Developer: Ubisoft | Publisher: Ubisoft | Played On: Xbox One | Price: $14.99 | ESRB: Everyone 10+ [Fantasy Violence]
AAA publishers are usually criticized for releasing annual iterations of their popular franchises—often being accused of favoring profit over originality. So when Patrick Plourde, Jeffrey Yohalem, and Brianna Code (creative director, lead writer, and lead programmer of Child of Light respectively), pitched their new IP to Ubisoft, it was a wonderful surprise that not only did Ubisoft give them the ‘go ahead’ on a RPG, they give them complete creative freedom.
A European fairy tale told through a platformer, slash Japanese-styled RPG is what can be used to describe Child of Light. A beautiful girl named Aurora is at its center, a princess who finds herself in the mystical world of Lemuria. As she traverses this strange land trying to find her way back home, she encounters monsters and magical creatures alike. She battles her way through perilous danger, maturing as her story unfolds.
Adhering to a more traditional element of the RPG genre, Child of Light has turn-based combat, but with an interesting twist. Inspired by the Active Time Battle system, there’s a time meter that appears in every battle that determines who will have the next turn. The meter is split between a “waiting” and “casting” period; if you hit an enemy while they’re “casting,” which is the moments just before a character strikes, they can be interrupted and lose their turn. Of course, the same can be done to you. Every action is completed at different speeds, so strategizing the right move to interrupt the enemy and avoid being interrupted is the key to the game.
Aurora isn’t alone on her journey: a small blue firefly named Igniculus accompanies her wherever she goes. Aurora can instigate battles by approaching enemies or Igniculus can blind them (which you control using the right analog stick) so they don’t see her, to avoid fighting.
Likewise, the same can be done in battles: Igniculus can blind the enemy to slow them down on the time meter, giving your team the opportunity to attack and possibly interrupt, thus stop, the enemies’ advances. If you prefer he heal you instead, that’s also an option. Igniculus does run out of light however so battles can be constantly chaotic between choosing to blind or heal. Even if you make the right calls, the time meter is a wild card and luck may not always be on your side.
Accordingly, Child of Light is arduous. Items are plentiful to find in chests because you can’t purchase them otherwise, forcing you to conserve wisely. Enemies have no HP bar so paying close attention to which foe is slumping (this signifies they’re weak) is important. There is also a skill tree and a crafting element to the game, but these aspects are very simple and less engaging than the battle system. The skill trees open up more as the story progresses, but there’s no strategy necessary to master them like in other RPGs. The crafting of oculi, jewels you can add to weapons for elemental effects, is even less involved. Ultimately battles are more about leveling up for the statistical boost, but given the simplistic aurora of the game, and its price, it’s excusable.
There are quite a few secondary characters obtainable throughout Aurora’s journey, and some are optional to add to your team if you choose to take on their sidequests (though, there are not many sidequests available overall). Players are thus given the option to skip a lot of the game’s content to accommodate different people’s preferred time commitments. The story can take up to ten hours to complete with all the characters obtained.
The narrative, which is the entire focus of Child of Light, is shaped like a sweet and lighthearted children’s story. There are some cliché RPG bad guys in there, but it’s fitting given the nature of Aurora’s struggle. The entire game is told in rhyme—down to everyone’s dialogue—which can sometimes harm the story’s flow. Still, it’s a lovely coming of age tale that clearly displays a lot of care went into its creation.
Lovely doesn’t begin to describe the visuals of Lemuria. The watercolor landscapes are gorgeous to behold; even just watching Aurora’s hair flow behind her as she flies through the air is breathtaking. The hand drawn character animations give the game an indie and homely tone not often seen from bigger studios. Despite peril waiting at every turn, the game’s ambience and soothing soundtrack has such a warm calming effect, like a child of light should have.
Roleplaying games still have a place in the world, and Child of Light is a good reminder that it’s possible to honor what made the genre popular while still adding some modern flare. Child of Light is a charming tale of good vs. evil, light vs. dark, surprisingly just for $15. It’s proof that not all games require a triple-A budget to be memorable, and that good ideas just need that first spark to become something magical.