Child of Light Review
Child of Light Review
Genre: Platforming RPG
Release Date: April 30th 2014
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Platformed reviewed on: Wii U (Review copy)
Child of Light is a tale of two kingdoms. One, a fantasy world robbed of its celestial bodies. The other, an Austrian kingdom crumbling as the Duke despairs over his child, who can no longer wake. This is where the titular character, Aurora, begins her journey to save two kingdoms and her father. Aurora wakes in fantastical Lemuria and soon learns that the Queen of the Night has stolen the land’s sun, moon and stars. As the child of light, Aurora is tasked with saving Lemuria from the Queen, who you soon find out has ties to Aurora’s home in Austria.
Being a side-scroller, you might think the explorable environments of Child of Light would be limited. You’d be wrong, because very early in the game you gain the ability to fly. This ability gives a vertical dimension to the normally horizontal side-scroller. Controlling Aurora in flight is tight and fluid, which is good because there are obstacles such as thorns and jutting spears you’ll have to navigate around. Flying makes the ever dreadful act of backtracking easier, but does the same for avoiding battles. However, avoiding battles also means avoiding XP. It’s up to the player to decide if they want to grind or risk it and just get on with the story.
Along the way Aurora meets allies of many races to join her quest, the most important being Igniculus who turns out to be Child of Light’s best game mechanic. Igniculus is a magic Firefly who is controlled with the right stick (or the by the controls of a second player) making it simple to control Aurora and Igniculus at the same time. Igniculus’s most basic function is to shake brushes to expose wishes which can replenish Igniculus’s glow meter or Aurora’s HP and MP, which respectively represent health and magic capacity. These wishes are very similar to the lums from Rayman Origins and Rayman Legends, other Ubisoft titles, in that they yield more benefits if you collect them in the right order. Igniculus’s glow can be used to directly heal Aurora, open special chests, and stun enemies. This is useful for positioning yourself behind enemies to gain a sneak attack, which allows a member of your party to attack right away in battle. If the enemy ambushes you, they’ll be put further ahead on the timeline.
The battle system of Child of Light is very similar to Grandia II. Your party and the enemy share a Timeline where everyone’s icon races toward the Cast portion of the bar, with each character having different speed stats. Once a member of your party reaches Cast, you can then pick an action. These actions are broadly divided into Party, Flee, Potions and Act. Party is for swapping out who’s on the battlefield (which does not use up a turn) with your choice limited to two characters out at a time. Flee is self-explanatory. Potions is, you guessed it, for potions that replenish health, magic, buff your character, et cetra. Act is where you select your battle tactic. Early in the game you’ll be limited to an attack or a defense option, but as you progress you’ll gain more abilities. Attack and magic moves all have cast times, which is how long it will take between choosing your action and the action actually happening. Defense is always an instant cast and can protect you against being interrupted. Interruption is when a character is attacked while casting, which cancels their action and knocks them backward on the Timeline. This makes keeping track of yours and the enemy’s position a major factor in deciding what action you should take.
The most interesting element of Child of Light’s battle system is Igniculus. While out of battle Igniculus’ glow can be used to stun enemies and heal Aurora, in battle Igniculus is used to replenish health to party members, collect wishes and, most importantly, slow enemies on the timeline. With this ability, you now have a degree of control over your enemy’s progression on the timeline.
This is the defining feature of Child of Light: the Chemical X to the concoction that makes battles fast paced and dynamic. You must constantly be aware of the position of yourself and the enemy on the timeline along with your glow meter to protect yourself from interruptions and force enemies into them. The glow virtually removes the notion of waiting for your turn: you are always expected to be a part of the battle. It’s a sense of involvement I haven’t felt in a turn based RPG since Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door.
Early on the glow will feel overpowered, almost like you’re cheating your way through. Child of Light has a difficulty curve similar to Rayman Origins and Rayman Legends in that the game starts off very easy and has a slow crawl to reaching a good level of difficulty around 3/4 of the way through the game. The abundance of low risk battles early on puts less necessity on using Igniculus’ abilities, but many opportunities to abuse them for easy victories. Later in the game the enemies become more powerful and numerous with resistances and status ailing effects, and you’ll then find challenge juggling healing, slowing enemies, using wishes, and watching your glow meter.
