I never played Final Fantasy VII, I can’t seem to finish Tales of Vesperia (one of the few great JRPGs on Xbox 360), and I generally shy away from the genre. But why was I obsessed with finding every treasure chest and fighting every monster in Child of Light, a Japanese-inspired role-playing game?
Ubisoft’s Child of Light takes many aspects of traditional JRPGs such as leveling up, turn-based battle systems and gear progression and simplifies them so that the average player can easily jump in without feeling like they have to put in 20, 30, 40 plus hours just to get to the good stuff. For those of you who are okay with such a time-consuming game, more power to you, however, I like my games to be tight, compact and well-balanced in its systems, which Child of Light delivers. Couple these tweaks with the UbiArt Framework – the engine made famous by recent Rayman games – a fun cast of characters and a story that is surprising, you get a game that is made entirely of fun content wrapped in a 12-hour package. At least, for the most part.
At the very start of the game players are introduced to Aurora, a little girl with flowing red hair who is the daughter of a duke. But we quickly learn that the character is ill and she falls asleep before waking up in the vibrant water-colored world of Lemuria where she meets a glowing blue ball of fire, or maybe it’s a firefly. Either way, the narrative points towards this theme of death and the afterlife. It reminded me a little bit of Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth, a film that also centered on a little girl, her imagination and the afterlife.
In a world where most video game protagonists are macho bro-dudes with guns trudging through explosive terrain, Aurora and the world she inhabits feels completely fresh. Even if her quest to save her dying father and rid the world of darkness doesn’t bring anything new to the table, the music coupled with the art can only be described as dreamy.
The presentation immediately brings the game to another new level; this isn’t your typical “indie game,” a term that has been tossed around in the past as a cheap, less-spectacular downloadable. Child of Light may not hold the blockbuster flare that is found in its Ubisoft siblings like Assassin’s Creed or Splinter Cell but it doesn’t need to. In its lack of scripted and cinematic spectacle, it makes up for in charm and creativity. The game’s narrative is told like a childhood fairy tale and every character, every dialogue box is exquisitely written and unique thanks to its rhyming iambic pentameter structure. I’ve never seen anything like it in a video game.
Ubisoft was smart to use this dialogue structure to characterize each party member you meet during the Aurora’s journey. Rubella, the female jester who’s only wants to reunite with her brother, often loses her rhythm in the last line of her dialogue and is often corrected by other characters like the elemental sprite, Igniculus. Robert the mouse is dead set on winning over his crush while also reminding players he is a character that values money and business through his diction.
Dialogue was a great way for the developers to make each character feel unique but their distinctiveness is further solidified when taken into combat. Child of Light’s combat is a nice blend of classic turn-based RPG battles and real-time strategy.
Each character and enemy moves along a bar at the bottom of the screen during a fight and when one of them reaches the last quarter of the bar (in red), they get to act. This is where it gets interesting. Depending on what you choose to do, your character will execute the action either quickly or slowly. A standard sword attack with Aurora takes no time at all, while a powerful Lightning Strike from Finn the mage, may take a few seconds to land. During this cast time players are susceptible to interruptions from enemy attacks which cancels the action completely, sending the character back to the start of the timer bar. This of course, works both ways, so players are able to interrupt enemies and if done correctly, can get through an entire fight without ever being hit. The combat is one of the best parts of the game. It’s deceptively simple, potentially frustrating and insanely satisfying.
The combat system also does away with some of the hassles in other classic turn-based RPGs. You can only use two characters at once but players can switch out characters infinitely. If you don’t have potions to heal, you can use Igniculus to heal at anytime as long as he has something in his meter. Every debuff you cast will land, even on bosses. Leveling up is also simplified and if you spent enough time, could unlock every skill in the skill tree. As far as equipment goes, the game uses upgradable gems called Oculi, which players can craft. Get three of the same color gems, craft them and create something stronger, easy as that.
Some may say that this game is too easy, and I agree, it’s a very easy game but I don’t see that as necessarily a bad thing, though some may disagree. After a few hours, things started to feel repetitive. Enter dungeon area, fight monsters, complete puzzle, fight boss, repeat. But this is a very small nitpick. After a time, I started to break up my constant battles with exploration and side quests.
Outside of combat, the game’s gorgeous art style encourages exploration. I was lost many hours of sleep flying around, looking for scattered collectibles, completing side quests, solving puzzles and unlocking hidden skill points.
Child of Light feels like a dream and that was probably intentional on Ubisoft’s part. The central character Aurora wakes up in the beginning of the game, unfamiliar to her surroundings but quickly finds a friend and embarks on a journey to save her father. At first it may have felt a little different but it didn’t take long before I was completely invested in these characters even if the overall plot was nothing new. And its mechanics, well a lot of games play like this one, but at the same time they don’t. It’s half side-scroller, half-JRPG. Thanks to its unique, hand-drawn visuals and a couple of surprises in the middle of the game, this UbiArt title isn’t like any dream, but a familiar dream. I’ve been there before, it feels warm and comfortable. And when I finally finished the game, it was like waking up. With that being said, I can’t wait to go back to sleep again, back to the world of Lemuria, back to the light.