The lights are on
What new ideas the game brings to the table and how well old ideas are presented.
How good a game looks, taking into account any flaws such as bad collision or pop-up.
Does the game’s music and sound effects get you involved or do they make you resolve to always play with the volume down?
Basically, the controller to human interface. The less you think about the hunk of plastic in your hands, the better the playability.
Flat out, just how fun the game is to play. The most important factor in rating a game.
Names like Final Fantasy and Grandia carry a lot of weight with certain gamers, but they don’t need to be important to you in order to enjoy Child of Light. Ubisoft’s downloadable, side-scrolling RPG borrows concepts from those classics in the genre, but infuses them with new ideas and presents them alongside captivating visuals and music. The result is something both familiar and surprising, but Child of Light’s charm isn’t powerful enough to completely cover its mistakes.
The art style immediately demands your attention. Storybook environments and characters bring the tale to life, which has a flying princess named Aurora exploring a fairytale world in hopes of getting back home. From the fantastical 2D settings to Aurora’s flowing hair, every step of the journey is a visual treat. An impressive soundtrack sells the aesthetic even more, with lots of mellow strings and piano music accompanying you on your journey.
Despite its pleasant presentation, Child of Light isn’t all about taking in the scenery. The turn-based combat system doesn’t pull punches, and it’s where you find most of the depth. A single meter governs when you and your enemies are able to act, and aggressively manipulating that meter is your key to victory. Interrupting enemies who are readying an attack cancels the move and kicks them back in the timeline. Your characters are vulnerable to the same effect, which makes combat an exciting back-and-forth of trying to maximize your actions while minimizing your enemies’. The process gets even more interesting when you factor in elemental weaknesses, skill progression, and crafted augmentations, providing a fun and balanced challenge.
As much as I enjoy the basic combat, I am frustrated by the two-character battle format. It feels needlessly restrictive; after acquiring a whole party, forcing them to fight in pairs excludes a wide range of potentially cool strategies and configurations. Consequently, I barely used some of the utility characters, opting only to swap them in for quick one-offs before replacing them with more useful fighters. Juggling characters like this becomes a part of your strategy, but it isn’t fun. The arbitrary limitation makes it difficult to experiment and use characters to their fullest.
Your two active party members have a little assistance from Igniculus, a luminous floating sprite who doesn’t directly participate in battle. Instead, he zips around the screen and slows down enemies, collects orbs that restore health and magic, and heals you directly. Managing Igniculus during solo play is easy enough, but his support role makes him a good fit for a younger co-op partner. He’s a great addition to the formula, since his contributions aren’t critical in most encounters, but he can be extremely helpful.
Combat may have RPG roots, but don’t expect the same from the story. You won’t find nuanced characters or complex plot developments here. Worst of all, the dialogue is written in rhyme, which is probably supposed to enhance the storybook vibe. The novelty is gone within minutes, but the pattern only gets more annoying during the 10-hour journey. Imagine if, when writing this review, I was more concerned with making my sentences rhyme than articulating my thoughts about the game. The points and intent would get muddy, and that’s the sacrifice Child of Light makes. The overabundance of awkward phrasing and interjections maintains rhyme and rhythm, but at the expense of developing the world and characters.
Child of Light isn’t all style with no substance. The writing and story suffer due to Ubisoft Montreal doubling down on the whimsy factor, but that doesn’t stop the gameplay from being accessible and entertaining, and a new game plus option keeps the adventure alive for additional playthroughs. Child of Light isn’t a top-tier RPG, but its solid mechanics and visual flair ensure that it also isn’t a forgettable one.
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