Sit down for an honest review, spoiler-free
for a game full of wonder, sorrow, and fun
Child of Light’s great to play, a few things it missed,
but is overall solid, whimsical, a game that does stun.
Within the past month Ubisoft Montreal brought us a beautiful surprise in the form of a side-scroller meets RPG, Child of Light. Built on the same engine from Ubisoft’s Rayman series, Child of Light is less Rayman, and more director Patrick Plourde and writer Jeffrey Yohalem’s homage to fairytales, classic fairytale illustration, fantasy films and Japanese RPGs such as Final Fantasy.
Even Yoshitaka Amano, the artist who produces both concept art, costume design and logo art for the Final Fantasy series contributed either conceptual or promotional art for Child of Light.
A short game, with a somewhat fresh or “indie” feel, it’s a certain departure from grittier or more sophisticated work Ubisoft normally puts out. Smaller, more intimate. Artisan.
Child of Light is centered around a young girl from 1895 Austria, the aptly named (and pink haired!) Aurora. Aurora, the daughter of a Duke, contracts an illness that sends her into a death-like sleep, or rather actually…uh, dies? She however awakes upon an altar in a ruined fantasy land, Lemuria, caught underneath the grip of an evil Dark Queen who hid away the sun, moon and the stars. Aurora, gifted a sword and aided by the (on PC) mouse controlled Igniculus, a “firefly” (more like a will-o’- the-wisp in function, whose design vaguely resembles Slime from Dragon Quest) must set out and reclaim said celestial bodies to bring peace back to Lemuria. Aurora too seeks to return back to her father, who himself is ailing following Aurora’s apparent “death”. Along the way Aurora befriends comrades to the cause, effectively expanding her party.
First, let me say I am not a good gamer. I am really terrible at videogames. Which is why you never see me over here writing for you in this department often, if at all. I don’t think I have yet! I tend to like artsy, heartfelt games that are on the simpler side in execution. Team ICO holds my heart. But, Ubisoft’s desire to create an “interactive painting, a playable poem” and this game’s fairytale allure made me want to try this game. As a deficient gamer, I was lucky, as this game has two settings, more or less “easy” and “hard” modes called “casual” and “expert” respectively, and it was difficult enough for me on “casual” mode. Which is fine. Because I like to play my games well, more leisurely and I still ran into some boss battles and even just situational battles that were less than smooth. But I liked it that way. So, if you’re not a great gamer and want something fun but not too difficult, this game is definitely for you. In fact I think it would be a great introduction to RPG’s for sophisticated kids and tweens and teens. Or really anyone.
This game is a bit unique in that while the lead is a very feminine looking little girl with pink hair, gifted (eventually) fairy wings, and wields light, her main weapon is a big sword. She is the hero. She is not limited by the game makers to traditionally “girly” attacks or themes despite her hyper-feminine appearance and wearing a nightgown/dress. There is additionally no prince for Aurora to fall in love with. No romance. None. Aurora is a great main character, I loved her a lot. Certainly great for kids to see; we need more main characters like her! Actually all the characters have interesting personalities and elements to their individual stories that are good for growth and learning how to cope with things. What we saw of them, I enjoyed them all.
Another highlight, the music composed by the young (twenty-four year old) but terribly talented musician Cœur de pirate (Béatrice Martin) is inspiring and really provides a great atmosphere with the illustration-like visuals. If they ever release an OST I’d snap it up in a second.
Visually the game is stunning. It is an interactive painting. Incredibly difficult to choose where to screenshot that others haven’t already done. Gorgeous, non-objectified character designs for female characters. Everything, from backgrounds to enemies is either hand drawn watercolor or rendered in gorgeous illustration or stained-glass CGI with lots of bloom and shading. Gorgeously animated. The effect is something similar or reminiscent to Okami (with a more western storybook feel instead of sumi-e, the inspiration for the game coming from John Bauer and other “Golden Age of Illustration” illustrators like Arthur Rackham) and due to the side-scrolling nature of the game, at least a little bit; shades of Paper Mario-like interface.
Some glitches on my PC version through Steam were however, noticeable, mostly Aurora’s very animated hair, would disappear in certain battles effectively giving her a Mia Farrow pixie cut. But that didn’t really bug me too much. I thought the storyline was good, definitely not mold breaking by any means, but overall, solid. Not perfect. But “enough”.
The game overall reminds me of the 2D Aquaria, an indie game from a few (woah actually seven!) years back that was very ambitious with it’s paper-y doll illustrated look and I think still holds up strong as a great game today.
The faults in Child of Light, while a solid game with it’s own charm, comes mostly from some underwriting when it came to the main plot, some telling vs. showing, and while overall solid, a limited battle system.
I felt story-wise the writing got a little thin at times; I felt I had missed some much needed back-story regarding some characters and was confused at some characters popping up out of nowhere but proving important to the plot. There are also story points and elements going on that we never get a full explanation about why it’s happening (but sound interesting) or further explore. This somewhat lack of roundness particularly for three characters including the big bad and the disjointed pacing that entailed made the game sometimes feel abrupt or again, that I had missed something. I felt the end also fizzled out or felt a bit rushed, jumping from one boss to the final boss without any break or gameplay in between, not even to adjust your assigned occuli to weapons and defense. The final battle was also visually underwhelming compared to what I was imagining or compared to bosses I had gone up against earlier in the game. To be fair, they have confirmed they cut a level leading up to the final boss, but it was simply game play.
Being said I would have also liked more cut scenes and or plot integration with my party. FFX always comes to mind as an RPG that did party interaction and plot specificity rather right. Okami was never terribly difficult and often repetitive but the sheer number of characters, personalities and side quests with high degrees of interactivity with said characters made the game feel so rich. A bit more of that kind of “oomf” and integration would have really made the game.
Some NPC’s in Child of Light even after you’ve helped them, continue their dialogue as if they were still looking for the object that you delivered and now hold in their hand. Small glitches like that take you out of the game. I additionally thought one party member was a bit redundant despite some great spells, and it would have been fun or different had they “joined” an existing member in your party as a duo thus changing up the roster and the stereotypical RPG format instead of taking up another solo spot.
Additionally, while gameplay was fun; you more or less have most of your character’s attacks already; you gain a few new abilities but in general you have the set attacks already. You can acquire new “passive” attacks or increases in your status that assist in battle but with existing attacks all you can do is advance them to apply to multiple individuals and or increase in damage. This is a bit of a downer as one of the cooler parts of RPGs is unlocking and learning new abilities and seeing them being cast/performed for the first time, especially in a time of need. It also encourages you to cycle through your party more as characters get stronger and more useful as they “grow” into their respective roles and offer even more unique attacks.
Given the small development team and short playing time of the game however, I know this is asking for a lot. I understand the limitations. What we did get is still a blast and at it’s core still a good narrative and very playable.
I feel a lot of these issues in Child of Light could be remedied by additional downloadable narrative quests down the line. There is already a downloadable quest with a new party member available who I believe was meant to be there the entire time. If they keep adding additional content, I think it would help the game be even greater than it managed to be; which is still rather great.
I really do recommend this game; there is an official tumblr for it to learn more about it and how they made it. The staff were nothing but enthusiastic and so invested in the game; really check it out and support their hard work.
For the super affordable price at $15, I’d award Child of Light an 8/10.
In all, the game is magical, gorgeous and scary
get it, play it, and let me know with a shout
of what you thought, your feelings,
for Child of Light; do you laud or flout?!
See you real soon!