AAA titles are fantastic and bring us games like Bioshock Infinite and The Last of Us but things behind the development don’t always running as well as they should – from PR disasters to financial flops, it can all go out the window pretty fast. It would seem that developers work on a scale of ‘full on AAA million dollar project’ or ‘small indie team’, with little to no middle ground. Well Ubisoft are experimenting with this idea and they have used the Far Cry 3 engine for the amazing Far Cry 3 Blood Dragon last year, it was a success, with its neon color pallet and over the top humor, it was memorable and fun without the AAA price tag or budget.
Now they are trying this approach again, using the UbiArt Framework used in Rayman Legends, but this time instead of a platformer, we have a Final Fantasy inspired RPG. So did Ubisoft hit the nail on the head and deliver an indie style adventure or did they miss what makes them so unique? This is Child of Light and we’re about to find out!
The plot of Child of Light is a simple one, but it’s so charming. You are Aurora, an Austrian princess, after the death of her mother with her loving father he remarries a duchess. One night Aurora falls sick, and passes away. In her slumber she awakes alive in a mystical fantasy world of Lemuria. She quickly meets a friendly talking firefly, Iniculus and from there she learns of an evil enchantress who rules this strange world. It’s up to her to save the sun, moon and stars from her grasp as well as find her way home. The game is less of a grand epic adventure spanning hundreds of hours like Final Fantasy IX but more of a more personal, quirky fairy tale about a little girl who saves herself.
Child of Light has one aspect of its script that I feel will defiantly turn quite a lot of people off, and that’s the fact that the entire game is written in rhyme. Yes it’s all done in iambic pentameter (Leaving Cert English you rule!) and while this will certainly annoy some, I found it undoubtedly charming. The world of Lemuria is fantastical and wonder filled, the rhyming scheme works to re enforce this feeling of fantasy and childlike wonder.
Child of Light is an RPG but it isn’t what you would call traditional. One major difference is that its 2-D sidescolling, so you can imagine how different that makes the experience. The level layout changes the flow of exploration quite a bit but it works very well, allowing you to jump directly over enemies and finding chests along separate paths. This change of viewpoint reminds me quite a bit of a metroid-Vania style game; instead of simply jumping to the end of a level, you explore large sprawling areas, attacking enemies, collecting items, solving puzzles and interacting with NPCs.
Now with the RPG genre you can’t not discuss battles and the combat system. In true JRPG fashion, these battles play out in a turn based fashion, allowing you to pick your attacks and then giving the enemies time to attack and vice-versa. Now where most RPGs with this formula leave it at that, Child of Light does things a little differently. During battles, towards the bottom of the screen you will see what is called a timeline, which displays when you and your enemies are able to attack. When you reach the cast line, you pick your attack for that turn, and must get to the end of the bar to actually follow through with said attack. This applies to enemies to, but if a enemy gets to the end of the line before you have a chance to use that attack, they can interrupt you, meaning you don’t get to do that attack. This actually works both ways, meaning if you reach the end, before them, you can interrupt their attack and force them back down the timeline.
This is where Iniculus comes in, as by hoovering him over enemies, they will be slowed down on the timeline so you can shoot past them and interrupt them, but Iniculus has a power meter, so you need to be careful how much you use. This gameplay mechanic may sound small at first, but it becomes incredibly important in later battles, as perfect interruption timing is a huge focus of battles. This inclusion of the timeline mechanic adds a lot of strategic value to the battles, and changes the pace of the usual hammer X button until you win strategy of past JRPGs. Along with the timeline system, you have a number of party members that help you out throughout the plot, varying from a accounting merchant mouse to a court jester who just can’t get the hang of rhyming. Each character are split into the usual character archetypes, the mage, the healer, the archer and so on. Each can be swapped at any time in battle without using up a turn, so its easy to mix and match your party depending on the situation, though the limit of only having 2 party members active at a time makes things quite finicky at times.
Your equipment/gear in the game is replaced with items known as Occuli, which are basically small crystals that grant different abilities depending on where you equip them. These give you upgrades like fire immunity and extra evade chance. Occuli become more powerful when they are crafted, so three blue Occuli will make a more powerful version of that Occuli. It’s an interesting way to add depth to the combat, but most of the time you won’t really notice any affect, or which Occuli you equipped to who, seeing as you can’t check in battle. Exploring in the field to find Occuli also comes off as a little dull, as when you find a sword in a RPG there is a bit of a rush with that feeling but when you find yet another crystal, it doesn’t really phase you.
Now really I shouldn’t even have to say this if you have seen anything of the game, but my god Child of Light is stunning. The entire game has a beautiful water colour painting style to it, which works perfectly into the fairy tale theme. The visuals are something straight out of the Brothers Grimm, with incredibly detailed backgrounds, flawless colour blending and charming character designs. Everything feels like a moving illustration, from Aurora’s hair swishing through the sky, to the characters levelling up poses. The soundtrack works perfectly with the visuals, as French singer/song writer Coeur de Pirate adds a delicate, innocent and touching score that knows when to be subtle in emotional scenes yet cheers with power during the frantic boss fights. It is one of the most interesting scores I have heard in quite some time and I am blown away by how emotional it is.
Child of Light is many things, a charming fairy tale for the ages, an interesting take turn based combat( despite it’s lack of depth), a beautifully crafted world full of interesting characters and a very unique RPG, but most importantly I think its a bold step for Ubisoft that paid off. Think about it, a game in which you play as a young princess, who wields a sword of light who must travel across a fantasy world with her colourful friends to save the world, and her own damn self. . Ubisoft aren’t known for their RPGs, it is a marvel at how much thought and detail went into the combat design and general aesthetic. While the Occuli system comes off as a bit flat, the combat is still fun and varied enough to carry the unique fairy tale plot along with a fantastic cast.
Child of Light has proven that a large developer like Ubisoft can still tell smaller, more unique and interesting tales without the burden of a AAA budget, and its fantastic that in a industry of huge big budget shooters and open world titles, there’s still room for a big developer to tell a fairy tale about a princess saving the world.
You can purchase Child of Light for PC, PS3, PS4, Wii U, Xbox 360 and Xbox One.