A Beautiful Tale
Ubisoft’s Child of Light is an experiment of sorts from the company known best for churning out Assassin’s Creed every year. Based on the same UbiArt Framework that classic platformer Rayman uses, Child of Light is a side-scrolling, 2D (but gorgeously rendered) turn-based RPG about a girl who dies and winds up trapped in the fantasy world of Lemuria, striving desperately to get back to her grieving father. At $14.99 on the PC, XB1 and PS4, Child of Light isn’t the longest RPG on the market (no 40-hour romp here), but the game’s well worth the price of admission for reasons we’ll get to below. Child of Light delivers an average, but unique overall experience, and it’s a game I’d recommend to any fan of adventure games or RPGs. I played with a review copy provided to me by Ubisoft on the Playstation 4.
Gameplay – 8
Child of Light is more of an homage to JRPGs (think Final Fantasy), but with plenty of side-scrolling puzzle solving and exploration to boot. After a brief half-hour or so introductory gameplay segment, you’re given the power of flight and the whole game takes on a different feel of exploration. There are collectibles and secrets tucked away in every corner of the game world, and the side-quests you’ll happen upon send you back and forth across the game map fairly often. Thankfully there is a fast-travel option, as traversing and re-traversing a side-scrolling world is a bit repetitive.
The real meat and potatoes of any RPG though lie in the combat, right? Child of Light uses a sort of active turn-based combat. Aurora has a firefly companion that’s either controlled by the player with the right stick, or by a second player on the second controller. That’s right CoL can actually be played in a quasi-two player mode where the 2nd player controls Igniculus the faithful firefly. He can collect things throughout the world for Aurora, help her in puzzles, and aid her during combat as well by blinding enemies and healing allies. I did find that using him as a single player is fully possible, but it would definitely be nice to have my wife playing with me as Igniculus and taking care of the little things.
Where was I? The combat! It’s fairly straightforward turn-based affair, with one key alteration. There’s a timing bar along the bottom of the screen that tells you who will get the chance to act next. Different enemies have different speeds, as does the player and his companions. You can alter how fast you get to attack with spells, as well as slow down the enemy with Igniculus. This is crucial and not to be ignored, because if you time it right you can defend against attacks or beat the enemy to the punch by attacking first and interrupting their own attacks.
Child of Light uses a Pokemon-esque strength and weakness system as well, where different types of damage are stronger or weaker against targets. Light is strong against dark, lightning is strong against water, and so forth. This is where the game’s only form of “gear” comes into play: Oculi. These little gems can be slotted into three different slots on Aurora and the companions that join her. Each one, from ruby to diamond and so forth, have different properties such as strengthening your defense against fire, or adding lightning damage to your attacks. As you progress through the game, you’ll learn what kind of enemies you’re fighting against, and in a given area will want to adjust your equipped oculi to meet your needs. You can also combine multiple oculi to “craft” new versions and stronger effects. It’s not exactly the deepest itemization you’ll find, but it fits the game and its style quite well.
The difficulty of Child of Light comes in two forms to begin with: normal and hard. I’d actually suggest starting on hard if you’re a regular patron of JRPGs, as leveling is fast and furious and if you like to fight everything you’ll find you just might end up overpowering the game. It can be finished in around 10 hours, but allows additional play even after the main story is finished. Still, I’d say that $15 for a solid RPG and 10 hours of game time is a fair price… given that some other console games charge $60 for less.
Aesthetics – 10
I’ll spare a lot of story details, because like any RPG half of the fun is the narrative. But Aurora, the young female protagonist, dies one night in her sleep and awakens in the fantasy word of Lemuria which has come under the terrible grips of an evil ruler. There’s a whole storybook like presentation to go along with this, and indeed the hand-painted artwork of Final Fantasy legend Yoshitaka Amano is what gives the game most of its charm. This is a man whose art has informed much of my gaming childhood, and when paired with an absolutely beautiful piano-driven score, the whole package is absolutely gorgeous. Child of Light is proof positive that you don’t need tons of polygons and realistic physics to make a beautiful and engrossing world. All you really need is a sense of the world you wish to convey and the artistry with which to convey a sense of wonder. This game has that in spades, and my only wish now is for more games in the series to keep revisiting Lemuria.
INNOVATION - 7
There’s not a lot here that one could call innovative for the RPG genre. But what the game does do is offer a completely new and wonderful world and story to explore. It’s far too often we’re presented with the same ol’ trite RPG scenarios and heroes. Child of Light puts us in control of a lost little girl with a badass sword and amazing powers, gives us partners like a magic dwarf, a tumbling jester, and an arrow shooting mouse, and lets us fly all over the place because that’s what dreams are made of. The interesting battle timer and oculi system are pretty novel, but it’s clear that Child of Light was heavily influenced by other JRPGs. The entire dialog of the game is delivered in rhyming verse, and some folks might find this charming enough (I did), but I wouldn’t exactly chalk it up to innovative as sometimes it comes across as forced. The idea though was to give you this storybook fairytale feel, and for that it works well.
LONGEVITY – 6 and Value - 8
If the game cost more than the average price of an MMO subscription, the score would be lower. But 10 hours plus additional play once the campaign is finished to explore and collect are well worth the $15 Ubisoft is asking for. Most games of this high quality would charge a lot more, so Ubi’s practically throwing a work of art at you. If you’re looking for a good solid RPG that won’t take weeks of your time, Child of Light is exemplary.
POLISH – 10
I’m not used to this, guys; a game that works at launch, and works well. There wasn’t a single bug I ran into on the PS4. Coming from the world of MMOs, it’s a breath of fresh air. From art to gameplay and everything in between, Child of Light is well crafted and (gasp) finished at launch! You could say this is easy to do on a console game, but I think we’ve all played plenty of singe-player titles with bugs. Perhaps it’s the game’s scope and smaller size that help, but polished polished.
Child of Light is a beautifully rendered, fun, and fairly engrossing RPG that every fan of the genre should try. It does enough different to stand out from the pack, and I’m talking about more than its artistic styling. It won’t drain forty plus hours of your free time, but for $15? Yeah, this one’s worth the three Starbucks coffees it’ll cost you and won’t leave a bad taste in your mouth in the process.