In a nutshell: Giant corporation Ubisoft attempts to create an indie-styled Japanese role-playing game with a unique art style, a whimsical story that rhymes and seemingly-light combat with some level of depth.
In what can be Ubisoft’s way of showing people what else it can do with its 2D-focussed gaming engine, apart from insane platformers, the watercolor painting-fueled role-playing game Child of Light is an ephemeral experience at best and a light-sized jaunt at worst.
Players control Aurora, a child who can wield powers to combat the darkness that encroaches the dream land of Lemuria. She ended up there due to a shipwreck and now has to find her way home to the real world. Along the way, she teams up with a motley crew consisting of jesters, a rat archer, a spellcasting dwarf, and a light fairy floaty thing called Ignaticus.
Players explore Lemuria in 2D fashion through the land and its skies, interact and solve puzzles usually involving the brightly-lit powers of the light fairy and fight off opposing forces through turn-based combat prioritised over interrupting enemy commands and making smart decisions.
Because of its short length compared to other RPGs, certain tropes of the genre do pop up at a fast pace. Resolutions of character sidequests, leveling up, the story’s twists and turns: all of them buckle under the pressure of keeping the game on the straight and narrow, given its ‘indie’ nature.
This also means that a glut of the genre’s padding gets cut off; you will not be bogged down by filler fetch quests and unnecessarily extended battle sequences. Child of Light does not overstay its welcome; its rhyme-laden story revolving on themes of sadness amidst its cheery art and simple-yet-intriguing combat won’t wear you out. All the while, its enchanting soundtrack by Cœur de pirate will draw you in bit by bit with its beauty and majesty.
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Speaking of battles, your success in combat is on how you handle the system’s timeline. Your characters and your enemies’ skills have to charge up on the ‘cast’ part of the timeline; any attack that hits anybody during that period will negate and interrupt the charged skill. The hard-hitting ones will take a while to load up, while the less damaging ones act the fastest.
Boss battles are excitably tense, thanks to this mechanic; players will have to actively interrupt their attacks lest one of its game-ending power moves go through. Your party members can use Ignaticus to slow down an enemy’s progress, provided that he has enough light energy. This, combined with your management of the system, makes combat fun and frenetic.
This is also made all the more interesting with your party ensemble: when they level up, they can branch off to different skills and builds on the game’s skill tree. Jester Rubella acts as a tank and a cleric; the tree choices let you decide on whether you can focus on her healing and curing skills, or just beat up foes quick and hard with her speedy Tumble move. The spellcasting gnome Finn has access to all three elemental spells when he’s first recruited; whether you want him to focus on just casting powerful fire spells or spread all your skill points to make him a jack-of-all-trades caster is to your own prerogative.
The jaded may think otherwise and dismiss it as simplistic fluff that clings onto pipe dreams; its story doesn’t delve deep into its theme as much as it should and its characters are what you expect from first impressions. Still, it’s a refreshing notion that with a number of hardcore fares and games that end up way too complicated for their own good, there lies a game like Child of Light that keeps it simple and structured to entertain with a right dose of emotional baggage, particular from Aurora’s tale. It doesn’t demand much from its audience; it just wants them to sit back and lull through its dreamscape.
Worth playing for: Its look and feel; imagine if a dev team turned A Little Prince into an eight-hour long 2D-styled video game.
Watch out for: Excessive rhyming. If you’re not a fan of such whimsical story-telling, you’ll turn off the console in disgust.
In closing: Like the first part of its namesake, it’ll win you over with its innocence and naivety.