardens, Aurora teams up with an economic-savvy mouse, a pair of circus jesters, a young bearded sorcerer in training, and an honorable warrior expelled from his tribe. These team members provide a lot of nuance and skill when it comes to battle, which is by and large the highlight of the game. I don’t want to go into much of the story because, to me that is what is so magical about this experience, the self-discovery by both Aurora and the gamer.

Combat borrows from the Active Time Battle system made famous by Final Fantasy, pitting Aurora’s party against up to three enemies at a time with a timeline bar displayed across the bottom of the screen which shows character heads moving from left to right as combat advances. On the right end of the timeline is a demarcation point which indicates when various actions can be selected. Depending on the nature of the move, the character’s head continues to move from the demarcation point to the end of the timeline. If a move or action is instant, then the head immediately moves to the end of the timeline, and the character performs the action. Short, long, or very long actions will move the character head slower from the demarcation point to the time of action, and that’s where combat gets really interesting.

Since not every spell or action is performed immediately, an enemy may perform an action that takes less time to complete and move to the end of the timeline before the heroes can act. Some spells, when they connect, will cause an interrupt to occur, and thus the action is negated and the character’s turn moves back to the beginning of the combat timeline. To counter this, some characters have the ability to paralyze or slow enemies. Managing team actions and dynamics makes for a fun mix of almost real-time combat with a large selection of spells and counter measures to quickly dispatch a group of enemies. I say almost real-time, because once a hero’s head reaches the spell demarcation point in the battle timeline, combat pauses to allow for a strategy to be devised and implemented. Igniculus also helps with regard to combat as he can be moved onto an enemy and then slow their progress along the timeline (often saving a hero from being struck and interrupted).

Part of my general dislike of traditional JRPGs is the monotonous and often necessary grinding that is required in order to level a character up. What I love about Child of Light is the fact that combat encounters can be avoided (yet they really shouldn’t be). After almost every encounter, someone in Aurora’s party has earned enough XP to level up and put a new skill point into their particular skill tree. The reward loop for engaging in combat and earning XP to boost skills is perfectly designed and makes the game fun and not a chore. Adding to the skill progression is an item modification component. Oculi are gem shards which can be slotted into each team member’s possessions for attack, defense and magic ability. These gems can be crafted into larger versions with better bonus stats as well as mixed to create new gems with different abilities. My only complaint about the crafting system is that creating better gems is not fully explained in-game, and thus learning which gems mix to make even better ones is a bit of a tedious process or requires seeking help from an FAQ outside of the game. Fortunately, Child of Light only uses oculi and potions to enhance a heroes performance and there isn’t the overly complex need to keep finding better armor or weapons for each party member.

I have to admit that I wasn’t completely sold on the concept of the game until almost halfway through. There comes a moment when Aurora makes a decision and says goodbye to her companions. At that point in the game I suddenly realized how much I had actually grown to love the minimal banter that plays out between the characters after each battle. I was sad to see my team break up, not knowing for sure whether I would see them reassemble to help complete Aurora’s quest. At that point I realized the game had its hooks in me something good.

Even though combat isn’t overly complex, it has just the right amount of challenge that you constantly need to mix up who is active in battle. What makes the switching of characters in battle nice is the fact that there isn’t a cool down period once a new character is brought to the front of battle. As soon as they are in play, their combat activity can be set in motion. There isn’t any downtime waiting for a character to be able to use their abilities. This is one of the best aspect to the game, in my opinion.

The map system, however, is not so great. The map provides a broad view of each section of Lemuria, but there is no zoomed-in view of each zone making up a region. While fast travel can be performed once a new area has been discovered, backtracking to find an NPC or an object can become tedious since fast travel points aren’t necessarily close to where an object or NPC may reside.

One final thing that brings Child of Light together so wonderfully is the music. Thematically, music plays a strong role in the characters and provides a focal point for the narrative. Calming, yet at times haunting, the music has a childlike wonderment to it with looping chords and repeating notes that provide a wonderful completeness to the game.

Child of Light is a wonderful experience with beautiful art, fun JRPG-style combat, terrific music and a neat second-player option giving control of an integral aspect of the game to whoever happens to be sitting on the couch next to the main player. While the game has a central focus on achieving Aurora’s quest to get home, there are plenty of side quests as well as collectible items to search for while exploring the world. For gamers who just can’t get enough, a New Game+ option adds another draw to keep playing once the story is complete.

BuyIt

Pros:
+ Fun combat system
+ Terrific music
+ Beautiful art style
+ Rhyming dialog
+ New Game+ adds replay
+ Clever second-player option

Cons:
– Map system isn’t great
– Side missions require a fair amount of backtracking

Game Info:
Platform: Reviewed on PS3, also available for PC, PS4, Wii U, Xbox 360 and Xbox One
Publisher: Ubisoft
Developer: Ubisoft
Release Date: 4/30/2014
Genre: JRPG
ESRB Rating: E10+
Players: 1-2
Source: Review code provided by publisher

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About the Author

Tim has been playing video games for more than 20 years. He manages to find time to game in between raising three kids and working as a network administrator. Follow Tim on Twitter @freemantim.