Just every now and then, a game comes out that truly stands out against the usual game releases across all platforms. It is not often that such a game is capable to distract from the generic shooting, fighting, sports filled release schedule but Ubisoft have managed to almost sneak one game out there that does just that. Child Of Light is one of the most refreshingly breathtaking games I have played in many years.
Child of Light was developed by Ubisoft Montreal and is an example of their UbiArt framework. Using gameplay mechanics from traditional JRPG’s such as the early Final Fantasy titles and a visual style of a water colour painting, Child of Light uses verse and poetry to tell the story of main character Aurora, who finds herself in the magical kingdom of Lemuria. On her quest to return home to her father the King, Aurora must defeat the Queen of the Night who has stolen the Sun, Moon and Stars.
Two things immediately hit you as soon as you hit the main menu. The music and its visual style. The music is one of the most outstanding soundtracks and musical scores I have heard for an XBLA level game. The ethereal music almost works as a calming lullaby as you prepare to enter this fairy tale world. Throughout the story, the music blends in with the flow of the game and really helps to bring the world of Lemuria to life and working in such a great partnership with the visual style of the world. The water coloured style gives the world such life, as though it has been taken off the very pages of a fairy tale book. The look of each character and the locations within the game are vibrant and striking. Even the subtle animation style of Aurora’s hair as she moves has been delicately done to add some movement to the 2D drawings. The use of poetry and rhyme to tell the story is novel and keeps the sense of playing through a fair tale really well. Each character dialogue and the narration for cut-scenes is done in rhyme, giving the conversations a natural flow from beginning to end. To represent the characters, conversations take on a talking heads format as each character appears on screen and facial expressions used to show the emotion behind the words spoken.
Aurora is quickly joined on her adventure by a second character, the blue firefly Igniculus. He is player controlled using the right analogue stick and can be used to activate switches to help move past obstacles or to help solve puzzles needed to progress. It is a very quirky gameplay addition to have control of two characters at the same time but it is also an ingenious way of adding something special to the basic control system used. Igniculus also has a role to play in the combat system of the game but will come to that later on. Igniculus can also be controlled by a second player for local co-op play.
As the story unfolds, you meet other characters who will join you to form a party of characters. Each party member can then me selected during combat by hot switching them in and out depending on how you need to use them. Each character had a different skill set. Rubella, the circus performer, is great in combat and has the ability to cast healing spells. Finn the Capilli uses more elemental based magic attacks. You can keep the party the same but only two can be used in combat, so trying out different pairings will help as the level of enemy increases further into the game. Every member of the party will earn experience points via combat whether you use them or not. Experience points can be used to increase health and magic levels as well as enhancing magic spells, attack moves and defensive options and each character has their own skill tree which are easy to follow for the player to pick the right upgrades for the character and their playing style.
With their own version of Materia from Final Fantasy, Child of Light uses Oculi. Oculi are gemstones that can enhance characters further then their natural leveling up with experience points. Each type of Oculi has a different effect. The Blue Sapphire for example, can give extra water elemental damage to attacks, give water attack damage resistance or can give a higher chance of avoiding an attack during their casting time. The Red Ruby will give extra fire elemental damage to attacks, added resistance to Fire damage or increase health points. Oculi can also be used to create more powerful types, three Blue Sapphire created a Faceted Sapphire which add greater Water damage or protection depending on how you use it. Combining a Sapphire with a ruby will create a Amthyst stone which can increase physical attacks or reduce physical damage. The creation system is simple to use, Oculi are obtained from exploring the world and opening chests or rewards for successful combat encounters.
The combat for Child of Light is an amazing take on the JRPG style of turn based combat. When in battle, your party will be on the left side of the screen, and the enemy on the right. Whilst you can only use two party members in combat, Igniculus actually acts as a third member is a very useful way. Combat uses a timebar at the bottom of the screen. About 90% of the bar represents waiting time before a character has a move. The final 10% is the Casting time, the time it takes for the command you chose, either potion use, an attack, a defensive move or use of magic to be executed. An edge to this method is that attacks can interrupt both move or casting time, pushing the character back along the time bar and even cancelling out the casting time. Igniculus comes into play very much in battle. You can guide him over to an enemy, using his ability to shine light and distract that enemy causing their progression on the time bar to reduce allowing your move cycle to overtake.
The combat is much deeper then it appears on the surface and some challenging battles later on will require using the right pairing, Oculi enhancement and skill tree use. It is one of the cleverest combat systems I have seen in an RPG, and it is one that bigger budget AAA title RPG’s could learn from Child of Light. It is how such a deceptively rewarding combat system underneath the beauty of the musical score and visuals that all give Child of Light such a big impact as a game.
Child of Light is as rewarding to play as it is to just experience. Some games are capable of being used as example to show how Video Game truly has become an art form, and Child of Light is now one of the finest examples of it. Through the narrative style of using verse and rhyme to tell the story to the musical score and art style of drawing, Child of Light blends all these elements into a game that is refreshing to play on just about every level. Its XBLA level should not take away just how impressive a job Ubisoft Montreal have done here. It is the kind of digital content that Xbox should encourage more developers to follow with going forward. Child of Light is going to be collecting awards at the end of the year, and it will place among the big AAA hitters of 2014 and rightly so. This has to go on everyone playlist for this year, it is just that amazing an experience it needs to be showcased for just how good a game Ubisoft have worked on. As a publisher and developer, Ubisoft has once again shown its ability to deliver high quality games of different genres and not just high profile big name full release titles. Child of Light is a glowing example of the beauty in story telling and experience video gaming can provide.
Thanks to Ubisoft UK for providing the code for this review.
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