I feel like a kid in grade school being bullied for my lunch money. The problem is that I have no one to complain to because the only reason I am being “bullied” is that I am a gamer and said bully is named Ubisoft. By having probably the best lineup of any developer in 2014, Ubisoft will be taking a lot of people’s lunch money this year, so be glad that this month you only have to part with fifteen dollars (plus tax). The people that brought us Rayman, Assassin’s Creed and Beyond Good & Evil (and hopefully someday the sequel, hello?) have set out to prove that big adventures can still come in pee-wee packages.
THE LONG ROAD HOME Child of Light is like a bedtime story; the kind that were written in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries that didn’t necessarily have happy endings and would scare a kid to the pint of insomnia. Princess Aurora was a happy girl, even though her mother died when she was young. She had her father and he loved her more than the world. The problem was, as a man, he was lonely and he chose to remarry. Immediately after he wed, Aurora falls ill and dies in her sleep – but that doesn’t sound suspicions at all. The king fell into a deep sadness but far off in another land, or really, another world, Aurora awakens. She has no idea where she is and all she wants is to find the comfort of her fathers arms. This is not a strange request for a young girl lost. On the other hand, meeting a talking firefly, having to live by the sword and find the sun, moon and stars in order to get back home might be construed as a bit odd. Along her journey, Aurora will meet several colorful characters that will help her out a la Wizard of Oz style. Each one offers their assistance in return for Aurora helping them out as well.
HAUNTING BEAUTY From the moment you begin playing Child of Light, you get the feeling that you are not in a welcoming environment. Even if you have not seen any of the trailers or gameplay videos you would get the feeling that something (or everything) in this world wants to kill this little girl, who may or may not be already dead. Regardless of which console the game is downloaded to you will be stunned by the level of detail given to this world. The very first thing that will stand out is Aurora’s hair, which is so vibrant and fluidly animated that you feel like it could be a character on its own (sorry, no Bayonetta action here). The foreground and background are constantly in motion and you will stop occasionally thinking that something is coming at you when it isn’t. You may also make the mistake of getting attacked by something you thought was in the background. Lighting is extremely important in this game and you will find out quickly that Igniculus is crucial to your survival. The land of Lemuria has been swallowed by the darkness and while steel and magic are capable of killing the denizens, it is the light that will save you. Whether it be to light your path in total darkness, to avoid an ambush or to blind an enemy long enough for you to stage your own, a little firefly has never been so valuable. While the main visuals are fluid, those of the combat screen are purposely more static, as if it were a stage. The way the characters move seems more like a puppet show during combat and that adds to the game’s charm. You might be trying to keep a giant from literally stomping you flat but at the same time you find yourself amused at how the game has taken on a Punch and Judy look for the battle. Within the context of this game, there is nothing that Child of Light is lacking in terms of visuals.
ONE WITH THE WIND Everything about Child of Light is about flow. From the very beginning you see this as the entire game, whether it be narrative or conversation, is told in rhyme. I found the first team up with Rubella to be very humorous because she cannot rhyme for her life and that annoyed the hell out of Igniculus. Even the talking enemies rhyme and this brings us to the next aspect of flow. During combat, there is an active time gauge that shows where every participant in the fight is with respect to their turn. It even shows where Igniculus is. He is not a fighter, but if you shine him on an enemy it slows them down, allowing you to get your hits in first and potentially delay enemy turns. He can also be used in and out of battle to heal as light is a source of life (for the good guys, anyway). Watching the gauge and keeping a good flow between attacks and the usage of Igniculus are vital to making it through a fight alive. If you time things properly, the enemy may not even get a chance to attack.
Like any good RPG, you can supplement your abilities as you progress. Aurora and her companions will learn magic spells and new skills as they level up and they can also apply bonuses to their base abilities like added HP, MP, attack or magic power. Then we have the crafting system. Aurora will find many crystals called Oculi that can be uses to buff her abilities and there are hundreds of combinations possible from the crafting wheel, even though you can use at most three stones at a time. Knowing what to strengthen based upon the area you are in is important as size is rarely an indication of how much damage an enemy can do to you. I took a giant down without blinking only to have a spider and two wolves kill Aurora before I could heal her. Even though you can “cheat” a little while making battle decisions (you can move Igniculus around to power up his glow), timing and preparation are your best weapons in this game.
THIS IS HOW YOU LEAVE YOUR MARK – Cœur de Pirate has to win awards for the music in this game. Even before you gain control of Aurora you hear music that properly conveys the emotion of the scene that you are in. Whether it be the sadness of the king at losing his only child, the loneliness of Aurora as she travels through Lemuria or the tension and desperation of a boss fight, the music tells the story even better than the narrative does. When I preordered the game I was actually shocked that it was only $14.99 considering the production value that you could see and hear in the trailers. Now that I own it, I still feel like this is a full priced retail title as the music could easily be something experienced in a Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest title. Make sure you have a good surround system or the best surround headphones available for your console before sitting down with this game; your ears will thank you for the experience.
It should be clear already what my thoughts on this game are but if I have to spell it out then so be it. Child of Light is simply amazing. The story is something out of classic fairy tales that could easily be a movie. The game itself is engaging both on and off the battlefield as there are plenty of secrets to find between the fetch quests and the crafting system. Believe it or not, there is a tiny amount of multiplayer involved as you are able to send Oculi to your friends to help them, but only if they have a uPlay account. The audio and visual experience that this game gives is well worth the price of admission and would have even been worth more (but we are glad it’s $15). Considering that this is one of the rare Ubisoft titles that is available to Wii U owners there is simply no reason to miss out on this game (you know, assuming that you have like $20 in your pocket). The only “bad” thing I can say about Child of Light is that it is a short game. Even that is not so terrible because it means that it can be played over and over. I cannot wait to see speed runs of this game come out. Child of Light came out yesterday (April 30, 2014) but you need this game in your collection now!