Plenty of writers running up to the release of Child of Light have been bigging this game up not just as a homage to JRPGs but as a game to behold and it very much is.
Child of Light is beautiful, one of the best looking games I’ve played for a while (I reviewed Child of Light on PS3) and this game is full of classy touches that bring it to life.
The pen and ink style is awash with colour shining through even the most twilit corners of Lemuria. The attention to movement of light and shadow is meticulously played out and the orchestral soundtrack compliments the mood excellently. Backgrounds and characters are brimming with little details Aurora’s hair is rigorously animated as if floating underwater, her movement is gliding and weightless and the great sword she swings in battle heavy and unwieldy. When she takes a big hit in combat Aurora gets her crown knocked off and scrambles to pick it up.
Stylistically Child of Light has the feel of a Children’s book recalling Maurice Sendak. This game, with its crowned child that journeys to a world of curious monsters feels like Final Fantasy meets Where the Wild Things Are. A charming story develops that tells a coming of age tale dealing with themes of identity and friendship that finishes with strong emotive force without getting too schmaltzy.
To carry the fairy tale/children’s book theme the game’s dialogue is delivered in verse, having heard this would be in Iambic Pentameter (it’s not) I was expecting grand theatrics, rather the poetic language used is more nursery rhyme than A Midsummer Nights Dream. A lot of the dialogue can be entertaining but often struggles to make rhymes for the sake of it.
The Child of Light devs have concocted an experimental blend of 2D platformer, puzzler and JRPG. There’s some deep skill trees to explore and an extensive crafting system that would sit well in a much bigger game. Aurora soon in gains the ability to fly, opening up the platforming sections to exploration and gaining access to hidden corners rolls out the game content.
The combat system works well. You and your opponents share an action bar which allows you to trigger your moves as you reach the bar’s final cast section. Success hinges around getting your moves off before your opponents, get hit before you get to cast your move and your bar gets knocked back interrupting you. What this system does very well is to make you have to be adaptable to different combat scenarios. You can’t always rely on getting off your big nukes early, you might be fighting something that can cast their hits faster so this game doesn’t run the risk of you rinsing and repeating the same attacks in every fight
Instead of items you get Occuli gems in Child of Light. These give elemental buffs or attacks depending on where you use them. Whilst the elemental qualities are pretty straightforward water beats fire, light beats dark etc, with eight playable characters by the end you’ll need to keep tabs on who has what Oculli equipped and while you can change characters mid fight you can’t view the gems you buffed them with.
Joining you early on is your firefly companion Igniculus, he can be used in single player or multiplayer to help solve puzzles and also to stun enemies. You can use this to avoid fights and in battle Igniculus can hover over an enemy slowing up their progress along the action bar
Playing two player co-op with the firefly can get a bit dull as you don’t have a lot to do. It feels as if the multiplayer option came more as an afterthought and would come into its own if a parent was playing this game with their kid. It’s clear Ubisoft want mass appeal with this game (it’s out on just about everything) and it does have a Simpsons-style cross-generational appeal.
In Child of LIght leveling up is fast but like so many JRPGs before it Child of Light makes it easy for you to over-level. Even on hard mode you’ll get a pretty quick advantage on the baddies and fights can become trivial. To allow you to hold up your progress and keep things challenging you do have your firefly to let you pick and choose fights but to me this puts the exploration aspects of Child of Light at odds with the RPG side. it feels almost as if one side of the game doesn’t want you to play the other. You get an extensive cast of allies to try out but can only use two characters at a time in combat. If you want to get deep into all the skill trees and try out character combos it means winning a lot of fights by which time you’ll rinse through battles anyway. It would be better to balance the monsters accordingly, although mass appeal in mind i can see Ubisoft not wanting to make this game too hard and you can make this game a lot harder by suppressing the preset urge to kill everything you meet but this makes all the deep levelling content seem a bit redundant.
If you love JRPGs and also want to pass that love on Child of LIght is a great game in both respects. Ubisoft have done a good job of simmering down the genre, you don’t have to wade through convoluted plots and things flow swimmingly, I’ve not reached any bottlenecks on my first play through although the end game is quite drawn out and I can see many gamers finding the battling tedious by the end.
It is good to see a big studio trying something different and it would be great to see more titles like Child of Light attempting to push games in new directions. As an experiment Child of Light struggles to pull things together coherently but you can really appreciate what the game is trying to do and this doesn’t detract too badly from the fun. As a creative spectacle Child of Light really is beautifully done and with a fair amount of play hours for your £11.99 it’s great value for money.