AllYouCanGeek Review: Child of Light
Child of Light was a surprising announcement from Ubisoft at GDC Europe 2013 a new intellectual property that was not related to Assassin’s Creed, Farcry or Rayman. Instead, it was a Japanese RPG inspired by the likes of Studio Ghibli and others for its art style and classic games like Final Fantasy felt like it was a game that was too good to be true.
The story begins with the young princess Aurora falling into a deep slumber due to an illness, she awakens in the magical realm of Lemuria. Its sun, moon and stars stolen by a Dark Queen, Aurora begins to wander this strange new land in search for a way home, eventually stumbling upon other creatures and races that she must aid along the way. A basic enough story especially for a game that sets out to be a modern fairytale of its own. My main with the story was that it felt like the world was much smaller than it was, each area revealing more hints and glimpses of what could be. I never truly had enough time in any village to really learn and discover more about its citizens and establish what life in Lemuria was. In terms of story arc, the ending actually came somewhat abruptly and out of no where, as if the game had been slightly rush during development to get it to consumers. It’s serviceable but don’t expect anything too deep.
Last year I championed Fire Emblem Awakening in my review , citing that despite the masterful strategy RPG gameplay you would become so interested with the characters and their relationships with another you would become emotionally invested in the game and this is almost the exact opposite. It’s a bit of a disappointment most of the characters don’t develop at all during the course of the game and have little personality past their character trope. You have a mystical world filled with strange and fantastical creatures and the possibility exists for this game to have hit the nail on the head but it missed the mark in this regard. While we do get some interaction between characters when a new party member joins, I wanted to see it go beyond that.
The definitive dividing factor for this game is going to be the dialogue , as almost everything is put in rhyme. Much like a child fairytale, it starts off cute and clever but by the end it becomes a bit of a boring. Imagine playing a 15 hour game where this goes on and you will instantly know if you will love or hate it. I could’ve done with a lot less of it as they really reach for some of the schemes and characters will start talking like Yoda just to hit a verse.
Visually, Child of Light is truly splendid. Using Ubisoft’s ‘Ubi-Art’ engine made for Rayman, the game is almost like a water painting come to life. The details put into everything from the foreground landscape to the backdrops are simply stunning and I found myself often wandering and exploring just to see what was around every turn and bend. From grassy meadows to rocky mountains and even a magical underwater realm, your eyes are in for a treat. Even past this current generation of consoles when other games will no longer captivate us or warrant our attention, Child of Light will retain its beauty like a Disney drawn animation.
Touching on the gameplay Child of Light, starts off strong but fades out by the end . While it is true that it was inspired by JRPGs of yore with Final Fantasy’s classic “Active Time Battle’ system, Child of Light doesn’t offer the same amount of depth as even the older games in the Final Fantasy series did. A typical battle has all units on a visible meter and when you reach a certain point the character is able to perform an action. Whether it’s a normal physical attack or powerful offensive magic or even using a restorative health potion they all have variable casting times and once you reach the end of that is when that action will be performed. The nuance here is that during the ‘action meter’ if a unit is hit they will be interrupted and sent back on the timeline and must wait again. It’s simple and straight-forward and if playing on the hard difficulty you will need to master the strategy of when it’s safe to attack or if it would be wiser to defend for a turn as not only will you reduce damage done to you, you move along the timeline faster.
Aurora’s team can only consist of two characters total (or three, if you’re including the firefly Ignicus) while enemies can have three total. Also within the game is a rock-paper-scissors design of elemental weaknesses with Fire, Lightning/Earth and Water and if you’ve ever played a Pokemon game before you already know that you want to exploit those weaknesses to deal larger amounts of damage. While conceptually sound, it falls apart a bit since inherently most of the characters you have in your party do not have skills/attacks that have elemental properties. For a good majority of the game I had the traditonal wizard character in my party since he had access to all three schools of magic. It’s not good design when one character can do it all and others are unable to. Alhough they introduce a way around that with the introduction of ‘Oculi’. Think materia from Final Fantasy VII or jewels in Diablo or Warcraft. You find them out in the wild and monster drops, can craft them together to form a stronger version and they each have special properties depending on what equipment slot they are inserted into. Weapons will usually inherit the elemental property (i.e. rubies translate to fire damage, sapphires to water damage), armor will grant extra resistances and accessories will usually be a flat stat gain. This way a character like Aurora can attach the necessary gem to exploit weaknesses, but there is no way to swap them in battle. So if you were fighting fire enemies and had a water oculi equipped and the next fight has a water enemy, well that’s too bad, switch out with a different character. If that doesn’t work then just run away from the fight and go back into the equipment menu. This can get very tedious later in the game.
In that sense it was nice to able to switch out party members during a battle and perhaps that was the development team’s intent to get you to form a party that can overcome all enemies. To do that for normal routine encounters it became slow and cumbersome. Don’t get me wrong, going back to a twist of the Active Time Battle was delightfully refreshing and nostalgic, I just think they could’ve expanded upon it even more or introduced other ways to interact with it. They have a solid base to expand from and should there be a direct or spiritual sequel I’m sure they could greatly improve upon the game.
All together, I think Child of Light is definitely worth your time and attention if you’re a fan of RPGs or if you’re looking to play something a little less conventional. I give kudos to the Ubisoft staff that not only developed and created the game but also the ones that decided to greenlight it to begin with. With so many companies trying to one-up each other with AAA-titles it’s a nice change of pace to see a fresh title released in the mix. Although far from perfect, I still enjoyed my experience with the game and would happily welcome a direct sequel or more experiments with the Ubi-Art technology that brings the game to life.