"...with enough going on to tug at the heartstrings, it's easy to recommend Child of Light."
Child of Light is exactly what the creators at Ubisoft Montreal intended it to be. It is a beautiful piece of gaming, with amazing visuals courtesy of the UbiArt engine, a soundtrack that can only be described as haunting, and the storybook tale of a young girl named Aurora, trying to return to her father, an Austrian Duke. The land of Lemuria, where Aurora finds herself, is fantastical and a blast to explore, and all of the dialogue in the land is completely in poetic verse. Every RPGFan who has even a little bit of childlike wonder left in them should definitely take the game for a spin. But beware, a fairy tale story is just that: a fairy tale. Don't expect epic character development or combat.
That being said, Child of Light doesn't need to be epic to succeed. Aurora's journey is one of simplicity; she does not wish to defeat a great evil, nor fight for a crown — she simply wants to see her father again. To do so, she must rescue the moon, sun, and stars — apropos goals for this type of adventure. Throughout her journey, she meets plenty of allies who fit the fairy tale mold; a circus performer looking to join her troupe and an anthropomorphic archer mouse who wishes only for the heart of his beloved are some of the first to join the party. Each and every character speaks in a rhyming verse, and while this is certainly engaging to read, I can't help but think that some of the lack of character development comes from the unique structure. While all of the characters have their moments, many seem to lack depth beyond simple quips that carry the meter.
Still, this young girl's journey is one that is worthwhile, and it's backed by some of the best 2D visuals I've ever seen combined with a brilliant score. To say that Ubisoft Montreal has created a visual masterpiece wouldn't be hyperbolic; the watercolor-like portraits and sweeping vistas are complemented by a strong artistic vision. Environments like dark forests and the innards of a giant golem kept me exploring, something I don't often do in RPGs, but I wanted to see what I could do around every corner. Each place Aurora visited made me sit up and listen to the music, something that I so rarely do. I hope Ubisoft releases a stand-alone soundtrack, because I would be the first in line to purchase it.
Beauty does come with danger, however, as fire, spikes, and other danger await Aurora as she flits about the 2D landscapes. While Aurora can fly almost immediately upon entering Lemuria, some of the platform elements are frustrating. I've never been a fan of damage or status effects being inflicted outside of battles, something that frustrated me to no end in Bravely Default, and I died without ever entering combat more than once. To be completely fair, some of this was simply a lack of care on my part, but I never felt like these sections provided anything to the journey. Had I simply solved a puzzle or continued along, the experience would have been almost identical.
The combat is more satisfying, with its combination of elements from Final Fantasy X and Grandia. If you've ever picked up GameArts' Grandia games, combat will feel like second nature: a gauge runs the bottom of the screen which displays when characters will act. Once a command is selected, the icon runs through the cast section until execution. Depending on the power or type of attack, the cast time might be incredibly brief or very long, but commands of both friend or foe can be interrupted if they are attacked while casting. In Grandia, timing often felt a bit random, but Child of Light improves it with the use of Aurora's firefly companion, Igniculus. Controlled with the right analog stick (or a second player), activating him on enemies will slow them down, allowing the chaining of interrupts. His power isn't infinite, though; it must be recharged either with items or by moving him to plants that exude energy to absorb.
That's not the only depth in the combat, though, as only two party members can be on the battlefield at any time. When it's any character's time to act, they can swap with another one of the various party members. Elemental weakness is important in Lemuria, so going up against a group of fire enemies means you'll probably want to switch to the characters with water-aligned abilities. The battle system is entertaining enough, though I did start becoming tired of it after a while.
To take advantage of the different elements, planning outside of battle is important. Different gemstones, called oculi, provide unique bonuses and elements when they are equipped, and I made sure to have a character on hand with fire, water, and lightning as their primary attack elements. Some gems have less traditional bonuses, like being able to manipulate the action gauge. Three gems of the same type can be combined to create more powerful versions. This, alongside the three-pronged skill tree for each character, provides enough customization to make each character feel sufficiently unique.
It's very clear just how much care and thought went into the development of Child of Light. It might not be a vanguard experience for fans of the genre, but there's enough depth to keep veterans interested. The charming story lacks a bit of depth, but with enough going on to tug at the heartstrings, it's easy to recommend Child of Light. As long as you can remember a time in your childhood where everything felt new and beautiful, there's an enjoyable experience to be had.