The pace of leveling-up also contributes to the game’s ease, which happens frequently due to everyone in your party receiving equal experience even if they did not fight in the battle. Virtually every battle gives you a level-up, which boosts your stats and gives you a skill point, and each battle usually gifts you with oculi, for crafting, or a potion, which are so numerous and underused due to lack of necessity that by endgame you’d be able to open your own shop. And as I’ve mentioned before, Igniculus can heal Aurora outside of battles and the glow meter will recharge on its own. There are simply too many opportunities to replenish HP in and out of battle. I can honestly say I died only one time during my playthrough, and that death was because I flew past too many enemies near the beginning and right into a fight where I was under-leveled.
It is worth noting that I was playing on Normal, and there is a hard mode available from the start. There’s also a new game plus mode unlocked after beating the game that restarts the game with your current character upgrades and harder enemies.
Skill points are used in the skill trees, which grants you stat boosts and new and more powerful abilities. Since you level-up so frequently you should find yourself breezing right through the branches of your tree. You’ll be swimming in stat buffs and high-power abilities in no time.
Oculi are gems of various colors that give stat boosts that can be combined in various ways to create rarer, sometimes more powerful Oculi. Oculi are categorized by their strength as rough, tumbled, faceted and brilliant, each respectively more powerful. There’s a small chart that gives you a basic idea of what kinds of combinations will yield results, but I encourage you to experiment with combinations. Each party member has three slots for oculi, and each slot changes the effect of the oculi from adding elemental damage to attacks to increasing Timeline speed to increasing the XP you get.
A few times already I’ve compared Child of Light with the recent Rayman titles. These comparisons come about because Child of Light uses the same engine as those titles, the UbiArt engine. Each time I see a new game use the UbiArt engine I’m blown away. Child of Light is flat out stunning to look at: eye candy at its sweetest. The backgrounds create the illusion of depth with its detailed art that you begin to wonder if it’s an illusion at all. The use of brushed colors and shades makes Lemuria comes alive, and its style invokes memories of other fantasy classics like The Hobbit. Child of Light is an interactive painting worthy of praise, and the UbiArt engine is leading the way in video game art styles.
That being said, I’m surprised that such an imaginative, beautiful game would have enemies that are frankly generic and boring. Some of these enemies include rocks with faces, ghosts, ghosts on fire and anthropomorphic animals. It’s like somewhere along the way the development team used up all their creativity, leaving enemy design to suffer the fate of stereotypical RPG fodder. Admittedly, I was pretty surprised to be attacked by a ghost horse. To be clear, I’m not trying to be insulting with these enemy descriptions, there’s just never any names given for all but a few enemies.
The music in Child of Light is often very subtle, often no more than light melody. It’s more background noise than anything. Despite coming off as simple, the music does an excellent job of setting mood and is never out of sync with the situation’s tone. In this case, less is much more.
Without revealing much, Aurora’s journey is a coming-of-age story, which becomes a literal description later into the game. It’s a story that leads to lessons about the nature of a kingdom, overcoming obstacles, and letting go of heartaches. It’s also a story told, in narration and dialogue, entirely in rhyme. Everything flows like poetry, and often the dialogue of two or more characters will start and complete stanzas for each other. When gaining a new party member, there will often be short pauses after battles where members will converse with each other. Though short and few in numbers, these blips of dialogue cleanly show the personalities of your party members and gives a bit of insight into how they interact with each other. These blips exemplify Child of Light’s approach to storytelling: short, quick and to the point. While this usually gives a good balance between narrative and gameplay, there are times when the storyline’s pacing just seems abrupt.
SPOILERS HERE. For instance, there’s a part near the end of the game where some of your party members reunite with their familiars, friends and whatnot. Right then and there is where the narrative starts handing out character arc resolutions like the Wizard of Oz. Finn is recognized for his bravery, Oengus is re-embraced by his brother and clan, the scarecrow gets his brain, the tin man gets his heart, etc. It would have been much better to have more of these characters resolve these issues throughout the game rather than wrapping everything up all at once like an afterthought. Granted, some allies join fairly late into the game, but I feel there were better ways to wrap up some of the character arcs. SPOILERS END.
Child of Light is a fast paced game that shows a game can have a nice story, be visually stunning and feature interesting and dynamic gameplay. The game took me about 18 hours without completing the few side quests there are, and at $14.99 that’s not a bad length-to-cost ratio. The game’s story and characters are charming, which is only intensified by the fact that everyone rhymes. The game is poetic, but never pretentious. It’s the kind of game that I wish there were more of; that I would love to see fleshed out to a game of full retail size. It’s also the kind of game that really needs to start trusting players to be able to handle a challenge. It’s this lack of trust in player ability that really hurts the game as you won’t really face a challenge until you’re already halfway through, but the pros outweigh the cons and Child of Light delivers an exciting fantasy RPG that is unique enough in the right places to stand on its own.