Child of Light – Don’t Fear the Night

Ubisoft released their downloadable RPG Child of Light. Take one part JRPG, one part dark fairy tale, and a dash of poetry to create this unique gaming experience. Our soon-to-be heroine starts off as a Princess of Austria, living alone with her father. Then her father remarries, and one night after falling asleep Princess Aurora simply does not wake up… or so the people of her duchy believe. In reality, she awakens in a land of magic covered in an endless night known as Lemuria. And this is where Aurora’s adventure begins…

Isn’t It Lovely

On a Canvas

Ubisoft is widely known for their unique design, whether we’re talking the eccentricities of Rayman’s cast or the utter insanity of the Blood Dragon expension to Far Cry 3. Child of Light is not exempt from this, although it is a bit more down to Earth than Ubisoft is known for. Built on the Ubi-Art framework, like recent Rayman games, it possesses a level of artisanal beauty that I can’t compare to anything else I’ve seen. Several of the backdrops in this game resemble nothing more closely than watercolour paintings. Upon these paintings are found a cast of colourful and interesting characters. And when I say colourful, we’re talking a range that includes two young ladies, a rat, a depressed jester and his sister, something that resembles a troll, and a firefly… this is not your run of the mill RPG cast. And each character has a very distinct look to them – with even the two jesters being visually distinct in colour palette.

In Motion

It’s the little things that make a game feel special… the animations in Child of Light are not going to revolutionize anything, but they show a level of love and dedication that really seems to be what Ubisoft’s smaller teams are driving for. Each character has distinct animations while speaking and while in combat… and these animations add an almost childish charm to the game. In the early stages of the game, for example, when Aurora is hit in battle, the crown falls off her head and she bends over to pick it up while recovering. It may sound silly, but it is the type of thing that really does stick with you. And it is these sort of small touches that really make the game’s animations so special.

In Verse

It is an impressive accomplishment, but Ubisoft’s writers have made this entire game rhyme. Every single line of dialect is a part of the greater poem that is Child of Light. And, even more impressively is that they’ve made it feel natural. Even after the novelty of the rhyming wore off, it never felt awkward or out of place. The rhyming was simple, and a few of the lines had to be forced to make rhyme… but it really did feel like it fit overall.

On the Ears

But above all else… this game has an amazing soundtrack. In fact, it’s so great that I’m going to link you to where you can download it – for the amazingly reasonable price of 9 dollars. It’s an 18 theme soundtrack, and I suspect that every single one of these songs will end up on one or more of my playlists before long… so what are you waiting for? Go buy it. Support these fantastic artists in their work. Because this soundtrack is one of the best soundtracks I’ve ever heard.

There is only one track I heard throughout the song that was not fantastic, and it was a vocal track that made an appearance during the end credits that just didn’t seem to fit with the soundtrack as a whole. But aside from that one low note, Ubisoft sure hit gold when getting Couer de Pirate to make this soundtrack for them.

Inspired By The Classics

Like a Tale

Child of Light’s story opens with tragedy, and continues in a vein that is very reminiscent of a classic fairy tale. You know, from before fairly tales became all sunshine and rainbows… the classics that I grew up on. It was a fantastic call back, but with enough of a twist that it really felt new. One thing I found really pleasing was the fact that the Princess was saving herself, and trying to save the King… not the other way around. I’m not a feminist, but I found it to be a nice change of pace that we simply do not see often enough.

And The JRPGs of Old

Classic JRPGs often feature one common trait: a turn based combat system. Taking inspiration from the classic ‘ATB’ system utilized in so many Final Fantasy games, Ubisoft sought to improve upon ‘turn based combat’ by adding a layer of strategy and tension to it. Turns move along a slider, allowing you to start an action when you reach the ‘cast’ spot on the bar, and execute that action when the slider reaches the far end. However, if you are attacked between the ‘cast’ spot and the end of the bar, your action is interrupted and you’re set back on the bar. Fortunately, you can do this to enemies as well. You also have the option to defend, reducing the damage you take but also giving you a large speed boost for the next turn, allowing you to manipulate your actions to get the result you desire.

