Release Date: April 29, 2014Platform: PS4 (reviewed), Xbox One, PS3, Xbox 360, PC, Wii UDeveloper: Ubisoft MontrealPublisher: UbisoftGenre: Platforming, RPG
Child of Light is a breezy new breed of role-playing games from Ubisoft Montreal, thanks to a shiny presentation and wonderfully relaxing level design. It follows the tale of a young red-headed girl named Aurora, who embarks on a quest across the fabled dream world of Lemuria. She eventually befriends a little blue firefly creature named Igniculus to help her light the way along their journey, and who also becomes a unique and crucial component of the actual gameplay. By infusing an old-school JRPG battle system with ethereal exploration of a truly magical world, Child of Light is a refreshing adventure in the face of dark danger.
In the real world, Aurora passes away one night and leaves her father, the Duke, on his deathbed with worry. Child of Light offers tiny glimpses into this parallel storyline as Aurora makes her way through the magical world of Lemuria in order to acquire the stars, the moon, and the sun so she can return to her father’s side. The storyline always managed to hold my attention (despite a few predictable plot twists near the end), and I actually started to feel for Aurora and her little band of misfit party members: from an entrepreneurial mouse, to a teenage wizard with a massive beard, to a circus jester who just can’t seem to get the hang of that rhyming thing.
Sadly, this “rhyming thing” is one of the biggest missteps here in Child of Light’s story. Ubisoft Montreal made the decision to have everything rhyme in the game, and while it works pretty well in the third-person narrated segments, it often falls flat on its face during moments of dialogue. As different characters converse, they will finish each other’s rhymes, which often leads to characters making nonsensical and ridiculous statements for the sake of finishing a rhyme, and big stretches to make half-rhymes really sound like they were full rhymes. Sometimes the flow of the attempted rhyming is just botched altogether, and detracts from what the narrative is actually trying to get across, plot wise.
Exploring the enchanting realm of Lemuria is easily the strongest aspect of Child of Light, as Aurora and Igniculus glide across one gorgeously painted backdrop after the next: from a shimmering forest, to an abandoned town on the cusp of a windmill-covered plain, to an underwater treasure trove, the handful of locations Aurora will travel and platform through are positively gleaming with creativity and dreamy artistic design. The soothing soundtrack only adds to the game’s whimsical atmosphere, and it actually makes it feel like you are playing inside of a dream.
The combat system in Child of Light utilizes a Time Battle approach made famous by older JRPGs like certain Final Fantasy games and Grandia II. Basically, every character on the screen has a designated icon that’s constantly moving back and forth on a battle meter at the bottom of the screen. Once an icon makes its way into the “Cast” zone, then you’ll get to choose an action to be performed in the order in which the competing icons reach the end of the time bar. Naturally, this leads to many of the attacks and potions in the game to influence a character’s speed or slow-down effects in regards to this timed battle meter. You can even use Igniculus to slow down select enemies right in the heat of the battle, or heal your own players in gradual doses.
The battles certainly serve to round out the entire package, and they are all paced just right so that they never overtake the story or other aspects of the gameplay. It also helps that Aurora and each party member are given a small, but sensible arsenal of attacks to choose from, based on different elemental properties like fire, water, and light. The emphasis here is placed on quickly swapping out party members, rather than accumulating a hundred different attack options for a single character, most of which you’d never even use. You can even add special elemental-based buffers to your fighters by finding and creating different types of oculi in a simple crafting system.
Outside of battle, there’s actually a lot for Aurora to do in each intricate environment. Igniculus also comes in handy on more than one occasion. The little firefly can help light your way in dark spaces, open treasure chests that are just out of reach, and solve the occasional environmental light puzzle. If you’re not a big fan of the combat system, Child of Light actually lets you skip most of the battle encounters other than boss fights or the some-odd quest that requires you to fully clear out an area of baddies. Simply use Igniculus to blind an enemy with his light to allow Aurora to pass right over them and avoid the battle completely.
The game’s length also feels just about right, although admittedly it IS more on the short side: I finished my first playthrough in about 8 hours or so, dying only a handful of times (of which there is no penalty, other than restarting at almost the exact same spot where you died). Ubisoft tries to pad the game’s length a bit by adding a handful of side quests known as Lemurian Requests, but most of these are fairly obtuse in their descriptions of what needs to be done, and they tend to focus on backtracking through previously completed areas more than anything else.
The funny thing about it is that Child of Light actually FEELS like a full length 25-hour RPG, but boiled down and streamlined into a neat little package. For instance, everything in the game moves at a blistering pace to accommodate for the brisk length of Aurora’s journey: you’ll acquire new party members on a pretty speedy basis; hidden chests and consumables are always plentiful and easy to find; and everyone in your party will go up a level or two after almost every battle.
But to be fair, the rapid nature of progression in the game, along with Child of Light’s rather easy difficulty, often renders certain elements in later chapters almost inconsequential. This is mostly felt in the oculi crafting system, which I used maybe once or twice at the beginning of the game, but never felt a need to invest a whole lot of time in it. Even the sprawling skill tree branches begin to suffer before long, as Aurora and her friends will level up so quickly that I soon found myself randomly applying skill points without bothering to really read their descriptions.
While its brief length and fairly linear structure might not warrant a ton of replay value after your final confrontation with the Queen of the Night has come and gone, there is just way too much beauty in the land of Lemuria for you to not get immersed in Child of Light’s wonderful charm, hit-or-miss rhyming and all.