Part children's story book, part JRPG.
Once upon a timeAre you sitting comfortably? Then let me begin.
I’ll tell you of a princess, red-headed and thin.
In a strange world one morning she woke.
Surrounded by some curious folk.
With crown on her head and sword in her hand.
She looked to escape the accursed land.
The light in her heart laid ne’er-do-wells low.
Helped by a fairy whose essence did glow.
A grand team they were, so full of flare.
But of Child of Light, how did it fare?
Dee dum dee dum dee dumOver the course of Child of Light you’ll be treated to a lot of verse. It’s as much a children’s book as it is a JRPG, the two thrown together in a delightful mix of rhyming couplets, beautiful artwork, and captivating battles. It’s a strange combination but one that on the whole works surprisingly well for a genre more readily associated with flamboyant hair and melodramatic teenagers.
Admittedly, I met the thought of the whole adventure being laid out in rhyme with scepticism. The lack of prose seemed overly twee but to its credit it proves rather endearing. You have to tip your cap to writers capable of creating a whole game’s worth of rhyming content as their playful lines capture everything from Aurora’s child-like petulance through to her bitter confrontations.This style reinforces the game’s fairy tale impression and keeps what could be otherwise dreary dialogues alive.
What sadly lets it down is the confusing manner by which structure and meter change so freely. Although traditional poetry needs flexibility to stem plodding predictability, when consuming reams of dialogue from a princess talking to her followers it only serves to feel disjointed. Continually checking where the emphasis and rhyme had been placed eventually took its toll. A simpler, more consistent structure with fewer pages and it could have been far more easily consumed.
It took a long while to wear thin, though, and the presence of one character in particular kept the concept amusing. Rubella, a clown-come-healer, is written to act up against the structure. She intentionally scuppers the flow, ignoring obvious rhymes and dropping in inelegant synonyms leading to her frustrated friends leaping in and correcting her. To a soul they could all be refugees from the Under 8’s section in Waterstone’s. From the leading lady Aurora, a red-headed princess in a flowing white gown, to the noble mouse archer and monstrous Gruffalo samauri that stand by her side, each are refreshing inclusions compared to the usual RPG staples.
With every conversation their portraits are splashed large on screen, the ink and watercolour finishes showing off a lovely, soft aesthetic. Even when travelling about the world the UbiArt engine once again proves that you don’t just have to be 3D and overloaded with shaders to look beautiful in the next-gen. Hand painted backgrounds scroll past and scene after scene looks utterly enchanting. It’s easy to take for granted when seeking your next encounter, but take a moment to look beyond Aurora and it’s hard not to be impressed at the world they have created.
More than just a pretty faceBeyond the looks there’s actually a game, too. It begins as a platformer, Aurora running through dark forests and clambering up hillsides desperately seeking a route home. Though unlike stable-mate Rayman when she runs into an enemy there’s no jumping on heads. The camera cuts away and we see Aurora, hair whipping in the wind, face off against her foes using a system similar to Final Fantasy’s Active Time Battle.
Everyone involved may be eager and poised but the actual battle takes place down below their feet. At the base of the screen is a timeline with all active combatants sliding along it and as each reaches the end they perform an action, be it delivering an attack, drinking a potion, or casting a buff. There’s also a secondary section dedicated to the execution. Get hit whilst travelling down that and you’ll be interrupted, cancelling your action, and sending you crashing backwards down the main timeline to try again.
Now discussions of UI and sliders may not initially seem riveting but this system is at the heart of Child of Light’s combat. Everything is focused on speed and timing. Quick enemies, those that rocket down the timeline before you’ve had a chance to react, are often deadlier than those who deal huge amounts of damage. Their tendency to not only cast more frequently but interfere with your own casting is troublesome. Conversely, if you can get into a rhythm where your party is tag-teaming a troublesome boss, whittling him down with constant interruptions and preventing him from retaliating,then you too will feel supremely powerful. It’s all about control.
