Like many people, I was immediately drawn to Child of Light. The whimsical art style and the beautiful, yet somber music of the trailer instantly had me intrigued (and also curious as they boasted that this child-friendly RPG was made by the same people who made the racy first-person shooter, FarCry 3). Even so, I was skeptical until I learned that the cost of entry would only be $15, an investment I was willing to make even if the game turned out to be bad. So, how does this game fare? Why don’t we turn the page and find out? Or just scroll down… I almost forgot, this is the Internet, not a story book.
When it comes to presentation, Child of Light has a rather unique style. It claims to be inspired by Yoshitaka Amano and Hayao Miyazaki, and, while I don’t see the resemblance to either, I do find the art to be beautiful. The game truly looks and feels like a living water color painting — all the movements of characters and locations seeming to flow like water in a river. On top of this is the amazing attention to detail that I have rarely seen matched in video game art to this day. It’s truly a sight to behold.
On the sound side, the game is a bit more limited, but still entrancing. The soundtrack isn’t very long, and I did get sick of the main theme about halfway through the game despite its beauty. I once again found it endearing when the third act kicked in for whatever odd reason, but fatigue was there at a few points because most of the songs are based off of Aurora’s Theme. Also of particular note was the battle theme which I never once got sick of and still find myself listening to on YouTube now and again. And, while the game is not voice acted (thank God, I could only imagine how annoying the rhyming would get if it was all actually spoken, but more on that later), the narrator who speaks every once in a while has a rather intoxicating tone, and really increased the immersion for me.
Child of Light’s entire plot could be summarized within one paragraph, but doing so would mean spoiling what little is there. You play as the child Aurora, who finds herself in a strange fairy tale world, and it is her desire to find a way home. From the beginning of the game to the end, there is close to no story added to this, and what little story that exists is glossed over. I found this rather disappointing because there was actually some surprisingly dark subtext considering the childlike wonder and presentation the game seems to strive for in every other category. The characters fare no better, and calling them ‘archetypes’ doesn’t even begin to describe them. They are nothing more than stand-ins for combat with only the very slightest amount of thought put into them, “Here’s a jester… who can’t rhyme! Here’s a dwarf-like creature, who’s a coward!” Actually, looking back now, the overall story arc feels very much like The Wizard of Oz, and, when I take into account all of the other connections the game shares with pre-established fairy tales, it seems intentional. Adding the paper-thin characters and plot with an ending so abrupt I had to look up a walkthrough to make sure I was actually finished with the game, it left a bit of a bland taste in my mouth. While I was disappointed by the lack of effort in the story department, it at least kept things moving at a nice pace.
Rhyming isn’t as impressive as the writers of Child of Light seem to think it is. Hell, I could write this whole review in rhyme if I wanted to, but I’m not going to because it is annoying and would frequently mean changing the words I use in such a way that my message would lose its impact. Child of Light falls into this trap on numerous occasions, which is saddening because it is already light on dialogue, and it makes a story that already feels rushed even more shallow. It seems like such a nit-picky subject to complain about, but it really did get annoying for me. Yes, when the game started by rhyming every line I did find it cute, but it didn’t take long to realize that it would wear out its welcome quickly. It was even more frustrating when you realize that the writers didn’t even succeed in keeping up the simple rhyme scheme that they so desperately forced themselves to cling to. As you can probably tell from my writing here, I am by no means an English major, but even I could see that they weren’t properly following their own poetic structure. This truly was my biggest grievance with the game’s presentation; the simple, yet inconsistent poetic dialogue actually hurt the story’s execution by forcing rhymes that took importance from the characters’ intended meaning.
