Child of Light Review: An Artistic Gem
Ubisoft’s upcoming release, Child of Light, has been hotly anticipated by players eager for something different. At PAX East, the charm of the game proved strong enough to lure players past BMX bike stunts and giant, looming monsters to try the demo – an experience that left some players convinced this unassuming title was the best game at the event.
Excitement built as peviews released by Ubisoft drew favorable comparison to works by Studio Ghibli and early Disney classics. Now, gamers have their hearts set on Child of Light offering an experience they won’t find anywhere else.
The good news? Those gamers are about to get exactly what they are hoping for.
Child of Light is utterly unlike anything else I’ve ever played, while staying far enough in familiar territory to feel comfortable. Ubisoft took artistic risks that make the environment feel new, while leaving core turn-based combat in place with just enough tweaking to make things interesting. Sheer immersive experience is where Child of Light shines, but there are solidly enjoyable mechanics backing it up.
Familiar Cast with New Twists
On a scale of “Unrealistically Awesome” to “Unmitigatedly Terrifying” CoL falls quite close to modern reality with a dash of bad luck and magic thrown in.
The story is a familiar coming of age journey, set around the evil stepmother versus noble princess archetypes. Credit to the writers, who added some much-appreciated depth to the tale when they easily could have followed the well-worn tracks of stories gone before. While not overtly scary, Child of Light certainly tackles some themes that land it squarely between the dark horrors of the Brothers Grimm and the happily-ever-afters of Disney princesses.
Your Expectations for the Visuals Cannot Be Too High
Child of Light proves that big game companies are willing to take risks for the sake of art.
Despite knowing that I was in for an unusually beautiful game, I was still unprepared for the frameably gorgeous visuals on almost every screen of the game. Child of Light will restore your faith that big game companies are willing to take risks for the sake of art. Ubisoft committed to fully bringing a story to life, and cut no corners in doing just that - even at the risk of appealing to a smaller group of players. It may just be my inner animation geek showing, but if there were gel-cels of this game available, I’d buy them.
Speaking of animation: hats off to Ubisoft’s animators. Flight can be a very tricky thing to convey properly and they nailed it. After hours and hours of gameplay I still found myself delighted by the natural feel of Aurora’s paths through the air, discovering lovely little touches in her flight movements that perfectly conveyed a sense of weightlessness.
Contrast between the 2D watercolor layers and Aurora’s 3D sprite could have been jarring, and instead each serves to highlight the beauty of the other
The attention to detail in every part of the visual experience of Child of Light is astounding. Character design, particularly for the princess, is spot on. Aurora is carefully crafted to look like a child you want to protect. Feet bare, she runs throughout Lemuria in a simple nightgown, overlarge crown and unwieldy sword all handily reinforcing her innocence and vulnerability at the start of the game; and throughout, her look always serves to remind you of the state of her character. The contrast between the 2D watercolor layers and Aurora’s 3D sprite could have been jarring, and instead each serves to highlight the beauty of the other.
Puzzles, Platforms, and Turn-Based Combat Ahead
Turn based… with a twist
Those familiar with turn-based RPG combat will find themselves feeling right at home. There are a few new mechanics to help keep things fresh - most related to Aurora’s firefly companion, Igniculus, who works completely outside the timeline and has a variety of effects on battle. On normal difficulty some fights towards the end of the game felt less challenging. I’d like to attribute that to my masterful party selection, savvy skill tree development, and impeccable timing, but players looking for more challenge may wish to opt for the difficult setting as they begin their journey. The combat cannot be sped up, which some may find irritating; for the most part I found myself wishing for more time to strategize, not less.
There's no equipment beyond some simple gemlike accessories (if you enjoyed gem crafting in Diablo you'll be really delighted with the Oculi system), so advancement is based on learned player skill, character level, and assigned character skills. If you're looking for complex gear this won't scratch any itches for you, but the skill tree is sufficiently involved to make party set up engaging.
There are puzzles scattered all about Lumeria, and you build on the tactics you learn early on to solve even the more advanced brain teasers near the end of the game. While the observant player will find plenty of hints, Child of Light doesn’t beat you over the head with the answers, which makes solving them all the more satisfying.
