Developer: Ubisoft MontrÃ©al
Platforms: Wii U (eshop) PS4/PS3 (PSN)
Xbox One/Xbox 360 (XBL), PC (Steam)
Release Date: April 29, 2014 (Wii U, PS3,PS4)
April 30, 2014 (PC, Xbox One/Xbox 360)
Rating: E 10+
This review is based on the Wii U version of the game
Child of Light is a 2D side-scrolling platformer/RPG hybrid that evokes a fairy tale-like aesthetic in its visuals and story. The main character in this tale is Aurora, a young princess with a pure heart whose soul was brought to the Kingdom of Lemuria. At first, the whole predicament seems like a nightmare to her and she wishes for nothing more to wake up from it all, but she soon discovers that it's all too real as she's thrust into a quest to reclaim the three sources of light and defeat the Black Queen who has taken over the realm. Now if you're wondering why this review started out with a poem, it's because the game's narrative and dialogue is told liberally through rhyming—again, much like many fairy tales of old used to be. Though a bit unorthodox at first, it does put a charming and unique spin on the way the story is told.
Also, it can't be stated enough just how beautiful the art direction in this game is. Using the same UbiART Framework engine that Rayman Legends and its predecessor used, Ubisoft MontrÃ©al has brought to life the drawings and colors of a storybook fairy tale, and it's arguably even more impressive and surreal than the other two aforementioned games. The sheer attention to detail in animations (such as Aurora's constantly flowing hair or how her crown gets knocked off when she's attacked during battles) is astounding, as are the minute intricacies of the different paintings and backgrounds that make up each area.
On the platforming side of the game (everything outside of battle mode, essentially), you control Aurora by herself, though you'll eventually meet characters that will join your party and assist you in your quest as well as in battles. Aurora also has a little elemental spirit (who literally looks like a rain drop) named Igniculus for a companion, and you'll be able to move him around the screen with the right analog stick (or if you're playing the Wii U version, you can assign him to a Wiimote so a second player can control him). He plays an important part in battles as I'll explain in a bit, but outside of them he can be used to collect orbs called wishes (which, if collected in a certain order, will help restore HP and MP) as well as open treasure chests and light beacons and switches that will help you progress through some of the game's light puzzles and dungeon areas.
As you make your way through each area, you'll encounter various dark creatures and enemies, but you can choose to avoid them most of the time if you want. Still, you're doing no favors if you avoid most of them since you'll need the experience for tougher battles like the boss fights. If you do come into contact with one, a battle will start, though how it begins is contingent on how you approach the enemy. In a nice touch, you can actually gain the advantage of having first strike if you come at them from behind, but the same is also true of the opposite; get struck by them (or by a projectile) and they'll suddenly have the jump on you.
Speaking of which, the battle system is without a doubt one of the best and most exciting parts of Child of Light. It's similar to the Active Time Battle system known to Final Fantasy fans, but a bit modified. Both your party's characters and the enemy characters adhere to a time bar on the bottom of the screen, starting on the left and ending up on the right side before you can execute your move. The last 20% or so of the right side of the bar is a red zone known as the casting phase. When a character first reaches this part of the bar, you'll be able to select their move which will then have its own, potentially shorter waiting period. Depending on the type of move you execute, the wait could be instantaneous (i.e. using items, defending), short, medium, long, or very long (most powerful magic). You can also only have two active party members at a time in a battle, but you can switch back and forth with any of them at the beginning of each turn.
Where it gets really interesting is when you factor in the ability to use Igniculus's wish power to either slowly heal one of your characters or hinder an enemy character's progress, thus slowing them down and increasing their waiting time between moves. Just like when you're outside of battles, this uses up the wish bar, so you have to be careful with how you use it; if you run out of wishes, you'll have to wait for it to slowly refill. Something else you'll need to consider is the fact that if an enemy attacks one of your characters while they are in the casting phase, they'll be interrupted and have to start all over on the bar, but the opposite is also true. By taking advantage of Igniculus's ability to slow enemies down, you can turn battles in your favor by ensuring that the enemy's casting phase is interrupted, thus buying you time before they can attack again.
This is a crucial part of the gameplay and it makes for some truly intense boss fights throughout as a result. The only downside to this mechanic is that you can pretty much game the system once you're down to one enemy left on the screen (including bosses), ensuring that you can almost always interrupt its casting phase. However, the bosses get around this somewhat by being faster and having some brutal counterattacks, buffs, and/or debuffs if you do interrupt them, making things a bit more interesting. These particular battles will also have you making full use of many of your characters' different abilities, keeping things fast-paced and strategic.
Outside of battle, there is also a system that allows you to equip and craft gems called Oculi, which give your characters certain bonus and stat enhancements. For example, equipping Sapphire Oculi will make a character more resistant to fire attacks, while others can add attack bonuses, extra HP, and more. The whole system is extremely useful due to the ability to combine Oculi together to create even more powerful versions, giving you a degree of control over how you want to set up your characters, stat-wise. It's also fun to see what new Oculi you can make from combining others. There's also a branching skill tree where you'll use skill points gained from leveling up to unlock new stat bonuses and skills, allowing you to customize your characters in a way you see fit.
Aside from the main quest, there are also a number of side quests you can undertake which often result in being rewarded with rare items as well as some additional side stories, like those of some of your companions. Your party members will also talk with each other in cutscenes occasionally after battles, lending to a greater sense of them being individuals with their own personalities and quirks. This is something Child of Light does exceptionally well—even in the shorter time span the game has compared to most other RPGs, you really do feel like you grow with your companions, each of which have their own motivations and desires. Not all of them are incredibly interesting, but you'll likely have a favorite or two among the bunch.
In the end, Child of Light is, without a doubt, a triumph in every way. Its formula and fusion of storybook fairytale aesthetic combined with RPG and platforming elements make for one of the most fun, unique, and beautiful titles I've played in some time, and its soundtrack is also a joy to listen to. The story is exceptionally good as well, with many of the characters making it even stronger with their own sub-plots and struggles. Ubisoft has now also set the bar for downloadable games, not only in quality of content, but also when it comes to value, as this is possibly the best $15 you'll spend in your life so far due to the breadth of content and depth of gameplay you're getting. If you love RPGs or are even the slightest bit curious about this, then you should absolutely play Child of Light. It's far and away one of the best games not only this year, but of the generation.
+ Amazing visuals and fairytale aesthetic brought to life by UbiART Framework
+ Great story and interesting use of rhyming in narrative
+ Battles are extremely engaging and fun
+ Great value; $15 for deep gameplay and 15+ hours of content
Battles, especially boss fights can become predictable in nature
Overall Score: 10 (out of 10)
Child of Light is breathtaking to behold and brilliant to play. If any of Ubisoft's games deserve to be called a masterpiece, it's this one.
Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable code provided by the publisher.