Review: Child Of Light
You know how I found out about Child Of Light? Tumblr. A post was going around about how we really shouldn’t miss this game, since Ubisoft were only barely marketing it themselves. Which is sadly all too common these days. If it’s not a HUGE release, most publishers will just give it a footnote.
As I wasn’t able to get access to the game before release, I have diligently stayed away from all reviews and discussion about the game, just in case it would somehow affect my opinion. I can’t promise to be objective, but it is definitely what I’ve come up with entirely on my own.
Child Of Light (PC [reviewed], XBox 360, XBox One, Playstation 3, Playstation 4, Nintendo Wii U)
Developed by Ubisoft Montreal
Published by Ubisoft
Release date: April 30th, 2014
OS: Windows Vista, Windows 7 SP1, Windows 8/8.1 (32/64bit versions)
Processor: Intel Core2Duo E8200 @ 2.6 GHz or AMD Athlon II X2 240 @ 2.8 GHz
Memory: 2 GB RAM
Graphics: nVidia GeForce 8800 GT or AMD Radeon HD2900 XT (512MB VRAM with Shader Model 4.0 or higher)
DirectX: Version 9.0c
Network: Broadband Internet connection
Hard Drive: 3 GB available space
Sound Card: DirectX Compatible Sound Card with latest drivers
Additional Notes: Windows-compatible keyboard and mouse required, optional Microsoft XBOX360 controller or compatible
Let’s just get this out of the way first. Yes, Child Of Light requires UPlay. If this is a dealbreaker for anyone, I shan’t blame you. The nicest thing I can say is that it seems to mostly work now, but the whole thing about logging in and entering the CD Key on the first start-up is still a chore that feels entirely unnecessary. I had some problems with the game experiencing a massive framerate-drop after the first couple of hours of play, but that might have been unrelated. Closing and re-starting it fixed it, and it never happened again, so it might be unfair to blame UPlay.
Ubisoft do seem determined to keep locking useful stuff away in the “Rewards” section of UPlay though. For your hard-earned gamerscore, you can purchase artwork, in-game potions, items that give your characters permanent stat boosts, crafting materials and a counter added to your world map that lets you know how many documents are left to find in an area. It’s definitely not as bad as microtransactions, but it still feels a little off. For the Assassin’s Creed games they’ve locked away quite bigger things as well, so I’m really not sure what Ubisoft’s game is here.
“What about the actual game though, Rita?” you might be asking. Child Of Light stars the Austrian princess Aurora who gets transported to the magical land of Lemuria after seeming to die in the ‘normal’ world. She quickly sets about finding a way to save herself and get back home, with the help of a Firefly named Igniculus and a rather large sword. Things quickly turn out to be more complicated than she first thought, but equipped with a nice set of fairy wings that let her fly almost anywhere she’s ready to take on the world.
The state of the PC port is better than I expected. Fully rebindable keys, controller support, a fair set of resolution options, and more. No sliders or drop-down menus though; you have to click through everything, or fiddle with checkboxes. I suppose I was lucky that I didn’t really feel the need to change anything about the default options. I even played with the default keybindings, just to see how they felt. They’ve set up everything around the WASD keys, as if to make sure you don’t have to move your hand much at all, which I found I sort of appreciated. Okay, it’s a little weird to have Q as the default “Back” button, but it made some sense when I thought about it. Space is your main selection key for menus, and E is for using/opening things in the gameworld. And five hours in the game decided to tell me that S (down) + Space is to drop down through platforms. I mean, it wasn’t like I spent five minutes trying and failing to figure that out for myself at the beginning. I guess I’m a dumb (you only had Space listed as Dash, game, how should I know?).
So what we have here is a 2D semi-platformer RPG with some absolutely gorgeous art that looks entirely hand-drawn. I won’t say for sure that it is, because I’m not an artist, but it looks that way to my untrained eye. You control Aurora and combat with the keyboard, while you control Igniculus with the mouse. Menus work with both. Igniculus can collect most objects around the screen, open chests that aren’t lever-operated, emit light to help you see, or to blind and distract enemies. This can allow you to either bypass them harmlessly, or get behind them for a Surprise Attack. The game even touts someone else taking the mouse (or a second controller) to control Igniculus as a form of co-op.
I actually thought it was going to be a Metroidvania style platformer outside of combat for the first 30-60 minutes, until I beat the first boss and got my wings. After that I could just fly everywhere, so what else did I need, huh? And I’m not gonna lie; that kind of freedom of movement feels great. It’s extra neat because you get affected by air current, or pushed down by any waterfalls you run into. There’s almost a bit of a puzzle element to knowing when and how to use the dash move properly to get around and reach everywhere.
There are actual puzzles too, but I never got stuck on one. I’m not sure if it’s just me who’s that good, or if they aren’t all that hard. They do add some nice flavour and variety though. Exploring the world of Lemuria is a nice treat, with the pretty artwork and strong art direction. You’ll even meet several inhabitants along the way. Most of them colourful, and some of which will even join your party. I had six party members at the end, and considering you can only have two out in combat at once, I will admit some of them didn’t really see that much use. I did my best to set them up so I was covered for most situations, yet some of them were just much more useful than the others.
