The first thing that strikes you about Child of Light is its beautiful art style, done with a watercolor palette making each section of the magical land of Lemuria look like something out of a child’s storybook. The RPG from Ubisoft plays like a fairy tale being read to a child as a bedtime story, and director Patrick Plourde and writer Jeffrey Yohalem have done a fine job at bringing that fairy tale to life. Add to that a beautiful musical score with touching notes rendered on a piano and lush strings, and you have the makings of one of this year’s most charming games.
The story follows a young girl by the name of Aurora, the daughter of an Austrian duke. One night, Aurora is overcome with a strange illness, and falls into a coma-like state. The Duke believes her to be dead, but in reality Aurora has been taken into the magical land of Lemuria. There she meets an assortment of characters- an acrobat, a mouse archer, a Dwarven wizard, a giant warrior with clawed hands, and, most importantly, a firefly named Igniculus, who serves as her guide. The land has come under the spell of an evil Queen, who has stolen the sun, moon, and stars, plunging Lemuria into despair. I won’t spoil the story here. It is well told and engaging, even if it isn’t the deepest story. You may see some of its twists coming, and yet, despite that, it all seems to work. The game is told in rhyme, giving it a further child-like appeal. Most of this dialogue is read by the player with only certain sections voiced aloud by a narrator. Some may be a bit put off by this. I was not. But for some it may sour the experience.
The game is all played on a 2D plane, with smooth and simple controls to allow for your movement through Lemuria. Early on, Aurora gets the ability to fly, which opens up exploration from the get go rather than make you backtrack to areas later on. Over the game’s 10 chapters, which can take you anywhere from 10-14 hours to complete (you can add another couple of hours to 100% the game), you’ll journey across a wide range of environments, from a village in the clouds suspended from balloons to fire filled caverns to a crystal palace beneath the sea. Enemies are varied, and you’ll find yourself entering combat more often than not. Thankfully, that never grows tiresome, as the combat is one of the game’s strongest assets.
Combat is a combination of turn based and real time. The game pauses as you choose your action, but you need to pay attention to the bar at the bottom of the screen, where both your party and your foes are moving. Once you enter the red section, you need to make certain you beat the enemy to the end, or your action could be interrupted by an enemy attack. Conversely, you can do the same to your foes, and it lends a bit of strategy in trying to time your attacks and defenses just right. Add to this Igniculus, who is controlled by the right stick, who you can use for healing or blinding your enemies, slowing them down before they can act. The firefly doesn’t last forever, so you need to be smart as to when you use him. A second player can join you in co-op, controlling Igniculus, which can aid not only in combat but in solving puzzles as well. The puzzles are not overly challenging, but some will make you think for a minute before you hit on the solution.
Adding to the combat strategy are stones called Occuli. You’ll find these stones throughout Lemuria, and you can craft them to make other stones which can be added to weapons and armor to provide certain boosts. You’ll have to be smart how you use these as well, and different areas require you to change things up. For example, if you’re in the fire caverns you may want to add stones that aid in fire defense while using others that give water attacks to your melee weapons. Unlike other RPGs, there is no gold or vendors in the game, with the Occuli being your sole source of outfitting your characters. each character has their respective strengths- one makes for a good healer, one a good melee warrior, an done for powerful magic attacks- and you can swap them in and out during combat without any penalty, ala Final Fantasy X. Between swapping players and keeping an eye on the bar to see whose turn is coming up keeps combat fresh and tense, making you pay attention to what’s going on. Boss battles. especially later in the game, will find you using everything you’ve got, providing a suitable challenge even on Normal difficulty.
Child of Light may not be the deepest RPG out there, and one shouldn’t expect it to be, as its a 15 hour downloadable title and not a 70+ hour epic on disc. But it is a thoroughly charming RPG, with delightful characters and an engaging story that does occasionally tug at the heartstrings. This is a good game to play with youngsters, who can be engaged with Aurora’s adventures while pleasing the adults as well. The rhyming dialogue is nicely done and different for a game of this type. Some may be put off by that, but even if you can’t stand the dialogue being put into rhyme, this game is worth playing for its combat system alone. The watercolor painted graphics inspired by Yoshitaka Amano and the beautiful musical score are just icing on the cake. For its budget price of 14.99 (USD), its well worth your time, and may just be one of the best games you’ll play this year.
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