Throughout your travels you’ll add adventurers to your party, each of whom bring their own talents to this timeline. The healer Rubella whose supremely swift attack is perfect for interrupting opponents; the elemental wizard Finn whose lengthy casts require protection; your sister Norah who slows enemies and quickens her friends; and a host of others that offer an array of options. Only two can ever be active at one time, however, leading to some consideration with pairings and their balance. Interestingly, though, they can be swapped at will with no penalty introducing a certain amount of NFL-style special teams where a character is brought in to perform a single action before being rushed off the field again on the very next play.
For an added tactical twist, Aurora’s fairy friend Igniculus hovers above the fight ready to help. Hold him over an ally and he acts as a field-medic, slowly topping up their ailing health bar. Alternatively, pop him by an enemy and he’ll dazzle them, causing them to cower in fear and slow their progress across the timeline. It’s an extra level of involvement in something that is otherwise very menu driven, pushing him from foe to foe controlling their speed and gaining an advantage. He became crucial to my fighting style, the one thing that could operate outside of the timeline, and when at one point he was briefly taken away the battles felt strangely hollow.
With those layers of strategy combat is extremely involving. A constant balance of damage, speed, and crowd control. Though there’s something to be said for the focus being on a series of icons and not the characters in such a graphic adventure, it is necessary. Fights are decided on how well you can discern the information and abstracting it away to a series of animations scattered across the screen would not have made for the same experience.
Ding ding dingI’m not usually one to suggest difficulty settings but when confronted with a new game and the choice between Normal and Hard then do select the latter. There’s no machismo here as I will freely admit to having started with Normal, but in doing so I found it lacked engagement.It’s too easy to just blast through the opposition with little thought or care whereas cranking up the difficulty just a notch allows you to see much more of its potential. True, you will take more of a kicking but the extremely generous levelling system helps counter this.
Each character comes with quite a large skill tree, and to be able to scale it in such a comparatively short RPG – I finished it in roughly fifteen hours after a fair amount of backtracking for secrets – they throw XP at you in spades. Barely a fight goes by without one of your number dinging, having their HP topped up and being granted yet another talent point to spend. Whilst this is a great example of positive reinforcement, the sheer volume of levelling did become rather comical towards the end as most upgrades are only trivial improvements gating the way to major upgrades and spells.
Also available for tailoring your company is the gem crafting system. Harvested from chests and nooks across Lemuria, Aurora takes precious stones and imbues weapons and trinkets with damage enhancements and extra protection. There’s an admirable amount of flexibility as nothing is permanent and all can be swapped around readily to prep your team afresh every time they enter a new area. Finding these hidden items is a good distraction from the procession of encounters, too. Not long into the first chapter Aurora gains fairy wings and can soar through the sky, revealing each area of Lemuria to be as interesting vertically as it is wide. A mixture of mazes and simple puzzles hide the chests from her but it’s worth buzzing around as much to explore the beautiful world as it is to collect its treasures.
- Gorgeous style
- Engrossing combat
- Over eager levelling
Child of Light PS4 ReviewFrom hand-drawn characters through to its charming rhymes, Child of Light can immediately be recognised as a wonderfully presented product. It fully embraces being an interactive fairy tale, although there’s certainly more to it than a pretty veneer and a Disney princess to hold your attention. Beneath its storybook casing is a wonderfully engaging battle system that offers a respectable challenge, combining control with aggression to those who select the right difficulty level.
Given its length, however, the poetic conversation does begin to grate but by that time hopefully you’ll be invested enough that you’ll push past that foible. It’s not an RPG of epic proportions but it doesn’t need to be.
As a lost, scared child we first took her hand.
And now we leave her in a fairy tale land.
Such adventures we had in fight and in flight.
Crushing the darkness through magic and might.
A grand team they were, defying fate.
And for the Child of Light I'll award her an eight.
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