Developers: Ubisoft Montreal, Ubisoft Massive, Ubisoft Kliev, Ubisoft Bucharest
Release Date: April 30th, 2014
Available on: Nintendo Wii U, PC, Playstation 3, Playstation 4, Xbox One, Xbox 360
Reviewer’s Note: I played the Playstation 4 version of this game. There may be differences between versions.
The jRPG genre has been in a bit of a slump lately. Recent releases just haven’t been as critically acclaimed as the ones released back in the past generation. Now French-Canadian company Ubisoft releases Child of Light: a tribute to all the jRPGs that have come before it, but also a surprisingly well done and forward moving game in and of itself.
Child of Light is centered around the story of Aurora, a child who finds herself falling asleep in the real world and waking up in the fantasy land Lemuria. Without a way to get back home, Aurora finds herself on a quest to recover the sun, moon, and stars. It’s not original, sure, but Child of Light had a special charm about the way it does everything. The characters that will accompany you along the way are a fun batch. Finn is a cowardly dwarf who constantly has to be prodded into action while Robert is always making up new schemes to create business opportunities and win over the love of his life. To add on to this the entire game is written in rhyme and iambic pentameter, causing it to have an almost Shakespearean feel to it. Sure at times the rhymes feel a little forced or that they’re fluffing out the dialogue to squeeze another in, but most the time it works out pretty well and helps add to the universe in the game.
You’ll play Child of Light on a 2D plane, and early into the game you get the ability to fly. This actually helps encourage exploration as the ability to move freely around the environment gives you both a good chunk of area to explore and a fast way to get around it. It’s not all safe though, you have to watch out for spikes and traps, especially in dungeons, that could do damage to you and cause you to start battles with less health. To counter this you have Igniculus by your side. You control Ingniculus with the right stick (or touch pad on the Ps4 version, but I wouldn’t recommend that) and he can do things like activate switches and open special chests. Ingniculus can also collect “dreams” to restore HP and MP, and can also heal Aurora’s HP directly. Finally he can be used to freeze enemies in place so you can avoid encounters with them.
Speaking of encounters, you will be spending a chunk of your time fighting enemies in Child of Light. Aurora and one of her team mates will go into battle against up to three enemies. On the bottom of your screen there’s a bar broken into two sections: wait and act. Once your character reaches the end of the wait bar they can pick an action, and once they reach the end of the act bar they’ll use the selected choice. You can be interrupted, or interrupt enemies, by dealing damage to them while they’re in the act section, giving you a good way to plan attacks and try to keep the battle flowing in your favor. Party members can be switched about freely which encourages you to keep them all in mind and use their abilities when needed. Ingniculus can also still be controlled during battles, and he can be used to heal your party members or slow down the enemy’s progress on either the wait or act bars, something that gives you an advantage while planning out attacks. My only warning is that if you are looking for any kind of challenge you want to set the game to hard: on normal it’s so easy that I never once fell in combat, though I did have a few close calls during boss fights.
That said, I did have some issues with the pacing of Child of Light. You’ll spend good chunks of the game where you’ll find at least one character leveling up after nearly every fight. The game gets slightly thrown off when you have to stop everything and go assign skill points to their skill tree. You’ll also be spending a lot of time combining gems called Oculi. Oculi gems replace traditional equipment, and can be assigned to characters that give them passive boosts in various stats. You can also combine up to three to create better Oculi, something you’ll constantly be entering the menus to do and which again kind of drags the game down. Both of these get toned down later in the game when you stop getting Oculi like candy and you’re not leveling up after every fight at least. Unfortunately there is a problem with the game suddenly tossing you into the last boss unexpectedly. It feels like the very last part of the game got rushed and a final dungeon of any sorts got cut out. One minute you’re exploring what seems like just another dungeon, the next you’re suddenly at the last boss. It’s a really unfitting conclusion to what has been a great game up to that point.
Still, Child of Light is a game I can easily recommend to any fans of jRPGs. With a fun setting and some interesting combat Child of Light both calls back to the older games in the genre while still carving its own unique path. Fans of jRPGs who have been hungry for a new release don’t need to look any further: this is the next game they need to pick up.