Child of Light is unique in all the right ways. You aren’t in a bright, vibrant world with bustling metropolises and political power plays. You are in a world encompassed with sadness, destruction, and darkness. That world isn’t sharpened to full 1080P hyper-realism, either. Instead, you play in a hand-drawn, lovely-yet-depressing world. Aurora isn’t your typical hero, armored from head-to-toe or harboring some unknown sorcerer bloodline. She is an unassuming child who dies in her sleep five minutes into the game.
It’s different, yes, but it’s oh so good. Ubisoft has an absolute gem with Child of Light.
- TL;DR: A stunning, gripping game based in sadness
- Platform: PS4
- Score: 9.2
- Hours Played: 12
- What I Played: Campaign on normal, then went back to 100% the trophy list
- Recommended: To anyone that enjoys RPGs in any capacity
Aurora, the child of an Austrian duchess and our heroine, goes to sleep one night and, sadly, is presumed dead. Luckily, she isn’t but is instead transported to the world of Lemuria, which has been taken over by the evil Queen Umbra. Aurora, in her night gown and with her long red hair down past her waist, must find the sun, moon, and stars that Umbra has stolen away in order to bring light back to the world and to return to her father, who is overtaken by grief.
Sadness and depression is laid on thick at the start. A child is thought to be dead and her father is bedridden with sadness. The world of Lemuria is striking in all it’s hand-drawn glory, but also very dark. Twisted branches of trees long dead litter both the foreground and background. Entire buildings have been lost to time, overgrown with weeds and crumbling. If this wasn’t enough, the music really drives home the feeling of sadness. A piano is almost always playing a slow, dreary song.
One of the literal bright spots in a primarily dark world is Igniculus, a sprite that Aurora lovingly calls a firefly. Igniculus is Aurora’s partner — you actually control them both at the same time. Iggy (yeah I’m not typing that out every time) is key to Aurora’s success. Being made of light, he can naturally light up dark areas, but also activate light-based switches/doors and cast shadows on puzzles that require it. He/she/it can also reach items and chests that Aurora can’t.
Combat in Child of Light reminds me of one of my all-time favorite (and underrated) games, Grandia. Rather than standard turn-based combat, everyone in battle is on a single timeline. Once a character hits line between WAIT and CAST, they can act. Actions take different amounts of time, from instant to 10+ seconds or even multiple turns. After choosing an action, the character has to move to the end of the timeline to execute that action. If they get hit during that casting time, they are interrupted and knocked back down the line. This plays a huge role in combat, forcing you to sometimes choose a weaker, faster move to make sure you get an interrupt or to defend if you know you’re going to get hit with something strong. Child of Light is one of the few games where I actively used time-based attacks and spells, which normally feel shoehorned into a game due to being an RPG trope. Iggy also plays a big role in battle, slowing enemies down by burning an energy meter.
Battles are absolutely stunning. Each character is on it’s own raised platform, reminiscent of a stage for a play. To drive that point home, a light shines on the character who is acting or the enemy being targeted. Characters turn away and cower when Iggy shines on them, lending more to the play of light against dark.
Aurora is never alone in battle with Iggy by her side, but she is also accompanied by a cast of characters. Whether it be the jester left behind by the circus for not being talented enough, the mouse who is shot down by the one he loves, or the warrior cast out of his clan after being branded a traitor, each character has his or her own tragedy, building on the depressing tone. Any pair of characters can be swapped in and out of combat, which is something you’ll do frequently. Each character fills a specific role — the tank, the mage, the healer, etc. I used the offensive-based characters about 80% of the time, but the defensive/status-altering classes play a legitimate role.
The story in Child of Light is told literally as a story. A children’s book, specifically. Lines often rhyme and have a rhythm to them. Surprisingly, the overwhelming majority of the story makes sense and doesn’t feel that strange, even with sentences hacked up to make the rhymes fit. The narrator’s voice, which you don’t hear very often, is very calming and soothing, almost like this is a bedtime story.
My one complaint with Child of Light may be the “equipment” system. I put quotes around “equipment” because there isn’t any gear to speak of, which isn’t the problem. There are crystals, called Oculi, which can be equipped in three slots, which map to what would be a character’s weapon, helmet, and an accessory. Oculi of the same color can be combined to make stronger versions of themselves (a la Diablo gems) or combined with the other colors to make a new one (red + blue = purple). Each color Oculi has it’s own modification for each item slot, and being that there is no equipment or money to speak of, they are the only tangible thing you win from battle (aside from potions). I understand the reasoning to put a crafting system into a modern RPG, but it felt forced and almost unnecessary. I think a simple gear system of various swords and helmets would have worked better.
It’s hard to believe that so much can come in such a small package. A team of 20 people cranked out, to this point, 2014’s most gripping and beautiful game for $15. Every detail is painstakingly hand-drawn and detailed to the Nth degree. It’s a perfect length at ~12 hours and doesn’t feel rushed or drawn out. Sadness and depression, abnormal tones in gaming, are heavy in Child of Light and I love it. I’ve never had an experience quite like this and I doubt I will for a long, long time.