When you have a catalog that consists of blockbuster franchises like Assassin’s Creed and the soon-to-be-released Watch Dogs, it’s easy to overlook a game like Child of Light, one that emphasizes storytelling through stunning hand-drawn visuals and carefully constructed narrative.
For its part, the story is rather straightforward tale about Aurora, the daughter of an Austrian duke, who finds herself transported to the world of Lemuria, a land overrun by darkness brought on by the villainous Umbra. The only way home is for Aurora to recover the Sun, the Moon, and the Stars, while defeating Umbra in the process. Accompanying her on this journey is a ragtag group of intriguing characters that each offer a unique perspective on the world.
The first thing that stuck out to me when playing Child of Light was its visuals. Created by Ubisoft Montréal using the UbiArt Framework, Child of Light is truly a work of art. Hand-drawn visuals bring to life the breathtaking landscape reminiscent of something you’d see in a fairy tale. And both characters and setting are drawn with an exuberant amount of detail. No two environments were similar in my adventure.
Adding to whimsical feel of Child of Light is the way in which the story is told — entirely through rhyme. The dialogue and the nature in which it is presented have a storybook feel to it. The poetic approach allows for a fun deliver of what’s actually pretty emotional conversation.
Bringing it all together is the driving piano score brought to us by Béatrice Martin (Cœur de pirate). Emotional, beautiful, the piano heavy soundtrack of Child of Light draws you in, encapsulating every emotion you’ll experience when playing.
Let us not forget though, Child of Light is a game — one that is inspired by and carefully blends different genres. It doesn’t just mix them together though, it perfects them. While playing through the game, you’ll experience elements of puzzle solving, platforming and 2D sidescrolling wrapped neatly into an in-depth turn-based RPG.
Aurora and characters you meet along the way can all be customized. Characters fill the archetypical RPG roles — you have your warrior, tank, mage, ranged attacker, etc. — and each party member has a skill tree with three branching paths. Though I believe the paths are designed to allow you to customize each character to your playstyle, I didn’t notice a distinct difference between paths. Sure, a few spells were changed, but a lot of it was fairly similar. And in the end, I ended up unlocking most of the three trees anyway. It helps that character leveling goes extremely fast in this game.
In addition to each character’s unique abilities and skills, you can further customize them by equipping them with Oculi, gemstones that offer bonuses to your attacks and resistances to your defenses. It’s a nice addition that furthers the RPG feel of the game.
Most of the gameplay is comprised of light exploration. Areas of the world are filled with side quests and areas that can be explored for secrets and items. You don’t have to explore every nook and cranny, but you’ll probably want to — not because of the items you’ll get, but because of the sights you’ll see. I don’t consider myself an “explorer” by any means, and even I found myself just flying around the areas to see everything it had to offer.
For combat, Child of Light makes use of an Active Time Battle System. That is, it’s turn-based with a twist. At the bottom of the screen is a long meter with the portraits of each character in combat. The portrait must travel the length of the “wait” portion before reaching a “cast” line where you can finally select your action. Actions, depending on your character, can range from standard physical attacks to casting magic, to swapping out party members mid-fight, to using an effect-enhancing potion. Once you select an action to perform there’s an additional cast time, which can actually be interrupted if you get struck with an attack in this area.
Mixed in with the turn-based combat is the ability to control Igniculus, Aurora’s sidekick firefly. Using the right stick (or a second player), you can control Igniculus to slow an enemy’s attack or to heal your own party. Not only does controlling Igniculus give you another mechanic to keep track of during a fight, but it makes the wait time in between attacks fly by. There’s literally no point in combat in which I found myself sitting idle.
The best way to describe Child of Light’s combat is organized chaos. It’s turn-based, but fast-paced thanks to the Active Battle System. The different attack speeds, the length of an action, and abilities that slow down attackers all result in a fairly strategic system in which you must carefully select who to attack and when. What makes it all work, however, is the simplistic way in which it is all presented to you. It’s a very clean, easy-to-understand combat system.
My only gripe is that at no point in combat can you have your entire party onscreen. It makes the effects of spells that apply to “all” characters, really only apply to the select few shown. It’s possible that this restriction exists so that you’re not overwhelmed in combat, but it would’ve been nice to see the full party in action. Nevertheless, the ability to swap characters mid-battle makes up for this.
Child of Light does offer two-player gameplay, with one person controlling Aurora and the other Igniculus. I suppose it’s a nice option, but I suspect that splitting the gameplay into two parts will result in some downtime during combat. Also, with only the ability to heal or slow enemies in combat, I also suspect the second player could get quite bored.
Child of Light isn’t the type of game we’re used to from Ubisoft, but it’s the type of game this industry needs. It’s hard not to look at the game and admire its beauty, but underneath the gorgeous visuals is a thought-provoking story that’ll draw you in. All of this rests on top of polished gameplay with enticing mechanics.