Child of Light is an interesting game for a number of reasons, the first of which being that it was made today. Not in the late 1990s, but today, in 2014. What’s even more surprising is that it was made by Ubisoft of all people. Saying “artsy 2D turn-based RPG made by Ubisoft” is just like saying “indie low budget art film made by Hollywood”. Not completely unheard of, but not a connection that would immediately jump to people’s minds, either.
Child of Light tells the story of Aurora, a little girl from 1895 Austria and the titular Child of Light, as she wakes up in a mysterious magical world called Lemuria. Aided by the wisp Igniculus, Aurora goes on a quest to find her father the duke, and defeat the dark queen Umbra, the archetypal “evil stepmother”.
As you may have guessed, the story has a very intentional “fairy tale” feel. As such, it is very basic. The plot is simple and straightforward for the most part, although there is at least one genuinely surprising scene later in the game; you’ll know which one when you see it.
But the truly interesting part about the story is that all the text is written in rhyme. Now, a lot of critics have pointed out that it feels forced sometimes, or that some of the rhymes do not even work. But I feel this is such an impressive effort that it deserves to be praised. Ultimately, the argument is just like the one for the opera scene in Final Fantasy VI: it’s not the end result that matters. It’s the fact that a group of game designers decided to try something different, something artistic, and believed that yes, video games deserve to be treated like any art form worthy of experimentation. The rhyming in Child of Light is something truly unique, which is just what the video game industry needs every now and then.
Child of Light, as previously mentioned, is an RPG. You control Aurora in 2D levels until you touch an enemy, which triggers a turn-based fight. The style of the game mostly reminded me of Knytt Stories (because of the colorful, relaxing 2D visuals) until I started noticing the similarities with Valkyrie Profile as well. As inspiration for a game goes, that’s a pretty good start. Funnily enough, the skill tree reminded me of Far Cry 3 (a game with a completely different style and tone), and that was before I knew Child of Light was made by mostly the same team.
Another particularity with Child of Light is the ability to fly. I’m sure this is how one of their design meetings must have gone: “So, you know how there are many games that give you the flight ability? Except it’s usually at the very end of the game, so you barely have time to use it? Well, here, we’re going to give it to the player almost right at the beginning.” That’s right, in Child of Light, Aurora is able to fly as soon as you finish the first boss battle, and until the rest of the game. So, while the first few minutes of the game introduce generic platforming puzzles à la Limbo, as soon as you get your wings, the way you play the game changes completely. Admittedly, it means that the rest of the game pretty much drops any kind of real platforming. What the game still has, though, is…
Combat. This is a pretty standard turn-based RPG combat system, in which you select your action (attack, magic, item, etc.) when it’s your turn and then perform said action. Your turn begins when your character’s icon reaches the end of a bar at the bottom of the screen. For those here paying attention, yes, it’s pretty much like the ATB system in classic Final Fantasy or Chrono Trigger.
There are a few original ideas, however. Any action, whether it’s performed by you or by the enemy, can be interrupted if the character is hit during the “cast time”. Interrupted characters are even sent back on the ATB bar. This makes fights more strategic: if you manage your time well, you should be able to keep preventing enemies from ever attacking you.
Another thing you can do during combat is control Igniculus. On the PC version, you do so by using the mouse. You can touch flowers to recover HP or MP, heal Aurora or a party member, or blind enemies to slow them down. You can also do the same outside of combat, as well as collecting items and power-ups. Using both the mouse and a controller (or the keyboard) can be a bit tricky however, which is why the game suggests you play with a second player. It’s a neat co-op idea, but it’s not really necessary, and the game can easily be played alone.
I must say though, if Child of Light tries to emulate Valkyrie Profile, it got the difficulty just right. The game is really easy, at least on normal mode. The first party member you meet has the “heal” spell, which is usually a major plus for me. But I quickly realized that I never had to use it. I also never used any of my items until I reached the final boss. Fans of RPGs will definitely have no problem beating Child of Child.
The last thing I need to mention is the ending. It’s very abrupt, to say the least. I reached the secondary main antagonist, which, I though, would give me a general idea of how much of the game was still ahead of me. But after fighting said secondary main antagonist, here is what happened: there was a cutscene, and the fight against the final boss immediately started. No final dungeon, no time to save or even open the menu.
After the final boss, the game ended after a brief scene that, without spoiling anything, played out like this:
Aurora: “There is that thing we really need to solve.”
Everyone else: “OK.”
Narration: “And then they went and solved that thing. The end.”
Child of Light is a game that feels like it ran out of budget. Whether it actually did or not, the ending still felt rushed and ultimately left me confused and frustrated. Several plot points are left unclear or unresolved. What is the connection between Lemuria and the real world? What is the deal with those strange confessions you collect throughout the game (especially the non-rhyming ones)?
Overall though, I would definitely recommend the game to those who are fan of the genre. With its gorgeous visuals and music, fun take on classic RPG combat, and unique rhyming dialogue, Child of Light shows that the gaming industry is still able to surprise us. And that’s a comforting thought.
– Number 5