Child of Light Review
I often agonize over the first sentence in a review. I’ve been sitting here for a good fifteen minutes, experimenting with openers and thus far, none of them have sounded exactly right. I considered, “Child of Light is a breath of fresh air,” but I ditched it because it sounded too generic. Everyone’s saying that. I tried, “Child of Light epitomizes charm and innocence, traits long since lost to the annals of gaming history.” But it’s overly dramatic and not 100% true, either.
So, I apologize for the lack of a great opening line. Maybe by the end, I’ll come up with something good…
I was always anticipating a very special and unique graphical presentation. Knowing that the small Ubisoft Montreal team was utilizing the impressive UbiArt Framework, and having seen plenty of media leading up to the game’s release, I expected a subtle yet poignant beauty. In this prediction, I was accurate. The muted color palette doesn’t disappoint; rather, it instills the adventure with a sense of wonder and tenderness. If one was to tell the story of a little girl trapped in an otherworldly fantasy, who encounters colorful characters and bizarre yet intriguing creatures, this is precisely the presentation they’d desire. In short, it holds a singular mystique.
The audio follows the visual’s lead, as it too is subtle yet significantly sentimental. The haunting soundtrack is gorgeous and fills the world with a resplendent, echoing allure. The effects, ranging from the sharp slash of Aurora’s sword to the ambient sounds that make the world of Lemuria come to life, are always on point. While I often wanted a more urgent, insistent score to accompany the more dangerous encounters, the audio permeates to the very core and keeps one rooted in that remarkable fantasy. It also contributes to the general laid-back atmosphere, in which you never feel rushed; only enchanted.
At first, I admit I was only interested in Child of Light because it was supposed to have a true turn-based combat system. I’d heard other games claim to have a turn-based mechanic but usually, those claims didn’t ring true, as there’d be some unwelcome real-time element. For instance, you’d move your characters in real-time even if the actions were turn-based, or there’d be some form of real-time combo maneuver you had to execute in the midst of the otherwise turn-based encounter. But after seeing gameplay of Ubisoft’s latest, I knew it’d be true turn-based. So yeah, being an old-school PS1 JRPG fan, I was excited.
As time went on, however, I became more intrigued by the game’s appealing style. The wonderful artwork on display kept catching my eye, and I often envisioned seeing such beauty in 1080p high-definition on the big screen. At the same time, I will confess that games with “kiddie” exteriors don’t necessarily appeal to me; it’s part of the reason I couldn’t get into Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch. So, I was a little worried that playing as a little girl wouldn’t be all that engaging in my eyes. Then again, as I’d played as children before – you play as a little boy in Rain, for instance – I held out hope that the game’s exquisite comeliness would win me over.
And so it has. You don’t even notice you’re playing as a little girl with long red hair. You’re drinking in the environment at all times, flitting to and fro, finding treasure, taking on new enemies, and micromanaging your party as you often would in traditional RPGs. It’s the game’s combined refinement and polish that continue to hit home. Every animation, every exploration into a darker corner of Lemuria, every amazingly designed element; it all has a soft, steady tone. It never skips a beat. The pacing and loveliness lie at the core of this experience, and are directly responsible for generating player fascination.
Aurora is a little girl who dies in one world and awakes in another. She has no idea where she is; she merely wants to return to her father. A friend appears within minutes to help guide her: His name is Igniculus and he’s a little blue spirit who will be invaluable in the hours to come. He lights up dark areas, gathers up energy for both himself and Aurora, and is awfully handy in battle. He can grab health and magic restoration from glowing plants, and he can hover over enemies to slow down their turn times. The latter mechanic is critical if you wish to succeed, by the way. Igniculus is only the first strange albeit helpful creature you’ll meet in your travels.
You’ll gain new party members and a variety of goodies. Oculi, found in the environment, can be equipped to add new attributes, such as Earth or Wind damage. You can also combine Oculi shards to create new, more effective Oculi. Yep, the game has a crafting mechanic to go along with skill trees and a complete inventory. There are many things to consider in battle, especially once you’ve got a full party and the enemies are significantly nastier. Speed and timing are essential, which is great. You can even enjoy this lighthearted experience with two people; one player handles Aurora while the other controls Igniculus.
The world is comprised of a 2D/3D blend, in that you move back and forth in the exquisitely designed environment. Before Aurora can fly, she has to negotiate objects that are in the foreground and background, similar to LittleBigPlanet. These objects blend, though, and sometimes it can be difficult to find certain ascension spots. However, this is only a minor complaint because A. you get used to it fast, and B. you’ll be flying around in no time. The only other complaint involves the fact that despite the requisite depth and engrossing atmosphere, the game does start to feel a tad empty later on. It’s almost as if the developers didn’t quite complete their vision.
The other thing that might grate a little is this: All the lines rhyme. At first, it’s very cute and it definitely fits the game’s playful style. But as time goes on, you really start to get sick of it, and the writing isn’t always of the finest quality. That being said, the Confessions you collect are beautiful and they remind me of the excellently written stories you’d come across in Lost Odyssey. I suppose I should also mention that the game isn’t too long. It’s not exactly short, though, and I think it just feels short because the adventure is so damn attractive. It’s difficult to stop playing once you start, simply because you’ll always want to see more of your fair, graceful world.
Child of Light shines in a sea of dark, gritty, often ugly imagery. That shine isn’t especially bright or piercing; in fact, it’s softer, muted. It lures us with its softhearted coo, rather than blasting our senses with extraordinary strength and brilliance. It’s too attractive to ignore and too addictive to put down. It wants to tell a fairytale that, while not especially dramatic or emotional, still hits home. With superior balancing and pacing, a unique sense of awe and wonder, and a traditional role-playing theme to boot, it’s hard to complain. There are flaws. They do exist. But they rarely detract from the joy that imbues the entire adventure with serenity and tranquility.
The Good: An amazing, beautifully presented world. Haunting, enchanting audio. Simple yet deep and refined. Wonderfully balanced and presented. Tight, smooth control. Solid, well-constructed combat. Incomparably charming from start to finish.
The Bad: Possibly too easy. Might feel a tad empty at times.
The Ugly: “It’s blasphemous to even try and find ‘ugly’ in Child of Light.”
4/30/2014 Ben Dutka