The best way to describe Ubisoft‘s newest title using the Ubiart Framework engine is like a book. Not a book that you have already read, or a tale of which you have no idea what to expect. It’s something you haven’t read yet, but can anticipate through the plot exactly what is going to happen. Child of Light is exactly that. It has enough charm for you to get lost in its world, but not enough depth to its story for it to become a classic tale you revisit over and over. With a highly engaging combat system, and an eclectic cast of characters, Child of Light moves beyond its pretty presentation to create an engrossing experience that will leave RPG fans more than satisfied.
The comparison to a book is something of which the game seems completely aware, as the framing device for the narrative consists of a woman telling the story of Child of Light to an unknown person. It follows the tale of Aurora, who is a naive, rambunctious child who passes away. Her passing brings so much grief to her father, the King of Austria, that he becomes sick with grief and begins dying himself. However, Aurora is not dead. She is in a magical land called Lemuria and is tasked with the unenviable job of returning the sun, moon, and the stars from the evil Queen Umbra. The game’s initial dark set-up is probably the most emotion you’ll experience from Child of Light, mainly due to not knowing what exactly is going on. From then on, the story becomes as trite and predictable as one would expect.
The narrative shortcomings of Child of Light are a shame, because on the surface it provides a beautiful art-style and world that is difficult not to love at first sight. From the way in which characters animate during combat, to the quirky dialogue that everyone seems to have, there is little with which to be displeased. Voice overs are significantly lacking in the game, though, and that is a bit disappointing, with so much effort being put into every other aspect of presentation. However, since everyone speaks in rhymes, it would probably be more annoying having to hear people try and read the forced poetic dialogue.
That is perhaps the one element of Child of Light which left a bad taste in my mouth on multiple occasions. Sometimes I enjoyed the constant rhyming, finding solace in a world with such a ridiculous rule to abide by. It’s a silly custom that the game pokes fun at with Rubella, a party member who is searching for the carnival that left her behind and separated her from her brother, Tristis. She consistently forgets to rhyme her sentences, which characters like Igniculus (Aurora’s trusty firefly) and Aurora try to correct, without ever breaking the rhyming structure to do so. It’s weird and off-putting at times, but adds to the mystical fairy tale world that has been created.
Maneuvering through the visually striking world of Lemuria is above all else, inviting. Aurora gets the ability to fly early on, and soaring through the skies is as satisfying in the beginning of the game as it is further into it. Other mechanics throughout the world are masterfully handled, like the use of Igniculus to illuminate objects, and using him to blind enemies so as to sneak up behind them for a surprise attack. Meanwhile, I did get frustrated with the few times that I had to push an object to a specific point because going from flying to standing to pushing is not as intuitive as it probably should be. Nonetheless, it happens so rarely that it is easy to look past such a minor inconvenience.
Mechanically, Child of Light does something extremely engaging and makes every combat scenario different than the last. The game is as much an ode to fairy tales as it is an ode to JRPGs, and its combat represents this fully. There’s a party system, and by the end of the game you’ll actually find a reason to swap who is with you in combat, unlike most other games with a similar system. The combat consists of you and your selected ally fighting an enemy and/or one or two extra enemies. There’s no explanation as to why you’re forced into only having two combatants against possibly three total enemies, as opposed to a fairer three versus three fight, but the game finds a good balance with its two versus three approach, when it happens.
There’s an action bar located at the bottom of combat scenarios which shows every character in the battle. Some characters move quickly across the action bar, hitting the casting section quickly. Once the character sets their action that can range from an instant cast to a very long cast, they move beyond the casting section to the end of the bar. The combat could have been as simple as that with the game pretending to be a deeper turn-based system than others, but it actually goes the extra mile.
Igniculus plays a part in combat, being able to slow enemies on the action bar by shining in their eyes. He can also be used to heal characters, and all of these actions dwindle his own resources. However, he is not on the action bar himself and acts as a separate entity, who can even be controlled by a second player if it is so desired. The transaction that happens of whether to heal, or slow an enemy, is made all the more satisfying by “interrupts”.
When you and an enemy are in a race to the end of the casting area of the action bar, whoever reaches the end first interrupts all the opponents that are in the section. The drawback is that this can happen to you as well, and it becomes a mix of quick thinking and strategy in order to effectively dominate your opponent. For example, if your enemy is closer to casting than you, you may decide to use an attack that takes a short period of time to cast, thus dealing less damage, but interrupting your opponent and allowing your ally to cast a more damaging spell when it is his turn.
Child of Light also has a system where you can equip weapons with elemental damage and resistance, attempting to damage opponents with the elements to which they are more vulnerable. Unfortunately, I found myself forgetting who had what Oculi (gems consisting of these elements) equipped, and would have to suffer through a battle simply because there is no indication of who has what abilities. You cannot change which Oculi are equipped once in battle, so the game forces you to constantly be managing each character’s equipment. So if worse comes to worst, simply cast a light attack as most enemies are considered “dark” creatures.
It is a shame that such a gorgeously presented game with a very in-depth combat system can’t capitalize on making a powerful coming-of-age story. Instead, it is a traditional good versus evil narrative that is only highlighted by the combat’s light versus dark mechanics. Nothing else serves to elevate the middling story that is presented, making it serve solely as a reason to explore the Ubiart Framework engine further, and demonstrate that the people behind Far Cry 3 could make something much more reserved and whimsical.
Though the story is by far the weakest link in Child of Light, it is not terrible; simply serviceable. Everything else makes the game so much better and easy to forgive the shortcomings of its plot. Coeur de Pirate brings a great score to the game, being cohesive and blending well with the striking artstyle. The highlight of Child of Light is its combat, and RPG players will rejoice in how the game takes a standard system and reinvigorates it with new life. If anything else, Child of Light serves as a reminder of why it is important to examine the past to make the future more exciting.