Child of Light is a niche kind of RPG that does exactly what it sets out to do: create a whimsical fantasy. Becoming lost in the lightheartedness—and occasional bittersweet moments—of that fantasy is really the main draw of a game such as this, and it succeeds for the most part thanks to its hand-drawn aesthetic, memorable music, and solid pacing. This is a game that has very few flaws, and while a fairytale in the form of a game certainly won’t appeal to everyone, most who try it will end up ensnared by its abundant charms.
Get your princess on
While there’s nothing wrong with the plethora of games where you play as a grizzled war hero or mercenary of some kind, it’s always nice to take a break and play as a character who doesn’t live for shooting enemies in the head from 200 yards away. In Child of Light, you play as Aurora, a young princess who’s whisked away to a strange land after supposedly dying in her world. While the overarching story may be a bit predictable at times, it’s nevertheless a sweet experience that has a few unexpected twists and turns, and just playing the game feels magical in a way few games do because of how well all of its elements come together.
Child of Light takes a lot of its cues from jRPGs, and like the games it borrows elements from, it includes a fairly large cast of characters who you end up traveling with. Something like seven different characters will end up joining you over the course of the game, and they all have unique personalities and talents in combat. I found Rubella the jester good for quick attacks and healing, for example, while Robert was great for slowing opponents down, especially when I then switched him out with someone capable of doing more damage. You can switch between party members in combat whenever it’s your turn, so while you’re limited to only using two characters at a time, you’re bound to find a use for all of them and end up switching back and forth as each situation dictates.
It’s a 2D platformer/jRPG
I’m not 100% on calling this a “platformer,” actually, because you spend the vast majority of the game having the ability to fly. Gameplay outside of combat still consists of avoiding environmental hazards and solving the occasional puzzle, granted, but there’s still little actual platforming outside of the first few minutes of the game. Whatever it technically is, I enjoyed having the power of flight throughout the game because of the freedom it allows; most 2D platformers don’t really give you the ability to explore, but Child of Light lets you fly around and thoroughly explore each area (which usually means finding hidden items).
Character stats are reminiscent of jRPGs, with fixed stat upgrades at each level. Unlike most jRPGs, you gain points with each level-up to purchase “skills” on an upgrade tree (much like those found in Final Fantasy X), which are usually stat upgrades, new attacks, or more powerful versions of your existing attacks. What makes this so great is that you’re constantly leveling up, meaning you’re unlocking a lot of stuff without having to spend hours upon hours grinding.
Old-school combat with a twist
While the combat in Child of Light may seem simplistic for the first several hours, by the end you’re given so many options thanks to these skill upgrades that it ends up being surprisingly deep. The most interesting aspect of the combat is the Grandia-esque timeline that shows when allies and enemies will act, with a delay between choosing attacks and actually executing that attack. This isn’t just similar to the Grandia games, but actually functions almost identically in that hitting an enemy before they can execute their attack (but after they’ve chosen it) means knocking them back on the timeline. Because of this, a lot of the strategy you’re dealing with in combat is time-based and revolves around hitting enemies when they can be interrupted. Of course, they’ll all be doing the same thing to you.
This is made even more interesting by having all attacks vary in speed; while an attack targeting a single enemy may be fairly quick, one that targets all enemies will be much slower. However, if you pick too slow of an attack and your enemy picks a faster one, they’re likely to pass you on the timeline and end up interrupting you before you can actually execute your attack.
Igniculus: the slowening
Helping you achieve the best possible timing is your helper Igniculous, a luminous blue orb who you end up partnering up with mere minutes into the game. Inside of combat, you can use him to slow down enemies by having him blind them with his glow. Outside of combat, you can do the same to the enemies who are walking around, allowing you to sneak up on them and guarantee advantageous placing on the battle timeline (most jRPGs would call this a “preemptive attack”). His glowing isn’t an infinite resource, however, and though it regenerates over time, it’s not something you can lean on too heavily without risking having no ability to slow opponents when you most need to.
The wish-eating princess
“Wishes” are manifested in the game as blue and orange orbs that jump out of plants once touched. While that may sound insane, they’re basically little dots that restore Igniculus’ glow meter. You’ll also be rewarded with some health and MP if you touch only the orange ones (as you’ll see in the below video). This health and MP is often important because of your inability to use healing spells outside of combat. You could use healing items instead, of course, but wishes regenerate, making them the better option most of the time.
Really, one of the few flaws I could point out is the rhyming. From beginning to the end, everything and everyone rhymes, and despite this occasionally adding to the whimsical feeling of the world, it far more often comes across as clumsy and forced. The incessant rhyming mandates awkward phrasing that’s eye-roll-worthy as characters struggle to rhyme even the most mundane of sentences, often sounding more like Yoda than the developers probably intended. Even worse, the rhyming ends up relying on half-rhymes that kind of sound the same, but not really, making dialogue even more awkward.
While I eventually became numb to the constant rhyming, I can’t help but mention how bad it is when Aurora tells a boss to “come out on the count of three” in order to set up the boss saying something ending in “wait and see.” That’s reflective of a lot of the rhyming in that half of the dialogue seems to be meaningless fluff that exists solely to set up the other half of the rhyme that actually has meaning. The game would have been better if they hadn’t forced themselves to rhyme all of the dialogue, instead saving it for rare occasions.
And the end
Let me be perfectly clear: I don’t have any problems with how the game ended. That being said, the ending really sneaks up on you out of nowhere. Basically, some crazy stuff happens (not a lot of it is very well explained, but fairytales aren’t exactly known for rock-solid logic), then suddenly you’re in the middle of the final boss fight. I’m glad the game didn’t overstay its welcome, lasting for a comfortable 10-12 hours, but I would have appreciated a little more build-up to the end.
I didn’t follow the development of this game, so I can’t say for sure whether the graphics are actually hand-drawn, but they certainly look that way. Child of Light’s graphics are unique, to say the least, and even “beautiful” doesn’t quite capture how gorgeous they tend to be. Playing through the game is like wandering through a living watercolor painting, and most (if not all) will lose at least a few minutes moving Igniculus through Aurora’s flowing hair just to watch it fly around. It’s really the perfect art style for this kind of game.
While I’ve noticed plenty of people raving about the graphics, I was actually far more impressed by the music. While there’s not a huge variety of tracks due to the music’s tendency to focus on piano and strings primarily, there are nonetheless several amazing tracks and melodies that you’re bound to find yourself humming even days later. The music and sound effects for this game suit it perfectly, capturing the mood and driving the game’s emotion every bit as much as the story, and I actually consider that a far bigger achievement than the graphics.
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