From what I’ve heard, the game’s Normal difficulty is too easy to really showcase these mechanics, but when playing through on Hard – and more notably on the game’s New Game Plus mode – I found myself frequently having to manage attacking and defending to ensure I could interrupt the right enemy abilities without being interrupted myself. But there’s one more mechanic that adds a layer of strategy to the game. I mentioned before that one of the characters was a firefly – and he plays a pivotal role both in combat and in exploration. In combat, Igniculus has a limited amount of charge, but he can use that charge to either slow down enemies or heal allies. Choosing where to put Igniculus and when to have him use up his charge makes for one more strategic decision.

Sadly you are restricted to two characters, and Igniculus of course, during combat; however, you can switch between them at will in order to ensure you have the right party for what is coming. Overall I found this to be an incredibly satisfying and rewarding combat system, one of the best revisions I’ve seen to the classic turn based system in a long time. It would have benefited from a third party member, but it did work very well just as it was.

Dazzling Craftsmenship

They also simplify equipment decisions by having gems called Occuli in place of actual gear. These gems provide bonuses based off of whether they are put in your weapon, armor, or accessory spot and offer the same stats regardless of who equips them. This helps reinforce the game’s identity as a sort of ‘JRPG-lite’ and also serves as the game’s crafting system. You can combine Occuli in a variety of different ways to both get different styles of Occuli as well as create better ones.

Rediscovering Discovery

One of the most telling aspects of classic games and the way we remember them was that feeling of discovery that is so prominent in our nostalgia. Whether it is because of how open games like Super Metroid were or just the simple lack of clear direction so many of these older games gave you, so many share that sense of discovery. Child of Light seeks to recapture that feeling in a few key ways.

First, they remove a lot of the clear instructions and notifications that so many games have now. Rather than being given a quest telling you to go 100 feet to the west with a marker on your map and an arrow pointing you in the right direction, side quests in this game are given vague instructions that allow you to find your way. Additionally, the crafting tutorial gives you very limited information about crafting Occuli – just enough to get you started and encourage you to experiment.

The most important thing to note is that, after a 1-hour ‘tutorial’ segment, you get access to the ability to fly. Unlike so many games with flight systems, Aurora can fly as much as you want, and in fact you’re encouraged to spend most – if not all – of your time flying. It is a strangely satisfying feeling flying around and there are a ton of secrets all over the place to be found if you’re thorough.

My favourites of these are a series of ‘confessions’ you’ll find floating around in the air in various places. These confessions give you backstory about this mysterious kingdom, Lemuria, and also tells the story of another person who was once trapped here much like Aurora. There are also a number of things to discover using Igniculus, who can move independently of Aurora and explore areas she can’t reach to find treasure, switches, and secrets.

Final Thoughts

One big problem I ran into while playing this for the Playstation 4 was that there were a number of issues with the game that resulted in strange crashes frequently. In one day of playing I had to restart the game client 4 times due to the game crashing. I did see that a patch had been installed, so it’s possible these issues have been fixed, but they certainly got frustrating.

The game features one of the best ‘kid-friendly’ coop modes I’ve seen in a while. Using a second controller, another player can take control of Igniculus – who is very involved in the game, as mentioned above. He’s integral for exploring the game, for completing puzzles, and even for being successful in combat, but he’s also very easy to control. This makes this game have a great way for a parent to get a small child involved with them in a constructive way that isn’t just busywork – they’d actually feel involved.

Overall

Child of Light is one of the best throwbacks to classic JRPGs I’ve played in a long time. They take all the best parts of an old-school JRPG, twist them a little, and mix them with an amazing soundtrack and a clever fairy tale story. It’s a fantastic mix, and I can’t wait for the next game to come out of the Ubi-Art framework.