Child of Light Preview – Not a Princess

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Developed by Ubisoft Montreal. Published by Ubisoft. Releasing April 30, 2014. PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One and Wii U.


Child of Light is a game absolutely brimming with charm. While some games are built and others are designed, Child of Light feels like a game that has been lovingly crafted. From picturesque visuals, whimsical charterers and clever wordplay, every detail has been worked over by some masterful hands.

Child of Light is the story of Aurora. The daughter of an Austrian Duke, one day Aurora takes ill and falls into a deep sleep, perhaps even death – an event the writing is certainly obfuscating on purpose. She wakes up in the world of Lemuria, a magical land from which she’s unable to free herself. Initially despondent and worrying for her father, Aurora eventually takes matters into her own hands. She finds a sword and sets out on a journey to right the wrongs of Lemuria in the hopes that it will get her home. I’ll not spoil too much here, but there’s a lot of little details and threads to pick up on that hint towards what’s really going on. Also, the whole game is written in rhyming couplets. If you’re a fan of verse, it’s quite the treat.

There’s no doubt going to be a fair amount of attention given to Aurora, the main character of Child of Light, and how she stacks up against other gaming protagonists. A little girl is about as far disconnected from the grizzled heroes we’re used to seeing. In some ways she might be even more alien than a cartoonish anthropomorphic mascot. Taking inspiration from literary characters like Alice or Matilda, she does however venture outside of many of the traditional molds to be a more multifaceted character. She’s courageous enough to battle against monsters, but very much afraid and alone initially. While she warms up, she’s even a little bit of a brat at times. There’s an ongoing gag that despite being a Duke’s daughter, she isn’t a “princess”. Aurora’s adventure is as much about her progression as a character as it is the journey itself.

Along the way Aurora will recruit and team up with a number of companions and this colorful cast of characters breathe a good deal of the life into Lemuria. Some examples are a not-so-clever jester who is looking for her brother, he has run off with the circus, or a cowardly young wizard whose whole village has been turned into birds. Part of your adventure will be to help these characters with their problems, however, recruitment is optional if you so choose.

One companion in particular plays a more important role however, and that is Igniculus the firefly. Unlike the other companions, Igniculus follows Aurora around the map and can be freely moved independent of her. As a firefly, Igniculus’s primary ability is to be able to light up. While certainly useful in dark sections, Igniculus can also use this to open certain item boxes, solve various puzzles and to blind enemies, both in an out of battle. Out of battle you can use Igniculus to either set-up a favorable surprise attack for the battle or simply to bypass enemies all together. And I’ll get to Igniculus’s uses in battle later on. Igniculus can also collect potions and floating wishes, which are the game’s method for restoring your health and mana between fights.

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What’s particularly crucial is that Igniculus is the secondary role when Child of Light is played cooperatively, with one person controlling him and the other Aurora. It’s hard to gauge just how well the asymmetric gameplay will be perceived as one player will have a bit more of a passive role.

Growth is not only a central theme to the story, it’s also specifically reflected in the gameplay as well. Child of Light takes this to its most logical conclusion, being framed as an RPG. Leveling up not only represents getting stronger through turmoil, but also discovering and finding confidence in your own abilities. While everything has a storybook feel to it, Child of Light disguises some complexity.

Besides keeping an eye on your health and MP, you’re primarily going to be concerned with the action bar. Similarly to other JRPG active battle systems, characters and enemies will all progress across the bar. Once you near the end of the bar, you’ll be prompted to input an action, all of which have their own speed to completion. This last section of the action bar is the most important, hitting enemies or in turn being hit yourself will interrupt your action pushing you back towards the front of the bar. Thus it’s possible to nearly chain lock an opponent out of acting at all.

Igniculus also has a part to play in the combat as well, either controlled by your or your co-op partner. He can blind enemies, slowing their progress across the action bar. Thus timing becomes very key to success, as just trying to wail away with your most powerful, and slowest, attacks is rarely going to work out well for you. You’ll need to balance using Igniculus to slow down specific opponents, either to let you focus on a separate one or to line your attacks up to disrupt them. There will be these great moments where you’re running low on juice for Igniculus and you’re trying to race that enemy to see who acts first.

There is just no getting away from talking about how great this game looks. I sometimes found Aurora’s model slightly jarring when compared the the other visuals and I did experience a few hang-ups on the PC version I was previewing, but the aesthetics on display really do look like something pulled straight out of a wonderfully illustrated children’s book. The levels are quite large and open to exploring, there’s tons of hidden chests and collectibles hidden all around the maps. And the backgrounds, which have a watercolor-esque quality to them, are quite stunning.

In a lot of ways, Child of Light feels like it’s attempting to accomplish for video games what Pixar did for animation. A seemingly simple veneer reveals a much deeper and richer game, but at the same time it’s able to operate and speak on a number of levels. There’s something for JRPG fans here, literary junkies or even folks that simply want to see an interactive story told through a character that isn’t a gravelly space marine.

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