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Child of Light

Score: 85%
ESRB: Everyone 10+
Publisher: Ubisoft Entertainment
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Media: Download/1
Players: 1
Genre: RPG/ Platformer (2D)

Graphics & Sound:

I would call Child of Light one of the best Japanese role-playing games in years, but I can't. Because it's Canadian. This 2D platforming role-playing hybrid sports an immediately striking art style that will suck you in from the start, but underneath all that sumptuous beauty is an engaging twist on the classic turn-based combat system and a gloomy world that is a joy to explore.

Child of Light uses the UbiArt Framework engine pioneered by the team behind the last two Rayman games. Since those games are nearly perfect in every respect, you can read as far into that statement as you want. But where Rayman is wacky, Child of Light is elegant. The world of Lemuria is beset with sorrow, but there's always a bit of hope, one single light at the end of the tunnel. The hand-drawn landscapes and watercolors lend to the game that certain "something" that transforms it into something that is equal parts Studio Ghibli and true originality. Character and monster designs look born straight out of the ether, meshing well with the almost dreamlike environments.

Your ears will be constantly beset with laments of both the musical and the sonic variety. The main theme of the game is a sorrowful violin and piano piece that would have had greater impact on me had it not constantly reminded me of the Rolling Stones' "Can't Always Get What You Want." The soundtrack doesn't reach the dizzying heights of the visuals, but it's lovely and sad, just like the rest of the game is. Monsters sound ancient and troubled, especially the spirits that attack Aurora in the early parts of the game.


Child of Light is pure fairy tale from start to finish. Set in 1895, the game casts the player as Aurora, the red-haired daughter of the duke of Austria, who one day is suddenly afflicted with a mysterious illness and falls asleep. This sleep is the classic sleep of fairy tales, in which everyone believes the ducal daughter to be dead. Aurora's loving father, the duke, falls deathly ill as a result of his grief, while Aurora herself finds herself waking up in the fantastical world of Lemuria. This is a world where giants provide a form of transportation, where witches blight those who scorn them, and where the mice are really into free enterprise. Aurora wants desperately to return to her father, but she is given an Oz-esque task to complete before that becomes possible. With the help of her firefly elemental companion Igniculus, she must recover the sun and the moon, which have been spirited away under dubious circumstances. On her journey, she meets all kinds of strange characters and endearing companions. How strange? Well, one is a jester whose most notable talent is avoiding all manner of wordplay, and another is a prepubescent wizard whose beard nearly spans his entire height. And it just gets weirder from there.

Child of Light's story is quite good, but flops rather hard in the writing department. Nearly everything is written in rhyme, and very little of it reads well. Every single line feels like a contrivance, and when you put them all together, it makes the game come across as incredibly pretentious.

Luckily, the rest of the experience makes up for the narrative clumsiness. As Aurora, you traverse the land of Lemuria, exploring its numerous caverns, unearthing its secrets, and fighting the creatures of the dark that infest the land. As Aurora's journey progresses, she comes across a wide variety of recruits; so wide, in fact, that I'm not sure I used all of them by the time I reached the end of the game. But each of them has a specific role to play, and these roles fit the classic JRPG archetypes found in games such as Final Fantasy V. But I'm getting ahead of myself.


Child of Light has two difficulty settings: Normal and Hard. Normal is the default setting, as well as the one you should automatically go for; there are no noticeable incentives for completing the game on Hard Mode. As it is, the game isn't very difficult. Part of that feels like it's by design; you always feel like you are at an advantage, and perhaps this is to ensure that as many people as possible reach the end of the game.

Another reason for Child of Light's ease is its gentle introduction to the combat mechanics. Everything is perfectly illustrated to give you the sense that nearly everything is under your control. If you pay close attention and be patient in each encounter, you'll blaze through this game.

Game Mechanics:

Exploration in Child of Light is elementary, and as a result, there isn't too much to talk about. At first, it might feel like a puzzle platformer in the same vein as Limbo, but everything changes when Aurora meets Igniculus and eventually is gifted with a pair of wings. The world opens up: not only can Aurora fly almost anywhere on and beyond the screen, but Igniculus can be controlled independently with the Right Analog Stick. He can interact with special puzzle triggers and light-sensitive chests by fluorescing -- he can even blind enemies roaming on the screen so that Aurora can set up a surprise attack from the rear.

Scattered across Lemuria are stardust caches and special gems called oculi. Stardust allows Aurora and her companions to permanently upgrade their attributes, while oculi are customizable accessories that bestow passive combat abilities. For example, a sapphire slotted to the attack option imbues a character's melee strike with water damage, and equipping a diamond elsewhere might boost the amount of experience gained per battle. Oculi come in different states of quality, and they either can be combined with identical pieces to create stronger variants, or with others to create completely different oculi.

One would think that there's absolutely nowhere to innovate with something as established, as old as the turn-based combat system popularized by games like Dragon Warrior and Final Fantasy. One who played Child of Light would know that's not entirely true. While it's true that this game has you taking turns to unleash attacks on enemies, it gives you a degree of control over such a seemingly small part of the system that it ends up being deceptively deep. I'm referring to time.

At the bottom of the screen is a timeline separated into two components. The Wait bar is by far the longest portion, and the Cast bar is considerably shorter. On the timeline are the portraits of the characters involved in the battle -- both Aurora's and those of the enemy forces. When the battle begins, all portraits move from left to right on the timeline. Once they reach the Cast bar, the choice of action is made. Depending on the set amount of time assigned to each action, the amount of time in the Cast bar can be anywhere from none to several seconds. If you manage to land a hit on an enemy whose portrait is in the Cast bar, you will interrupt that enemy and kick it back onto the Wait bar. Special potions affect the speed of both Aurora's party and their enemies, but there's one more layer of strategy. Igniculus floats freely on the battlefield, and can be a huge asset to your attempts at controlling the ebb and flow of battle. As long as Igniculus has the energy, he can fluoresce over allies to heal them or over enemies to slow their progress on the timeline. If he runs out of energy, special wish plants on the battlefield can be harvested to replenish it. All of this makes for a turn-based combat system that feels fresh.

Child of Light is absolutely a one-and-done game, but the quality of that one playthrough more than justifies the game's price tag. It has its head in the clouds more often than not, but face it: we're all entitled to that once in a while. In the end, Child of Light is something of a rare breed: a treat for all ages.

-FenixDown, GameVortex Communications
AKA Jon Carlos

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