The first realization one comes to when playing Child of Light is pretty much something that became blatant as soon as the title was originally announced: this is one gorgeous game. Its environments are lush with details, and there is a matching of visuals and sound that spins webs of immersion everywhere players look.
At the same time, the game is much more than one very pretty picture. As soon as Aurora, a highborn girl who contracts a mysterious disease and falls asleep to wake up at the strange kingdom of Lemuria, comes to her senses for the first time, there is a looming feeling that there is something unmistakably big going on. However, everything is surrounded by a fog of confusion that perfectly describes the state of disorientation one finds itself in after waking up from a slumber.
The solution, then, is step to the road and attempt to discover the answers to questions that might not be explained when it is all said and done. Why in the world did the girl woke up in this strange place? Is she merely asleep or dead, as her father seems to think? Are there any sort of threads connecting Lemuria to the real world? And what exactly is taking place in this obviously distraught kingdom?
All those question marks, and other unthinkable ones that may come to the mind of players going through the game, show the plot setting itself up as the main fuel for the gameplay. When it comes to RPGs, that is the first ingredient to a recipe of success, and Child of Light hits the nail right on the head.
The game’s greatest victory, though, is how it is able to convey a contrast between light and darkness in such an effective way. Lemuria is undoubtedly a gorgeous setting, but as you walk through the land it is impossible not to feel like something is amiss. The ominous music on the background serves as the companion to scenarios that are occasionally in ruins, villages that are deserted, and whispers of a world that had its light taken away from it. Add that up with the clueless state of our heroine, and you have got one dark picture.
However, Lemuria is able to retain the levity of a world that was taken straight out of a fairytale book. The characters Aurora does come across are extremely whimsical, and to reinforce that storybook demeanor, the entirety of the game’s script is written in delightful rhymes. Aurora and the inhabitants of Lemuria sing of their worries, concerns and backstories in a way that lifts the plot and conversations to fantasy heights.
Therefore, in spite of the overwhelming bleakness found in Aurora’s life and on the routine of a kingdom that has been cursed, Child of Light is still able to be lighthearted. It rhymes and sings in the face of disgrace, and it is able to look at itself in the mirror and make fun of the rhythmic delivery of its dialogue, but on the background of it all there is the constant reminder that things have gone extremely sour for all characters Aurora meets along the way.
It is as if Lemuria was a gloomier version of Alice’s Wonderland; one on which the cartoonish evilness of the Queen of Spades has been replaced by a more palpable terror that has nearly spelled doom to all of those who remain in the realm. In order to get to the bottom of what has happened to her, Aurora must first face the daunting riddle of this land and so, with a crown on her head and a sword in her hand, she sets off down this twisted road full of dangers.
The battle between light and darkness, aside from being clearly present on the plot and setting, also shows up on the gameplay. Accompanied by Igniculus, a luminary blob that works as a pointer throughout the game, the girl must explore dark locations, solve puzzles, and even battle enemies with the aid of his light. In all of the cases, his skills are wisely used by the game, serving as the core tool – in terms of mechanics – that sets Child of Light apart from other games that have gone down the road of merging sidescrolling progression with hand-drawn scenarios.
The turn-based battle system is another one of the many highlights of the game. A bar constantly appears on the bottom of the screen showing icons for each of the characters that are engaged in battle. The icons, each at their own speed, race towards the line that determines when the characters they represent will be able to start summoning their attacks, and, when the moment comes, players get to choose a move and wait the corresponding time that it takes for the action to be taken – the more powerful it is, the longer it will take for the move to happen.
That race-to-the-finish bar adds a great depth of strategy to the battles, as it is possible to slow the progression of enemy icons by using Igniculus to shed light at the fighters on the battlefield. In addition, if a character is hit by an attack while he is in the process of summoning it, he will be interrupted and his icon will be thrown all the way back to the beginning of the bar, forcing them to enter on the waiting phase again.
Consequently, there is not a dull moment in Child of Light’s battles, as players will be constantly trying to manage the position of the icons on the bar with the aid of Igniculus so that they can interrupt enemies – especially when they are about to perform a seriously powerful attack – while avoid being interrupted by the foes. It is a non-stop puzzle that involves managing the use of Igniculus’s power, which is limited, and knowing when it is absolutely imperative that an incoming attack be blocked or interrupted.
Child of Light is, hence, far from a one-trick pony. It is aware that, as an RPG, it must provide a varied range of party members, an entertaining battle system, and some character-customization options. And it does exactly that. In the midst of it all, the game also presents this delightful little world whose big questions and problems never cloud its heartwarming fantasy.
It feels, by all means, like a huge game. However, it never loses sight of the little things that are important. It employs and implements a sensible level of delicacy in building little simple bricks that form a heart and a soul that are bound to make it an unforgettable trip down one dark, yet hopeful, rabbit hole.