The gameplay in Child of Light seems purposefully designed to break convention, so much so that, about 30 minutes into the game, I found myself regretting my purchase, already feeling like the game was falling very firmly into the ‘Style over Substance’ category. It’s good to be wrong sometimes. While the gameplay does still contain some rather questionable design choices (the biggest one being that they give you the ability to fly less than an hour into your adventure, limiting a great deal of potential for platforming puzzles and gradual progression which would have fit perfectly into this title), the overall experience just got better and better as I played. There seemed to be a strange momentum to this game that I haven’t felt many times, the beginning felt rather slow and there was a lot of hand-holding (and I felt this way for about half the game’s length), but, by the halfway point forward, I was so enthralled and entertained that I couldn’t put the controller down.
Talking more specifically about the game’s exploration, it has a strange combination of freedom and the lack thereof. The ability to fly lets you truly explore your surroundings (and you will need to if you want to complete a great number of sidequests or find a lot of the game’s hidden items). But it still progresses in a rather linear fashion. There are some really interesting ideas at play here, though, for example, if you choose to, you can go the entire game without recruiting a single party member by simply flying past them. Enemy encounters are also mostly avoidable, but doing so means that you won’t be strong enough to fight the boss encounters once you get to them. The game also provides a great deal of well laid out hints, such as trails of orbs that not only lead you in the right direction should you find yourself lost, but will restore some of your health and magic if you collect them in consecutive order, making it a rewarding experience to search them out. Add to that a handful of puzzles and a world that is nearly a labyrinth, and you have the setup for a world that never once got boring to explore.
The game also provides you with a bit of customization when it comes to leveling up your characters. While equipment is nearly nonexistent and completely non-essential to completing the game, the level up system does force you to choose what abilities you want to learn for each character. The characters each have three skill trees that you can follow, and they all provide different types of stat gains and abilities. For example, one would focus on attack while another focuses on magic. Upon completing the game, I had about two thirds of each character’s complete ability trees filled in, so it’s not too much to worry about, but choices will have to be made. The pain of leveling up is alleviated a bit by the fact that all of your party member gain experience, even when they don’t participate in battle, and that keeps things running smoothly.
Like most RPGs, when you aren’t exploring the world, you will find yourself in battle. Child of Light makes use of a modified ‘active time battle’ mechanic, much like some of the Final Fantasy games. For the most part, the combat is pretty standard; taking a turn-based form where you control two party members and the enemy usually has three, though you are able to switch out your lead fighters for anyone in your reserves at any time. Where the battles get unique, however, is the manipulation of time playing a key role. At the bottom of the screen is a meter showing who will get their turn and when. You have your standard speed up and slow down buffs and debuffs to take control of this situation, but you also have a blue orb named Igniculus who, when placed over an enemy and activated in real time, will slow down their movements and the charging of their meter. On top of this is the fact that all attacks can be interrupted before they are performed, making the timing and speed of commands an essential part of the game’s strategy, especially during boss battles which are often heart pounding in presentation and, every once in a while, in challenge. It’s an amazing system that encourages truly learning the game’s systems and I absolutely loved it. The thing I find most heartbreaking about Child of Light’s gameplay is that it’s such an easy title that most players probably won’t realize how brilliantly all the subtle quirks of the combat system fit together, and how much potential this system has for growth.
Child of Light was a very entertaining experience with some questionable, and, yet, somehow still endearing design choices. Even taking into account my complaints about the title, I highly recommend everyone buy it and play it if you have even the slightest interest in doing so. The game will cost you $15 (plus another $3 if you get the Golem DLC, which I highly suggest if you want a full character roster) and will last you about 8 to 12 hours depending on your playing speed. It’s strange, at first I came into this review thinking I’d take the ‘yeah it’s good, but not that good’ argument, but the more I think on this game the more I remember it fondly, almost like a dream that I didn’t want to wake up from. It is truly a magical experience, and one that I don’t think I gave enough credit at first. There really just isn’t much else on the market like Child of Light, and if you are looking to experience the closest thing gaming has had to a real fairy tale, this is definitely it.
Originally posted on July 5th, 2014 on http://www.operationrainfall.com