Ubisoft’s newest digital title is a gorgeous 2D homage to classic JRPGs in a fairytale setting.
What Is It?
Child of Light is a side-scrolling RPG inspired by classic JRPGs with a gorgeous art style that you’d never expect to see come from the minds of a number of the people that worked on Far Cry 3. The story features Aurora, the daughter of a King who falls ill one day and is transported to the world of Lemuria in her sleep to help save this strange world in order to return to her own. Lemuria has been taken over by the Queen of the Night, who has stolen the sun, the moon, and stars to bring darkness to this world as monsters bring about chaos amongst those that lived there. Along the way, Aurora meets new friends that join her quest to save the world and get her back to her own world. The charming part of this story is that every piece of dialog, even quest text in the pause menu, is written in rhyme, though there are some poor rhymes in there.
In terms of JRPGs, Child of Light’s battle system is taken from Grandia, which features an action bar that shows you a fluid order of attack between your party members and enemies that is an active and rewarding battle system to play with. The action bar has a casting phase where your party members can choose an action with a small casting phase where enemy attacks can interrupt them and force you to start over again, which is the part where your success or failure in battle takes place. Your various attacks, spells, and buffs all have speeds attached to them that determine how fast they go from casting to actually happening, which is vital to know when you can use your slower or faster attacks to interrupt enemies to keep them from doing anything to your party members. It may sound complicated, but it’s easier to grasp when you’re playing the game than to actually describe all of the nuances and strategies in text.
Why Should I Care?
It’s safe to say that JRPGs now tend to be heavily inspired by anime to such a degree that most of them are off-putting to most of the people that got into the genre back in the day thanks to games like Chrono Trigger and any number of Final Fantasy titles. That reality has spurred this trend over this past generation where western developers have put their own spins on the genre with stories and worlds that are a breath of fresh air in comparison. Child of Light may be the best example yet of the western JRPG with its mix of Grandia’s battle system with the fairytale setting that is a delight to play through. The visual style invokes a lot of imagery inspired by classic folklore with a bit of Okami mixed in with the way that Aurora’s flowing red hair is depicted.
Outside of the battle system, Child of Light does everything it can to make the game as frustration-free as possible by making it so easy to recover health and get out of bad situations. Accompanying Aurora on her journey is a firefly named Igniculus, who acts as a cursor that you control with the right stick in and out of battle. Outside of battle, he can be used to activate these glowing plants that spit out these dots that if collected in order with Igniculus or Aurora, a cloud of health and magic bubbles appear to help you refill your HP and MP meters. If you just position Igniculus over Aurora and hold down the left trigger, he’ll directly replenish her health along with those in her party. Igniculus can also blind enemies outside of battle so that you can behind them for an easy ambush tactic, so you almost have to go out of your way to not go into battles without an advantage. Add in tons of chests with potions and there should never be a single point in the game where you have no way to replenish health in or out of battle.
All of these points together might make it sound like a cakewalk and maybe it is, but there are a number of moments where the battles themselves can be quite hard. Boss battles by their very nature are harder than everything else since there is at least one big enemy that can pack a whollop in each hit and his/her minions can make management of the action bar more difficult than in most battles. The battle system has heavy reliance on elements with every enemy being of one of a number of elements and your ability to identify the weakness and attack it is key to making life easy for yourself. The catch to that elemental aspect are the gems that you pick up everywhere that can imbue your weapons and armor with elemental bonuses that means a bad pairing can make life hard for you if you don’t realize that you’re going to face lots of fire enemies, so not removing fire gems will kill your damage numbers.
As much good as I have to say about Child of Light, there are plenty of issues in there. The ease of healing Aurora hides the fact that the game makes it harder to heal the other members of your party because there’s no HUD element to make this obvious unless you go back and forth between the party status menu to see if they’re getting better. The game has no way outside of battle to set the two active party members, though it has no penalties for switching them out mid-battle to make up for it. The soundtrack is good enough that it’s a shame to see the audio drop for a split second randomly throughout my time spent with the game. The framerate on the Wii U version also has an occasional hitch that is unfortunate to see. The gem feature has a neat crafting system that lets you make new gems or better versions of the gems you have, but it’s really easy to hose yourself because it automatically switches to the craft button even when you’ve only picked two of the three gems you wish to craft.
Why Is It Worth My Time And Money?
With the previous western JRPGs that we’ve seen since last generation, they tend to be on the shorter side to offer good experiences that don’t overstay their welcome. Child of Light bucks that trend with a much longer campaign that I’ve already seen 12 hours so far and feels like it should easily reach 15 hours. I haven’t felt like the game has dragged on so far with new party members bring their own stories and personalities into the fold to keep the journey going. Child of Light does a lot right to make it a great, charming game that comes from parts of the talented team that made Far Cry 3, which is about as far away from that game in every way as it gets.
Editor’s Note: From what I am told by Ubisoft, the audio issues mentioned above should be addressed by the Day One update that the Wii U version will receive. I’ll update this review on launch day once I can confirm if it’s fixed.