What happens when the team behind Far Cry 3 take the gorgeous UbiArt engine that powered the latest Rayman titles, sprinkle in an active battle system and top it all off with more than a few nods to classics like Chrono Trigger and the old school Final Fantasy games…Child of Light, that’s what! A side-scrolling platformer set for the most part in a magical realm full of mystery and intrigue, yet a platformer with a difference. Harking back to the good old days of turn based timed combat, the active battle system and fairly deep RPG mechanics draw you further into the world of Aurora, the Child of Light.
You play as Aurora, the young daughter to the king of Austria and the year is 1895. Following the loss of his wife the king looked after Aurora alone, until he became bored and sought a new companion; unfortunately he chooses poorly and both his and Aurora’s world is turned upside down. Going to bed a tad under the weather Aurora awakes the next morning only to find herself in a mystical realm known as Lemuria. Shaken and disorientated she finds a friend in a firefly named Igniculus along with a whole host of wacky characters, all with varying abilities.
Her quest begins here to find her way home, setting free the sun and moon from the clutches of the Queen of the Night - banisher of darkness, Child of Light.
The first thing that will strike you when you begin this beautiful adventure is the art direction and the stroke of genius that is the use of the UbiArt engine. Looking like a gorgeous watercolour painting when still, and even better during battle scenarios thanks to the somewhat oddball character designs it really is a visual feast of creativity - hats off to the team as it really pays off and feeds directly into the sometimes sombre, sometimes twee atmosphere experienced throughout the entire eight hour plus campaign.
The story whilst at first may seem throwaway, your typical fantasy-esque tale of good vs evil, magical lands and an evil queen, but it actually grows on you as you encounter new areas, new characters and delve deeper into the history of Aurora and her family. By the end you will be fully engaged and fist pumping at the sight of an enemy falling to their knees during battle. There grows over your time with Child of Light a desire to push forward, a need to see it out and complete the journey, to see Aurora succeed.
The script is an odd one, one part bold mixed in with one part of silliness, it is entirely written in rhyme. Every line is written in rhyme, maybe it saves time. At first this comes across as a novel approach, a twee little fantasy nod which over time may get a little boring, even annoying if not handled correctly - but even after hours of gameplay you will find that it doesn't and often goes as far as raising a smile. At times it comes across as forced for sure but that’s natural when doing something that little bit different, and this isn’t a three hour game, it’s a reasonable length with a lot of character interactions. You speak to townsfolk, new companions, flying pigs, you frequently chat with Igniculus and even your companions randomly talk amongst themselves, therefore keeping it up and keeping it both relevant and humorous must have been a tough challenge - one for which the writer(s) should be applauded.
It helps that the script has the good sense to poke fun at itself throughout too, even providing character interaction which openly mocks the way in which the script is written. Not only does this initiate several wry smiles while playing, it also reinforces your appreciation for how much of a task the writing of the script must have been.
The gameplay is made up of platform based exploration with your trusty firefly, Igniculus, at your side for the majority of the adventure. There are many locations within the game, ranging from deep dungeons riddled with traps and waiting groups of enemies to ambush you, all the way to cities that float in the sky. Fairly early on you receive the ability to fly by means of a neat set of fairy wings and it is important from this point on that you always consider trying up if your way is blocked. Your companion Igniculus can help you open chests and stop traps as you progress, he can also heal you, that is of course until his light meter gets low. If you have a friend with you on the sofa (or couch for our US readers) then they can grab a pad and assist you on your quest, taking up the role of this little firefly. It’s barely necessary in open play but comes in very handy during the often intense strategic battles that take place. If you don’t have someone on the sofa then fear not, you control the little dude with the right analogue stick.
Coupled with the minute to minute platform adventure gameplay is a fantastic little Active Battle System (ABS) which is both complex and accessible. As you work your way through the story, you encounter many people willing to join you on your quest(s) and they are added to your party. All have unique abilities which will at some stage all play a role in enemy confrontations. Standard and complex functionality exists, along with lots and lots of variables, most character or enemy specific which can turn the tide of battle in an instant. Defence, attack, interrupting, setting back on the timeline, water vs fire, the list goes on and there really is now nice depth to what on the face of it is a simple turn based combat system.
Whilst Child of Light isn’t a difficult game generally, some tactical ability is required for later boss battles along with any situation where you face off against three powerful foes, to your two. Diving between party members to apply special debuffs on your opponents while waiting for a huge spell to cast can be a frantic experience but ultimately rewarding. It’s a wonderful feeling timing every enemy debuff, then friendly buff to perfection allowing your buffed character, whom has been slowly building up a beast of a spell to see them decimate the enemy, just before the enemy’s timer hits the mark preventing them from doing a damn thing about it.
Adding further depth to these ongoing standard battles, mini boss battles and huge boss battles is the use of some neat, light RPG elements. A reasonably complex skill tree is present for all characters and you control everything for every member of your party. Stats do auto level based on XP gained from winning enemy battles but changing their skill tree is all on you. This allows you to focus your healer on healing spells, and your mage on high elemental damage. The jewel in the crown though and a heck of a lot of use as you progress is a companion’s ability to manipulate that timer in the active battle system. Slow down an enemy to a crawl and speed up your ally allowing you to destroy opponents before they can even consider fighting back.
Finally there are Oculi (gemstones) which can be crafted and added to each character to apply passive buffs to attack and defence. Oculi are easy to find, easy to forge and can add some excellent bonuses during the life of the campaign - sadly nothing you find or forge is a game changer but they are handy all the same.
Child of Light is a delight, one of those games that comes along with a nice budget price tag but nothing within could be considered “budget”. Bursting at the seams with creativity, an excellent fantasy based story, silly yet entertaining script and a fine battle system make for an engaging if not truly taxing adventure. If you like a fantasy rich turn based RPG you’d be an absolute fool not to buy Child of Light.