About the Text
Dialogue may Cause Some Players to Stumble
Almost everyone who wandered by during my playthrough had the same reaction:
‘Wow… that’s gorgeous.’
‘… Wait… do they rhyme the whole time?’
(Yes, the dialog style can be catching. You’ve been warned.)
The rhymes, predictably, do not quit. Ever. In most instances this serves as a charming reminder that you are, after all, taking part in a story. But in order to stick to the style, rhymes did occasionally reach a bit, jamming a word in where another may have served better, which sometimes made the line itself fall a little flat.
I’m able to overlook a few slightly forced lines (try writing a poem that lasts for hours and tell me you don’t wind up stumped a few times), but what I did have issues with was color selection for dialog text. Each character’s lines were written in a different color, and lighter colors were hard to read on the white background. Since I was playing on a rather large TV, I suspect PC players may have an even harder time making out the text on smaller screens. Fortunately our most common speaker, Aurora, has a bold magenta text that’s easy on the eyes.
If you find poems annoying but don’t want to pass on Child of Light, you can always skip reading the dialogue. Quests are logged in your inventory with simple instructions, and your main quest is always accessible through the menu, so you could ignore every piece of dialog in the game and still find your way around pretty easily.
Let Go of Your Expectations
If you expect standard pacing in CoL, you're gonna have a bad time.
You won’t actually notice anything unusual until you’re about two-thirds of the way through, but Child of Light is paced differently than most RPGs, and for that reason it may feel ‘wrong’ to players used to a certain flow.
My first playthrough took approximately 15-20 hours, and all attempts to figure out how far I had progressed in the game based on standard pacing cues were way off (though a collectible side quest gave me a pretty good idea where I stood, even that has a twist to throw you off). Child of Light does not use your standard ‘level some, miniboss, boss. Level some more, miniboss, boss’ formula, so try to put that expectation aside and enjoy the game as you encounter it.
While players may initially find this off-putting, a few hours after my first game concluded, the pacing actually made a lot of sense and I found I rather liked it. Players are well advised to take their time, complete quests, and enjoy the surroundings that the Ubisoft Montreal team has taken such great care to craft – don’t rush this gem. It’s all about the experience.
An exciting second journey to Lemuria
As a completionist who likes to get everything in one sweep, I was surprised to find myself diving into my second game with delight
I attempted to choose options that lead to the most complete storyline, but some fairly important side quests appear to have been wholly optional and I’m not entirely certain I didn’t miss a party member along the way, based on some clues in the end. I like that the game made my choices feel like a seamless path; others make it quite clear when you’ve missed someone or something, and the lack of certainty in Child of Light creates a sense of continuity while also encouraging you to fully explore. I’m very interested to see whether playthroughs have different outcomes based on the decisions players make.
I also found myself with a heaping pile of incomplete side quests at the conclusion of the game, and am relishing the prospect of tracking down the loose ends that I’ve missed in my next go ‘round. As a completionist who typically likes to get everything in one sweep, I was surprised to find myself diving into my second game with delight rather than begrudging annoyance – yet that’s precisely what happened.
It seems entirely possible to get all the quests on your first go, but the aforementioned unusual pacing may mean that the end of your first playthrough sneaks up on you and leaves you with a number of unresolved or even undiscovered side quests. The good news? You’re going to like playing through again. I’ll avoid spoiling why, but it’s quite a different experience.
UPDATE: After beating the final boss you can go back and tie up all the loose ends without beginning a new game. You can also head back out to the menu and start New Game + but doing so will start you back at square one, story wise, with harder enemies and your enhanced party members.
Right now I'm tracking down those last few missed quests, then I'll be diving into NG+.
For Many Gamers, This Will be the Best $15 You Spend All Year
This game won’t appeal to anyone who strictly prefers action-packed explosion fests - and that’s okay. Nearly everyone will find something to love in this delightful title, and since Ubisoft is releasing it on pretty much every current platform (PC, Xbox 360, PS3, Xbox One, PS4, WiiU) at a very reasonable $15 price point, it’s incredibly accessible.
- Review was completed on Xbox One platform
- Child of Light was provided for review by Ubisoft
- PS:Sit through the credits