Child of Light is a unique game. It utilizes the same engine– Ubi Art– as Rayman Legends and as such it features a unique hand-drawn aesthetic. It is also told completely through poem like lines. Its gameplay conventions borrow heavily from JRPG’s of yesteryear, such as Final Fantasy, but forgoes their maligned pacing problems for a game that moves at such a fast pace that one of the primary ways to keep your party in good shape is by leveling them up, thusly restoring their HP & MP. It all comes together for a refreshing experience.
Story & Characters
The game starts off with young Aurora seemingly dying in her sleep only to awaken in the fantasy world of Lemuria. At first, she thinks this is all some odd nightmare, only to later realize this is all too real. The story ends up following a rather trite plot. Lemuria’s Queen disappeared a non-descript amount of time ago and is now under the rule of Queen Umbra. You are sent on a quest to find the sun and the moon, which will then do something to release the dark queen’s hold on Lemuria. I found the story so boring that I had to replay the beginning of the game after having just beaten the game to merely write this section of the review. (Note-to-self: Take better notes.) Not to mention the game wears its plot twists on its sleeves like a hardcore metal head wears band patches on their denim jacket.
New party members are introduced as late as the last level of the game– a ~20-hour game did not need 10 party members– meaning that no one ever gets enough attention. You visit places affected by the Umbra Queen, but you never really get into the nitty gritty of anything. For instance, you visit a village where all the dwarven-gnome like inhabitants were turned into ravens. One of them then joins your party, you clear the menace within one small dungeon that takes ~1 hour in order to revert everyone to their original forms and then you are on your way. There is no great lesson or microcosm. There’s not a fulfilling story arc within this segment except perhaps your new gnome companion learning how to be courageous… sorta. And this is an example of when they gave enough of a damn to properly introduce a teammate. Most teammates merely join you because you talked to them and carry a sword.
The one strong aspect of storytelling on display are the characterizations. For instance, each time you acquire a new teammate each of your previous teammates have a small discussion with the new teammate. Some of them are merely comical, like Finn, the gnome, asking to plant mint into the stony crevices that are the Golem’s joints. But others display real emotion. The aforementioned Golem slowly reveals over the course of the game that he emotionally feels like he is missing some aspect and his interactions with various characters reveal how he overcomes this, like a modern day Tin Man from the Wizard of Oz.
Moreover, Igniculus will frequently ask Aurora questions on the overworld. His questions and her answers reveal a ton about who they are. I especially loved one exchange where Igniculus asks what a father does. Igniculus is naive and innocent. He truly understands very little of this world. But he is devoted to Aurora and despite understanding very little, he knows the reign of the Umbra Queen is bad. Aurora is wise beyond her years, perhaps unbelievably so. Despite not having a ton of time to stop and reflect during the course of the game you can constantly see how she is growing in subtle ways from her journey. She is at once extremely mature and yet, much like Igniculus, young and innocent. However, she displays more emotional complexity and flaws than many characters much older than her. At one point she becomes dead set on returning to her world at the expense of finishing her journey to overthrow the Umbra Queen, instead leaving that burden to her allies, which subtly comes full circle with a couple lines of dialogue during the final boss sequence.
Igniculus: What does a Father do?
Aurora: A father tucks you into bed,
He holds you when you are sad,
He always knows what to do,
He is the best friend you ever had.
Igniculus: How can one father do all that?
Aurora: That is what fathers are good at.
Me: *crying* That’s so beautiful!
Ultimately, I found the poem like sentence structures and the insightful Aurora to be enough to compensate for an ultimately lacking story. At the end of the day, it feels more like Aurora’s journey than the tale of how the Umbra Queen was overthrown. And that is okay, but I still think that more attention could have been given to the larger story as it would have lent more depth to Aurora herself.
But that’s enough about the story. The gameplay is split into 2 main modes: world exploration, in which the game is a 2D side-scroller with enemies present on the overworld & combat, which is initiated by touching aforementioned enemies.