The combat itself is a turn-based, active-time-battle kind of thing a la certain Final Fantasy games. There’s a bar across the bottom of the screen where everyone involved has small icons moving along to show how close they are to getting to act. Once they reach the final red bit marked Cast, they get to pick an action which then has to get through the Cast phase to actually trigger. Different actions have different cast speeds, and anyone getting hit while casting will get interrupted (unless they’re protected against that) and pushed quite a ways back on the action bar. The enemies operate under the same rules, and in addition you can use Igniculus to manipulate the battle. Shining on enemies slows down their preparation, which might make it easier for you to line up a good interruption. Maybe between your two party members you can even juggle it helplessly until you’ve won. This gets trickier when more than one enemy is involved, which there usually is. While you can only field two members at a time, the enemy gets up to three. Shining on your own party members will heal them slowly, and there are also at least two shiny plants per battle that will spill a small load of health, mana and firefly power when moused over.
When it comes to switching your active party members, that’s also done entirely in-combat. Once someone you control reaches the Cast zone, you can elect to switch them out with someone else, and this puts the selected party member on their action phase. So you are basically free to switch around as you want and need. All of your party members have different skills, abilities and specialties which make them better suited for certain situations than others.
And I’ll admit; once I got a handle on it, I quite enjoyed the combat. To the point where I would actively engage practically every enemy I found. Of course, that was also partially because I wanted to level up more. Even so, I personally found it quite engaging. Combat became its own kind of puzzle that changed a bit every time. Who should I hold back, can I manage to act before this enemy does, can I pull off this huge, slow spell before anyone interrupts me, and so on. I also liked that they usually colour-coded enemies to let me know their elemental weaknesses.
To build on that, you have the Oculi system. Essentially a bunch of gems that you can slot into your equipment to enhance or change it. And there is a crafting system for them, where you can combine different colours to create new ones, or take three of a smaller gem to make a bigger gem with a stronger effect. You can either slot them into offense, defense or support, and they can have radically different effects based on that. For instance I set up both of my jesters with elemental attacks because they both attacked quickly and could be counted on to interrupt just about anything, and they had generally high attack scores.
I probably could have done even more with it, but I tend to play rather offense-focused in these games, so it became more of a bonus thing. Though I did experience that kitting out the mage in magic- and spellpower-enhancing Oculi made him into quite the little monster in the latter part of the game. Yet I still had loads of Oculi left over and unused.
On a strange note, at some point during the game all of my party members had their Oculi unequipped without notice, and I was too unobservant to notice until I was in the final area.
The leveling up seems to be slightly inspired by the sphere grid from Final Fantasy X, though the actual similarities are largely superficial. It’s not too advanced. For each level you get a skill-point, and you use those to work your way down any of the three paths as you’d like. I typically looked at the squares to see what abilities were available, and worked my way towards the ones I wanted most, and just picked up the stat buffs on the way. I probably didn’t do anything close to an optimal build, but it was good enough to clear the game on Normal.
You also collect something the game calls Stardust, and these items can be used to give someone a permanent boost to whichever stat the Stardust is for. I did my typical thing of hoarding it all. My plan was to use it all at the end before the final boss to make sure I had all the power I could get, when I better understood my party members and which stats I wanted them to improve. Unfortunately the end came a bit suddenly for me, so I never got to use any of them.
I’ll say that I enjoyed the story quite a lot. It’s not exactly an epic, but… it’s all done in rhyme. Some of it is admittedly a bit forced, but still! Rhyming! Even the few bits that are voice-acted! Made it so much more fun to read. Even if the fun sometimes came from trying to figure out which pronounciation the writer had in mind for this to actually rhyme. And all in all, I found the story to be quite sweet. Even touching, at times. There are some nice twists and developments in there. My only issue is that the end did come on awfully sudden. As it clocks in at somewhere between 12 and 15 hours, I won’t say it was too short. For the most part it felt exactly as long as it needed to be. It didn’t ever really feel like I was stuck in a slog, or that it was dragging on. But even with all that, the ending somehow felt a bit rushed. Almost like they ran out of time or budget and had to cut a few scenes. Maybe they planned to have one more area that they weren’t able to implement? Maybe I’m just wishing I was allowed to stay in this world a little longer.
I feel I should properly state, just so we’re clear, that Child Of Light is gorgeous. If I was rating it on its art style and art direction alone, it would be definite top marks. And it’s all enhanced by a beautiful, and sometimes haunting, soundtrack that really helped sell the world to me. There’s also some clever sound design used to help your world awareness. Like audio clues that something is closeby, even if you can’t see it yet. Traveling out and seeing Lemuria is lovely. If this team was to make comics or cartoons, I’d get them all. The amount of detail I kept finding in both backgrounds and foregrounds was astounding. I’m sure I can slap on more adjectives, like ‘wonderful’, but hopefully you’ve got the point.
Yes, I like the game. And I would recommend it, as well. I mean, unless you either hate RPGs, rhyming or 2D hand-drawn art. Considering the price point as well, I can’t really see any sort of argument for it being ‘not worth it’. It’s cheap, it’s gorgeous, it’s interesting and it’s different. If it wasn’t for a few minor issues (like the lack of a local map) I’d have given it top score.
[Disclaimer: A copy of this game was purchased by the writer for the purposes of this review.]