One of the most interesting titles I have come across so far this year has been Child of Light. It’s not necessarily because the title is flawless, perfect, a must-play, or anything of that nature. Rather in this day and age, a title like this is rarely released. A giant studio known for many AAA games, Ubisoft Montreal, has moved over to make a poetic, turn based role-playing game for $14.99. When I first began reading about it and I saw the Ubisoft logo, I just assumed Child of Light would full priced retail release, not a tiny digital title that would grace available platforms. Child of Light utilizes the UbiArt Framework engine which powered Rayman Origins and Legends. The art style is crisp and beautiful, the music has a classic tone throughout, the story is told through incredibly varied characters that speak in rhymes, and the battle system is turn-based but with some interactive elements. All of these things come together to create a title that is all too rare these days. Sure, there are some minor annoyances with forced rhyming and combat, but games like these are refreshing in a time where development times and costs are bloated.
Child of Light tells the story of Aurora, a young girl stricken by an illness that has caused her to fall into a slumber. She wakes up, but in a brand new world full of imagination. She is tasked with uniting the celestial bodies within this world, and builds one of the most unique teams seen in a video game. Child of Light is reminiscent of old style fairy tales. The world is filled with different humanoids, mystical happenings, talking animals, and of course, a rhyming manner of speech that heavily influences how the story is presented. Aurora quickly gains the ability to fly, and the game world opens up to encourage exploration. Child of Light blends role-playing elements, but with a very interesting take on the genre through its open world. I felt this came from Ubisoft Montreal’s past experience with open world action games.
While the combat in Child of Light is turn-based, which may turn some gamers away, it features elements that make it more interactive. Igniculus, a talking blue orb that follows Aurora around, heals allies and blinds enemies during combat. Much like some of the older Final Fantasy titles, Child of Light includes a time based attack system that allows players to alter the sequence of character actions. They can attack, use buffs, magic, heal, and defend. Defending prevents one of your characters from being interrupted by a powerful enemy attack, and being sent to the back of the line in terms of turn order. If there are multiple enemies on screen, even the most generic enemies can present quite a challenge. Players have to distract enemies, plan on when to defend, and manage the ever growing character list. Each character fits a role-playing stereotype in terms of battle use, but this familiarity is enjoyable for those invested in the genre. No game is perfect however, and Child of Light does have some negatives that detract from the experience.
About a decade ago, I had an assignment in one of my English classes involved writing a story. Our group gathered together, and I basically told them I would do it myself throughout the day. Much like with Child of Light, I told a story fully comprised of rhyming and character interaction. This is a difficult task, because you have to unnaturally force your characters to speak in a manner that slows the reader's pace. Child of Light doesn’t have voice acting, which helps keep production costs down, so players are forced to read all of the dialogue. This isn’t a bad thing, but when characters are always rhyming and sentences are sometimes uneven, it becomes a little annoying. I’m sure it was fun to write, and there is some charm with the way the character speak, but it would have been nice to take a break from that style.
Battles attempt to engage the player by adding a traditional role-playing combat style, but are not entirely fun. With three enemies on screen, normal skirmishes can feel like mini-boss battles. There is almost too much engagement within the system at times. But even with these drawbacks, it’s still a great first shot at a genre that Ubisoft Montreal hasn’t really dealt with before. If Ubisoft Montreal tackles another role-playing game in the same vein, they can improve upon an already great foundation.
Every once in a while, I’ll come across a game that seemed like it was fun to develop. You can see the developer's love and care, their hard work ensuring that the game was exactly what they wanted it to be. Child of Light is one of those games. It shows even more so because Ubisoft Montreal, the team behind Far Cry 3, a studio known for AAA Western action games designed Child of Light. If you compare both titles, they couldn’t be farther from each other in terms of likeness. All too often, developers find success in a franchise and spend their time on prequels, sequels, and spin-off titles which lead to the decline of certain franchises and the studios themselves. Child of Light is not only a wonderful little game, it’s also necessary if the game industry wishes to continue its existence. It keeps content continuously releasing into the hands of gamers, but it also keeps developer’s creativity high and hones their skills with new challenges.
Child of Light is the type of game that the industry needs right now. Digital distribution is gaining popularity, and some of the oldest and largest publishers are struggling to adapt with the newer market trends. Some are stuck attempting to hit it big every few years with another large AAA title, or have ventured into the realm of free-to-play mobile titles. Ubisoft is well aware of where the market stands, and is mixing it up with AAA titles and smaller, more unique experiments. Child of Light is worth checking out, even if you don’t normally follow the role-playing genre. And although there are a few downsides, it is still one of the biggest surprises of 2014 so far.