It’s February, the month where nothing (usually) really exciting happens in the game industry, the month of some of the fakest holidays in Canada (looking at you, Family Day), the month I just want to be over because it’s another month of snow and misery.
I’m going to put all that aside today, however, because today I review a beautiful game that reads and plays like a fairy tale.
Child of Light is developed by Ubisoft Montreal and published by Ubisoft. The story revolves around Aurora, the daughter of a duke in 19th century Austria. Aurora’s mother is absent, the narrator informs us, so the lonely duke marries another woman. One day, Aurora takes ill and seemingly dies in her sleep, only to awaken in the mysterious, magical land of Lemuria. Lemuria is currently under the oppressive rule of Queen Umbra, who has hidden away the sun, moon, and stars. Aurora embarks on a quest to restore the celestial bodies and free Lemuria from Umbra’s oppressive regime.
The gameplay consists of exploring 2D environments and occasionally solving light-based, switch-based, or block puzzles with your firefly/wisp friend, Igniculus. Running into enemies initiates combat. Combat is done Grandia style, where icons representing the characters move along a bar at the bottom of the screen. When your characters hit the white bar at the far right, time stops and you can choose actions. Different actions have different casting times, which affect how long it takes to move from the red portion of the bar to the end, which is when the character actually performs the action you gave them. If you manage to hit an enemy while its casting, its attack will be interrupted and it will be pushed back in the turn order. The same thing can happen to you, however, so it’s important to time your actions. Some enemies counter interruptions with attacks or buffs. To help with timing, you can move Igniculus into an enemy’s space and press L2 for him to shine his light in their face, slowing them down. If he runs out of juice, you can use the pauses between turns to touch the shining plants around the field or use a potion to refill his light meter. Igniculus can also shine to heal you or your allies. You can also craft gems, known as Oculi, so that your weapons deal elemental damage or you are protected from certain kinds of damage. Characters can level up and improve their abilities by using skill points.
Aurora assembles a quirky cast of friends on her journey, These include two traveling acrobats, a capitalist mouse, and a fish girl. Unfortunately, I didn’t feel like I got to know many of these characters very well, even in their post-battle conversations. Partly that’s due to the dialogue, partly to the length of the game, even so, they all have their amusing quirks, such as Robert (the aforementioned mouse) putting everything in terms that sound like he’s playing the stock market.
The art and music in this game are phenomenal. The art has a very dreamy watercolor effect, of particular note to me are the trees. My favourite tree being the one with pink leaves. I also love the way Aurora’s hair is animated, as if it’s constantly being blown back by a stiff wind. You can spend ages just flying around in this game, entranced by the animation. The visuals are accompanied by a soundtrack which includes melancholic piano music that plays while you’re exploring the world and dramatic pieces that play during boss fights. The boss tracks are some of my favourites, where ominous chanting and an orchestra really create a sense of urgency. I’ve been playing the final boss theme constantly since I first heard the music in game.
I have two major criticisms of this game. Firstly, it only has two difficulty modes: casual and expert. I played on expert difficulty, which offered a decent challenge but could be very brutal, especially in the game’s early stages. An early boss gave me such grief I was considering swapping to casual just for that fight. A middle of the road difficulty would have been appreciated. The second criticism I have is that while the rhyming dialogue (you read that right, all the dialogue is in rhyme) is charming and fits the theme and style of the game, some of the rhymes are very forced and that broke the flow of the game for me. I love the idea and I bet it was tough to pull it off in the first place, but I still cringed at some of the things the characters were saying.
Child of Light is a beautiful game and the only reason I didn’t play it sooner is because UPlay sucks. It doesn’t try to revolutionize the genre, it’s just a well made, nice game to enjoy along with a cup of hot tea (or your beverage of choice). I don’t know how much time I spent playing it, but the average I’ve seen is about 10 – 15 hours. There are 16 collectable confessions to collect, and some of them can be in out of the way places, which will extend your playtime a little, but don’t go in expecting a 40 hour epic and you’ll be fine.