Child of Light Review: Let There Be Light!
Child of Light is exactly what the gaming industry needs right now. That may sound like an exaggeration but it is truly a breath of fresh air in a time when the industry relies on annualized franchises more and more. The stagnation of creativity in recent years isn’t just due to yearly shooters, the big boys in the RPG genre have also dropped the ball. With a few exceptions its safe to say that RPGs during this past generation weren’t nearly as creative or innovative as they were during the late 90’s and early 2000’s. While not everything Child of Light does to set itself out works well the thing that makes it so endearing is how hard it works to stand out at this particular time in gaming history.
You play as Aurora, the young princess of Austria whose mother recently passed away. The King and Aurora spend all of their time together until one day the King remarries and Aurora seemingly dies in her sleep. Before Aurora’s mother passed away she would read her stories about a mysterious land called Lemuria and sure enough, Aurora finds herself in this fantasy land where Mice can be brave archers and where entire villages resides on the back of a giant man made out of rock.
An evil Queen named Umbra recently came into power in Lemuria and began messing everything up around the time that things went south for Aurora in the normal world. The only way for Aurora to return to her world is to vanquish the evil Queen Umbra and so she sets out on this quest with a colorful cast of side characters.
Essentially Lemuria and Child of Light’s plot is a well crafted fairy tale. It does follow some predictable paths but does so with grace and is never too obvious about what will happen next. Not enough can be said about how wonderful this universe is. Lemuria has a personality that evokes a sense of adventure and child-like awe that no other game out today can claim to have done before. This isn’t just because the game is gorgeous, art direction and character designs play large roles in why Child of Light is so damn charming.
Combat in the game is turn based but also set on a timer. Characters and enemies flow down a track at the bottom of the screen. This track is divided into a blue “WAIT” portion and a red “CAST” area. When a character gets near the end of the track and into the red “CAST” area they can choose to attack, defend, change party members or use an item. Landing attacks on enemies while they’re in the “CAST” area will interrupt their planned actions and send them back to the beginning of the track. Its a complicated battle system that takes some getting used to but is very fun, rewarding and challenging.
For those who fear they won’t be able to keep up with the battle system you can actually distract enemies mid-battle with Aurora’s sidekick Igniculus, slowing their progression down the battle track. You’ll have to think ahead on the fly and try to set up enemies to get into the CAST area just as you’re about to land your attack. Everything that you can do to an enemy can be done to you as well so players will constantly be on their toes trying to foresee whether the enemy will be able to interrupt their actions too.
Boss battles feel appropriately huge and intimidating considering you’re playing as a little girl. Bosses require significantly more thought and planning than standard enemies as they should. Child of Light isn’t a very difficult game but some of the boss fights will push you very hard. Never to the point of wanting to give up on the game altogether but boss battles tend to smack you in the face with greater complexity out of nowhere in comparison to how predictably most other battles play out.
Visually Child of Light is one of the most beautiful games you’ll ever see. It runs in 720p on last-gen consoles like Xbox 360 and PS3 while running in full 1080p on the newer consoles. Either way, it looks gorgeous. Child of Light is a story book fairy tale come to life and looks the part one hundred percent. The UbiArt Framework made famous by Rayman Origins and Legends is used very well here. More games need to go for this hand-drawn, polychromatic art style. Every little bit of Child of Light is essentially visual candy, a graphical feast that other games in the future will be compared to.
The soundtrack compliments the best-in-class visuals superbly as well. Music in villages and battles is appropriately whimsical and hypes the player up for the adventure ahead. This is one of the best game soundtracks in recent memory and you’ll want to listen to it long after the credits have stopped playing.
My biggest gripe with Child of Light is the rhyming technique in dialogue. It makes sense roughly 1/3 of the time, making the other 66% of the rhyming feel forced and wholly unnecessary. I appreciate the extra effort and the rhyming does add to the whimsical, story-book vibe but when players slow down to actually read the dialogue they’ll end up laughing at how hard the writers worked to get everything to rhyme more often then they are impressed with the message they’re trying to convey. The rhyming gimmick should have been dropped or only used in select areas like the few voice acted portions of the game.
Additionally the fusion system with the gems you collect throughout the game is short sighted and not as fleshed out as it should be. There aren’t many combinations of gems to experiment with and for the most part outfitting your party with them doesn’t have a huge effect on gameplay other than giving you a little extra “oomph” if your gems strike at an enemy’s specific weakness. The leveling system is a nice extra touch that will please die-hard RPG fans but too much of each characters skill trees feel like filler just to force you to wait or grind longer in order to get to a new move. Players should prioritize upgrading their skills to get as many moves that attack all enemies on screen as soon as they start the game.
There isn’t much wrong with Child of Light. It has a great deal of character and a unique charm to it. It also has an addictive and challenging battle system that more games should adopt. The soundtrack and visuals stand above all others in recent memory. Child of Light isn’t just eye candy, its a wonderful adventure that repeatedly slaps you in the face with a sense of child-like awe, something that is very rare in today’s gaming industry.
Child of Light has fun combat, amazing visuals and a great soundtrack. It stands as a true artistic masterpiece and has very few real peers that come close to it today. Story mode completed in roughly 13 hours on PS3. Review copy of Child of Light provided by Ubisoft.