It’s kind of a miracle that a game like Child of Light even exists. It’s a 2D RPG built within the same UbiArts engine that powers games like Rayman: Origins. It features a young girl as the protagonist. The characters speak in rhyme. It has the look and feel of a very indie title but is made possible by mega publisher/developer Ubisoft. It’s a small $15 title, so hardly a big risk, but you wonder why such a gigantic game maker would even bother when it’s so busy pumping out the latest Assassin’s Creed or its new franchise, Watch Dogs. Nevertheless, Child of Light does exist, and there is no argument that it is an absolutely stunning game, artistically. But does it have the deep RPG gameplay to back up its looks and keep you engaged on the journey?
Poetry in Motion
There might be games with better textures or higher fidelity with top-notch next-gen graphics, but it’s hard to imagine that you’ll see a prettier or more artistically creative game than Child of Light this year. Every inch is just stunning to look at, from dark but lovingly detailed forests to rustic villages and underground caverns. I love just flying around with Aurora and looking at the scenery — especially the stuff just going on in the background such as floating islands or mystical creatures. You could probably take away the combat altogether and make Child of Light a game where you just explore the land of Lemuria, and it would still work because the whole aesthetic is so enchanting and gorgeous.
A Story in Verse
As I mentioned previously, Child of Light‘s story is told almost completely in verse. It’s how the story is told and how the characters speak. Sometimes this works wonderfully and contributes to the fairy tale theme, and other times it seems like the characters are babbling complete nonsense.
The real problem is that the text auto-scrolls, so if you have to take a second to figure out what a character is saying, you are completely lost. Maybe it’s because the game is such a brief experience, but the initially interesting characters don’t get fleshed out much beyond their initial introductions. You gather a pretty large party and meet many interesting NPCs, but all of them are introduced and then basically melt into the background. The protagonist Aurora and her primary companion, a firefly named Igniculus, are very well realized and fun characters to spend time with, however.
Fun but flawed combat
For many, Child of Light might live or die by its combat system. On its face, the system is extremely similar to the Grandia series. There is a bar where the party members and enemies are on a bar, all moving at various speeds. When they get to the “cast” portion, an action is chosen that takes various amounts of time to perform. You can affect this in various ways with spells to slow or paralyze enemies or quicken yourself. You can also use your little firefly companion to help slow enemies’ progress on the bar, though managing it can be hectic since it’s only one enemy at a time and it’s limited use.
While most of the time this system works fairly well, there are certainly instances where it can get in these vicious loops of enemies attacking and inflicting statuses such as paralyze or slow, suddenly making manageable fights nearly impossible. What ultimately balances this out is that it’s easy to switch companions during battle, or just run away and try new combinations of the gems you have that give various status effects to your party members. You certainly can also grind away, but that’s often far from the best solution.
Really it’s hard to imagine a better game out there right now for $15 than Child of Light. Hell, it’s better than many $60 games I’ve played recently. It has a couple of nagging flaws, but it’s beautiful and, at times haunting. It also comes packaged with a very solid combat system, all combining for a memorable experience you won’t soon forget. Child of Light is arguably the best game I’ve played thus far in 2014.