Here is a game that you wouldn’t expect from a writer like Jeffrey Yohalem. Well-known for his work on Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood and 2012’s Far Cry 3, Yohalem seems to favor serious and hard-hitting stories more than anything else. I don’t care much for Assassin’s Creed (but that’s a story for another day) but Far Cry 3 really gripped me in terms of its writing and the way it was presented. I’ve been a fan of his writing since then, and needless to say, I was extremely intrigued by Child of Light when it was first announced.
Child of Light is an amalgamation of two very different genres: role-playing games, and 2D side-scrolling platformers. It tells the story of a young Austrian princess named Aurora who wakes from her sleep to find herself in a strange land called Lemuria. Not all is well in Lemuria, though. This land has had its stars, moon, and the sun stolen by the Black Queen and is now plagued with dangerous creatures of the dark. At the start of the game, all Aurora wants to do is find her way back home to her father. But as per all typical RPG stories, Aurora is tasked as the game’s heroine to retrieve the stars, moon, and sun, and restore balance to Lemuria.
The first thing you’re going to notice when you boot up Child of Light is its distinctive art style. With the UbiArt engine, the game looks like an interactive children’s fairytale storybook. The amount of detail that’s been put into the game’s environments are very stunning, to say the least, and the animations look crisp. The first chapter of the game, in particular, has a very dull color palette but it never looks boring because the environment looks rich and alive. Within the first 15 minutes of the game, I found myself pretty much entranced by how beautiful everything looked. The storybook-style graphics only served to enhance the whimsical tone that the game was going for.
Child of Light takes on the characteristics of a 2D platforming game, but don’t expect deep and complex levels that you’d see in a Rayman game. Aurora has to move blocks around the stages to get to higher platforms but she soon receives a pair of wings that allows her to fly. I don’t want to classify Child of Light as a platformer, because it really isn’t. With her wings, Aurora can stay airborne for as long as you want and the challenges that come with flying stem from the player’s ability to safely maneuver her through dangerous labyrinths. The stages are pretty varied, ranging from a spider-infested stone dungeon to an icy-cold basement laced with spikes. The different stage designs are quite a sight to behold, thanks to the lovely art style of the game, but maneuvering Aurora around these stages doesn’t present too much of a challenge.
The real challenge of the game lies in its JRPG elements. The combat system adopts the Active Time Battle system that Final Fantasy fans will be familiar with and adds a few new features to it. There is a time bar at the bottom of the screen and everyone engaged in the battle has little icons that progress along the meter. Each action that you take has a specific duration – instant, short, medium, long, and very long. When a character’s icon reaches the red portion of the meter – the portion labeled ‘Cast’ – the icon’s progression speed will then be dependent on the duration of the chosen action. Additionally, should you manage to attack an enemy while its icon is in the red portion before it gets to attack, you’ll be able to interrupt the enemy’s action and set it back on the time bar. Likewise, enemies can do the same to you. This means that players will have to think very strategically when engaged in combat. If it looks like an enemy’s going to hit you before you can react, it’s probably a good idea to defend.
The boss battles in Child of Light are truly the shining points of the game. Coupled with the outstanding epic battle tracks, there is a real sense of struggle and desperation during these segments. Not only are the bosses beautifully rendered, they also have varied skillsets. Some bosses have higher speed, allowing them to progress quickly on the time bar; others are pretty slow, but can unleash devastating attacks on your party. Most bosses will also react with a punishing counter-attack if you interrupt their actions and this can sometimes be the determining factor for the outcome of your battle, especially on hard difficulty. That said, the boss battles are manageable for the most part once you figure out their attack patterns. Once you’ve gotten their patterns down, these battles simply become a matter of whittling down their health points. You’ll get them eventually as long as you keep on keeping on.
As polished as the battle system may be, a lot of the challenge soon dissipates in the 5th or 6th chapters after you’ve gotten comfortable with it. Aside from the epic-in-proportion boss fights, the normal enemy encounters get a little bland once you’ve gotten used to the battle system. Fortunately, the game allows you to change the difficulty on the fly. If you’re looking for a consistent level of challenge and normal battles that require more thought and strategy, I’d recommend switching it up with the ‘hard’ difficulty once you’ve gotten the hang of how the system works.
The game also tosses in a skill tree and crafting system into the mix. The skill tree is pretty straightforward; you gain a skill point when you gain a level and these can be spent on even more stat boosts as well as new skills.
The crafting system, on the other hand, is a little more complex. Along your journey you’ll find gemstones (or Oculi) like sapphires, emeralds, and rubies. They also come in four different levels of polish – rough, tumbled, faceted, and brilliant. You can combine various Oculi together to make new Oculi. You can also combine 3 rough emeralds together to make a tumbled emerald, and so on and so forth. Equipping these Oculi to your equipment will give you different attributes, and this is vital to your strategy especially when dealing with bosses. The crafting system is enjoyable and certainly adds a layer of complexity to the gameplay.
Child of Light also showers you with a plethora of colorful characters to be added to your party. The party roles are pretty standard JRPG fare: black mage, healer, supporter/debuffer, and melee attacker. The characters themselves are much more interesting though. Your ragtag band of friends will consist of a rat, a dwarf, and a pair of jester siblings, amongst others. Most of them have character-specific quests for you to complete in order to find out more about their pasts as well.
Length-wise, Child of Light will take players around 10 to 11 hours to complete. This includes the time spent thoroughly exploring your environments for valuable hidden items as well as completing the few side quests that the game offers. Once you’ve beaten the game, you’ll unlock ‘New Game +’ where you’ll get to keep all your character upgrades. The only catch is that your foes will be significantly tougher as well. For the low price of $15 and all the content you’re getting out of it, I’d say this game is well worth the purchase.
In an RPG that is as short as Child of Light, I was definitely surprised to see the substantial character development arc that Aurora undergoes. She starts off as a small child simply looking for a way home but soon matures as a young woman who realizes that she needs to assume some responsibility in the mystical world of Lemuria. The game is free from voice acting for the most part, with occasional narrations from actress Caroline Dhavernas (well-known for her role in NBC series Hannibal) during key points, but it doesn’t hinder the emotional impact of the story.
Child of Light’s script is written entirely in rhyme so it’s kind of like an epic ballad. I was a little skeptical when I first heard about the writing style but it soon grew on me because of how endearing it made all the characters. Its story may be a little on the predictable side but Aurora, along with her interactions with the other characters, were captivating enough to keep me invested in her journey. That, to me, is a mark of a good role-playing game.
Child of Light proves that you don’t need long, convoluted stories to make a good RPG. Sometimes, all you need is a simple story that’s easy to follow, and well-written characters that players can connect with. This is definitely one of the most charming and whimsical RPGs I’ve played in recent years, along with 2013’s Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch. I hope you’re taking notes from this game, Square Enix.
This isn’t an RPG that you can sink hundreds of hours into, so people looking for an experience similar to the likes of Elder Scrolls or Final Fantasy will be disappointed. That isn’t what Child of Light is trying to achieve here. It aims to plunge you into a charming and childlike fairytale world where you battle the darkness to save the light. With the subtle and soothing melodies of its outstanding soundtrack and the lovely visuals, I’d say this game has accomplished exactly that. Child of Light is a solid coming-of-age bedtime story for both children and adults alike. It’s just simply enchanting, is what it is.
[+Captivating and well-written characters] [+Memorable soundtrack] [+Addictive RPG gameplay] [+New Game Plus option allows for stronger foes] [-Combat challenge quickly dissipates after the first couple hours on normal difficulty]