As a big fan of the graphical approach Ubisoft took with Rayman Origins and Rayman Legends, I was definitely intrigued to hear that they were taking those games’ in-house engine, UbiArt, into new territory, by using it for a completely new venture into the role-playing genre. The finished product has now arrived in the form of Child of Light, and the final result is a gorgeous, engaging and surprisingly strategic RPG that skillfully mixes a fairy tale-themed world and some dashes of platforming with its turn-based combat.
The story follows young Princess Aurora, the daughter of a 19th century Austrian duke who succumbs to a mysterious illness in our world, only to wake up afterward in the magical realm of Lemuria. Initially, Aurora is set only on returning to her homeworld and reuniting with her family, but it doesn’t take her long to find that Lemuria is suffering under the grasp of a cruel witch. Feeling the need to help, she gradually builds a party of quirky allies, who aid in her attempt to save the fantastical realm.
In Child of Light, voice acting is limited to a select few scenes with a female narrator, but I think that for once this might be to the game’s benefit, due to the interesting decision to have all its characters speak in rhyme. While I didn’t mind this concept at all, I’ve already seen it receive plenty of backlash from other critics and players, so your tolerance may vary. I will admit, though, that this may have held the writers back from getting truly in-depth with regards to their characters and their spoken dialog, although they were still able to get a decent amount of personality out of the good-natured Aurora and her offbeat allies. One clever twist on the formula involves a female jester who is often unable to come up with rhymes on her own, leading to numerous characters having to correct her dialog to make it fit.
The actual story is serviceable, albeit a bit basic for a good portion. The first two-thirds of the game is less about an overarching plot and more about Aurora visiting various tribes and assisting them with their individual dilemmas, making for a more episodic approach than I was hoping. It’s not until the focus returns to Aurora’s plight that I started getting invested in the plot, but the likeable cast and their fun banter still helped me enjoy what came before it.
Much like the aforementioned Rayman sidescrollers, one of Child of Light‘s biggest selling points is undoubtedly its art direction. The game looks consistently stunning, and it’s obvious that plenty of effort and passion was put into its characters and environments. The game is a pure sidescroller, and it takes advantage of its 2D approach by making almost everything a hand-drawn sprite. I say almost because Aurora herself appears to be a 3D model, though thankfully she’s shaded well enough to convincingly blend in. Throw in a soundtrack that’s immersive and often downright beautiful, and you’ve got a game with wonderful presentation.
It doesn’t hurt that the gameplay is solid, too.
Environmental traversal is handled as an exploratory platformer of sorts, though there’s limited danger as far as that aspect goes, due to Aurora gaining the power of unlimited flight within the first half-hour of the campaign. You’ll still get occasional obstacles like heavy winds, thorns, and moving spikes, but I got the impression that traversal outside of battles was more about taking in the sights and exploring than providing a heavy challenge.
When you touch an enemy while wandering about the environment or encounter them during scripted story events, the gameplay shifts dramatically, becoming a turn-based RPG with an impressively engaging and clever battle system to it. Taking influences from such titles as the older Final Fantasy games, a bar on the bottom of the screen has individual icons for each playable ally and AI-controlled enemy gradually moving into a red zone on its right side.
When one of your characters reaches the first edge of the red zone, you can select a move unique to that ally, use an item shared among your party, or choose to give up attacking in favor of boosting your defense or attempting to flee altogether. After you pick your move, you still have to wait a brief moment as your character’s icon heads to the end of the bar, during which any enemy attack that hits you will cancel your move.
If this sounds like it could be difficult, it sometimes is. The upside is that you can pull the exact same trick on your enemies, lending an interesting element of timing-based strategy to battles. Other additional factors, like elemental weaknesses, buffs, and debuffs, also help keep things interesting. The fighters are also unique enough in their abilities that you’ll find yourself switching between them pretty frequently. Though you can only have two out at a time as opposed to the classic standard of three, there’s no penalty for switching, and thankfully, you aren’t forced to keep Aurora selected.
Another interesting mechanic, both inside and outside of battle, comes in the form of Aurora’s first new friend, a floating orb-like creature named Igniculus. While exploring, he can be controlled independently of Aurora, and can be used to find power-ups and goodies that she can’t reach. And while he never directly fights, he can also be controlled during battles to slow enemies down and collect recovery orbs that recharge your allies’ health and MP, along with his own energy meter.
It’s worth noting that certain versions of the game offer unique ways to control Igniculus. Every system has the default option of moving him around with the right analog stick and activating his light with the left trigger, but the PlayStation 4 version also has touch pad support for quicker and more precise movements. The Wii U version also makes use of the GamePad’s touch screen, and all versions also offer a co-op function where a player with a second controller can play as Igniculus for a shared experience.
One last unfortunate element that is worth bringing up is the existence of some day-one downloadable content for the game. Most of it pertains to simple item packs and alternate costumes for Aurora, but in a move straight out Mass Effect 3, you’re expected to pay to unlock a playable party member. I did go ahead and purchase that pack to get the full experience, and even then there were some problems, as the game didn’t alert me to where I could find the new character. Also, even when I got him midway through the game, his default level didn’t scale to match my higher-powered characters.
In other words, if you do intend to get this character, it would be best to purchase his pack alongside the game, as this will make him more difficult to miss and easier to level up consistently. I don’t blame the developers themselves for this tactic, as it’s an industry standard now and was probably not their decision to make, but I always find it unfortunate when pre-order bonuses and day-one DLC cause notable features to be omitted, and think it’s worth pointing out.
Despite the above-mentioned problem and a storyline that tends to be somewhat simplistic, I found Child of Light to be very enjoyable. The world it creates is beautiful, its combat is surprisingly deep, and it’s simply fun to play overall. Additionally, if this game does well, I see more good things in the future for the UbiArt engine, especially considering the quality track record it now has.
If you’re a fan of sidescrolling platformers or JRPGs, or better yet, both, this particular release is definitely worth your time.
This review is based on the PlayStation 4 version of the game, which was provided to us.
Offering high-quality gameplay and a beautiful world to explore, Child of Light is one of this year's downloadable standouts.