Ubisoft has been releasing games for nearly 25 years, and yet it took until 2014 for the developer to release its first ever full-fledged RPG, the downloadable title Child of Light. For their first foray into the genre, Ubisoft ended up reusing the Rayman engine and managed to build a simple and short role-playing game around it. This is the most unique twist on the formula Ubisoft provides, ditching the top-down perspective used by almost every single 2D RPG in existence in favor of an open-world side-scroller, and while the presentation here is phenomenal, there just isn’t enough depth to the gameplay and story to give Child of Light a strong recommendation.
The story and setting here evoke the feel of a classic fairy tale; Aurora, the youngest daughter of a Duke in 19th Century Austria, falls asleep one night and wakes up in the mysterious world of Lemuria, a land of wilderness that has been living in darkness since the disappearance of the Queen of Light, who just happened to have disappeared the same time Aurora’s mother died years ago. The only way for Aurora to make it back home and reunite with her ailing father is to defeat the Queen of Dark and obtain all of the objects she stole that gave Lemuria light – the sun, the moon and the stars. Along the way, Aurora is joined by a band of misfits that seem like they came straight out of a fairy tale – the optimistic jester, her morose twin brother, an archer mouse who will do anything to impress his beloved, an elderly elf who wields powerful elemental magic, and more. To add to the storybook-like atmosphere of the game, all of the characters speak entirely in rhyme. It’s endearing for a while, but by Child of Light’s end there’s so many forced slant rhymes and mismatched syllables that the gimmick has completely worn out its welcome. The artwork here is wonderful though, with watercolor backgrounds reminiscent of those found in Braid framing brightly colored adorable characters. The environments are huge and full of secret passages and simple puzzles, and Child of Light is often at its best when it lets Aurora simply run around and explore on her own for a while with no real goal.
The combat in Child of Light is pretty standard for an active-time battle RPG, with a helpful progress bar detailing when each combatant will be able to act and when their spells will finish casting. Parties are limited to two characters and enemy groups will never number more than three, but the game allows for instant replacement of any party member with one on the bench, which makes the combat relatively easy. Even when a character is close to death, he can quickly be replaced by another at full strength. As such, Child of Light never poses too much of a challenge and even final bosses can be beaten with a few minutes of experience-grinding and a retry or two. Each character fits into a clearly designated role – healer, time mage, and archer among others; and though their powers can be slightly customized using an experience grid, there aren’t many options from which to choose, which keeps everyone’s strengths and weaknesses the same throughout the game. There’s not much balance – by the game’s end half of the eight playable characters are near useless, and many character’s most powerful abilities can simply be replaced by a stockpile of single-use items that work much faster. Upgrades exist in the form of “Oculi” – collectible crystals that can be found throughout the game or bought in bulk for real money. There’s really no reason to bother handing over any extra cash for these, as Oculi can be found almost everywhere in the game. Still, it is fun combing them together to see what newer, more powerful Oculi can be discovered, imbuing the party with powers like extra defense against elemental attacks, or faster-casting spells. The Oculi follow the lightning/fire/water standard that has existed for decades in RPGs, which would be fine if not for the fact that a huge majority of the enemies in the game are weak to lightning – a better balance of weaknesses would have prompted more experimentation with the Oculi upgrade system.
Child of Light also contains a small bit of multi-player interaction – the first character Aurora stumbles upon in her journey through Lemuria is a small firefly named Igniculus, who does not take part in any combat but can be controlled through a second player to help out in a few ways. Igniculus’ main ability is being able to shine brightly, which can be used to stun enemies, heal allies, and solve certain light-based puzzles. The puzzles involving him were simple but were also some of the best in the game, where Igniculus would move around the screen, casting different shadows on different objects until certain shapes matched up. Although Igniculus is a little tough to wield if only one player is controlling both him and Aurora, he works well when controlled by an ally and can become an important strategic element in battle – attacking an enemy will interrupt their spell and force them to start over, so Igniculus’ ability to slow them down can be deployed to the point where the enemy barely gets off any attacks at all. Anyone unfamiliar with role-playing games could get a nice introduction playing solely as Igniculus as it’s easy to learn the gameplay while assisting Aurora and her friends.
While there isn’t too much depth to be found in Child of Light, the game does keep up a solid pace, delivering new party members rapidly and presenting boss fights just as often, burning through its story before players can get bored. As it’s a reasonably priced downloadable title rather than a full retail release, it’s hard to fault it for not delivering a 40+ hour epic RPG experience that has become the industry standard; instead, the game wants players to enjoy some time exploring it worlds and have some fun with the combat before coming to a quick ending after about twelve hours.
With its overly simplistic combat, story, and characters, Child of Light won’t impress hardcore RPG fans with much more than its gorgeous visuals, but the game could work great as an introduction to the genre. Based on its fairy tale setting and adorable characters, Child of Light might be aiming for the especially young, although it’s hard to see the game working well for young children who might be confused by the gameplay. For those playing solo and looking for a return to the world of 2D role playing games, Child of Light should slightly scratch that nostalgic itch, but it will take something with more depth than this to revive the genre completely.
3.5 Chicks out of 5