While on the overworld Aurora can fly around freely any and everywhere. This means that platforming is never a focus of the game. Instead, exploration is key, as there are chests and goodies hidden everywhere throughout the environment. Igniculus also plays a key role in exploration, as he lights dark paths or even potentially finds goodies for you. He can shine, which is used in several ways: to distract enemies so that you might pass by freely, to solve puzzles, to heal your party, to open certain chests, or to activate certain switches. He’s really quite useful. There are also plants that release balls of energy that restore Igniculus’ light energy. Overall, I found exploring the somewhat large and varied environments to be rather enjoyable.
Where the game really shines is its combat system; a derivative of the classic Final Fantasy ATB gauge. Everyone moves along one long timeline at their own rate, determined by their speed stat. At around the 80% mark you choose what action you wish to take. If you or an enemy get hit between then & executing the action, then the action will be interrupted, pushing the character backwards on the timeline. The icing on the cake is Igniculus, the orb of light which follows you around everywhere. Moving him over one of your units and activating him heals that ally but more importantly activating him over an enemy slows it down, allowing you to strategically outmaneuver foes. Which is required since enemies are almost always faster than you. It creates a fun system where you’re constantly balancing the need to defend, which not only protects your unit but also makes them move faster during their next turn, attacking, healing, and slowing down enemies. It was a battle system that made me wish to see an even more fleshed out system with more skills, enemy types, and ways to use Igniculus just because I enjoyed the combat so much on its own.
The game does suffer from some odd balancing issues, however. For instance, certain characters are overpowered at certain points in the game. When you get Rubella (your first ally) she is better than Aurora in literally every conceivable way. And while Rubella eventually became really crappy and fell into the niche role of healer that she was always destined to fill, Aurora never rose to the occasion. She was always objectively worse than one of the other characters, especially since she has the lowest HP stat on the team.
Igniculus: What is a home?
Aurora: Somewhere you have grown.
Overall the game struggled to give all the different party members a unique enough playstyle and niche to really warrant their existence. Tristis & Gen were both support units that could have been one character. Golem and Oengus were both big, slow hard hitting units that could have been condensed into one character. Robert, the mouse archer, really offered nothing unique at all except for just being really good, in fact later in the game he became the character I most often used in place of Aurora. To be fair, some of the characters do fulfill unique roles on the team. Rubella is the only healer. Aurora is the only person with Light magic. Finn is the only other character with offensive magic, albeit he has elemental. But combining this with the aforementioned lack of necessary character development and you result in a lot of underused, underdeveloped characters both concerning storyline and gameplay. That’s a very bad thing.
While exploration is fun, there are only 2 things to find: potions and oculi, which are gems you equip to each character. But there are a very limited number of oculi types in the game with most of the progression coming from slowly making them better (3 of one type of oculi will make 1 of the next rank, or combining different types of oculi of the same quality will result in new oculi of that quality). This ends up making all the exploration feel a little fruitless. Only once was I ever surprised by finding something unique and that was only because I didn’t know you could craft onyx oculi.
Since there is no economy, cities usually feel devoid. Think about it. There is very little worth giving to the player so it’s hard to have impactful quest rewards and thus quests. So there are very few of those. Moreover, there are no stores because there’s no money or equipment, such as swords or armor. And the game’s pace moves so fast that you never really have to interact with any of the citizens meaningfully. This then leads to the game becoming very one tone. The whole gameplay loop is just exploring the world and battling. There’s never any looting/selling it, taking time to slow down in the city, or anything of that sort.
Ultimately I feel the aesthetics– both the art style and the unique poem-like structure of the game’s narrative–, characterizations combine to create a great atmosphere. And I genuinely enjoyed exploring the environments and fighting baddies. However, a lackluster story, balancing and variety issues, and just way TOO many teammates mean I find this game less enjoyable than most critics. It’s good. And at the end of the day I still really enjoyed the experience, even if it left me wanting more in a bad way.
Igniculus: What is love known by?
Aurora: When it hurts to say goodbye.