Child of Light is Ubisoft’s love letter to the classic JRPGs of the SNES and the Playstation 1 era. It’s a fairytale storybook done right with lots of allusions to classic fairy tales as well as many design and plot nods to the tropes of classic JRPGs. Written like a poem, it is truly a work of art; yet nothing is perfect.
Aesthetics (Story, Graphics, Sound)
You play as Aurora, an Austrian princess transported into the mysterious world of Lumeria to vanquish the Queen of Darkness, Umbra, and bring light back to the land. The entire game is in rhyme, sing-songy in its dialogue and that’s done wonderfully. There is a huge cast of characters, yet while they do have their own sub-plots and interesting little conversations amongst themselves, they are very short and don’t really expand on their backstories or deeper, internal struggles. This really downplays the player’s ability to get invested in the party member’s subplots, but their interesting characters nonetheless.
The main draw of Child of Light is its breathtaking, watercolor art design that blends 2-D and 3-D into a spectacular world. I can’t even begin to emphasize how beautiful this game looks. Every little detail in both the foreground, midground and background looks wondrous as the watercolor set pieces establish the fantastical, ethereal look of a storybook. The 3-D bit, Aurora’s character model, looks elegant as she floats through the air, red hair flowing. Here are just a couple of pictures that really emphasize the beauty of this game:
The music of Child of Light is equally as captivating as the art style, accentuating both the whimsical elevations of discovery as well as the somber moments of melancholy. Sweeping scores and gentle melodies help solidify the storybook vision in Child of Light. In particular Aurora’s song is lovely; its uplifting tone acts as a focal point in the game’s story and its a joy to listen to her pour her soul in through a small flute.
Gameplay (Combat, Systems, Mechanics)
The majority of the game is spent on a 2-D plane exploring dungeons, encountering monsters, solving puzzles and searching for treasure. It plays like a 2-D action game (akin to the Rayman games except much slower paced) especially the parts where you use your firefly, Igniculus, to collect orbs in the environment, stun enemies or hinder them in battle (Igniculus can be controlled by a second player). This level of exploration gives the illusion of an open free-roam world while still adhering to traditional 2-D side scrolling.
Puzzles in Child of Light, whether they involve environmental manipulation or quest based objectives, are present throughout the story. If you’re expecting some complex, challenging puzzles, Child of Light unfortunately isn’t the game to find those. The puzzles are interesting yet simple, involving just moving a few blocks here and there or matching shapes on a wall. They’re presented more as simple tasks rather than an actual challenging mechanic. While this isn’t necessarily a fault, it is a missed opportunity to add some more depth to the game.
While not exploring, you’ll be fighting. Child of Light uses a form of the active time battle system (although not technically because Square Enix has a patent on that system) where characters take turns performing actions based on their position on a timeline at the bottom of the screen. It’s a great nod to the turn-based battle system of classic JRPGs and it shows this gameplay design can be just as exhilarating and strategic as an action-based game. This is a personal preference, but with such a large party, it is a shame that only two are allowed on the field at one time.
The standard RPG elements are here: equipment, skill trees, level system, crafting. However, and this is more a production problem than a development problem, the amount of social functionality and purchasable DLC is, to be frank, sickening. Yes, it is a common industry practice nowadays, but in a game like this where it tries to capture the feel of the classic JRPGs, it is so out-of-place, especially in the fact that you can buy new characters or even equipment. What happened to secret characters?
Child of Light is a beautiful game that does justice to the old JRPG charm. Visually and audibly spectacular, the game captivates with its fantastical world filled with strange creatures and mystical elements. The issues of gameplay and story pacing are there, which makes the mid-game drag for a bit as certain plot lines and battles feel tedious. Gameplay is enjoyable; it provides a sense of relaxation as you travel and battle, keeping in tune with aesthetics, but still keeps the player on their toes in terms of strategy. I highly recommend this game to anyone who wants a rich, beautiful experience and enjoys RPGs.
Final Score: 9 / 10
Written and Edited by Tim Atwood
Chief Editor at The Pixel Pen Review