An enchanting and whimsical fairytale powered by a great heart
Aurora, the daughter of an Austrian duke, is suddenly struck by an unknown disease that causes her to fall asleep. While back in the duchy her family mourns the girl’s collapse, she awakes to find herself in a land unlike anything she has ever seen: the kingdom of Lemuria. Desperate to go back to her family, the brave child is determined to face the many dangers that lie ahead.
Lemuria is, unquestionably, a major work of art. It is a place constituted of scenarios that border on expressionism. A town of commercially savvy mice flourishes on the back of a giant, troupes of jesters inhabit floating islands that are kept airborne by enormous balloons, and a fish-like people live on stilt houses built over a vast ocean. Both the architecture of its constructions and the gigantic proportions of its untouched nature seem to have been lifted straight out of fairytale; Lemuria, invariably, enchants.
Yet, despite the overwhelming beauty Ubisoft was able to put into the game, as soon as Aurora steps into this dreamy world one thing becomes clear: something is not quite right. Although the game does put into words that an evil queen has taken over the once peaceful kingdom and stolen the Sun and the Moon, it really did not have to. The way Lemuria is painted onto its canvas, and the atmospheric web that is created through the junction of visuals and songs spectacularly convey that something is amiss.
The gorgeous orchestrated soundtrack looms on the background to give an impression that darkness might be lying in wait at every corner. Monsters scattered throughout the map and trouble brewing everywhere Aurora heads to further increase the feeling that what was once a perfectly tranquil paradise seems to be partially doomed now.
That clash between outstanding beauty and ominous despair is probably the game’s biggest achievement. If on the plot the heroine must fight the hopelessness that is plaguing the land by bringing luminosity back to it, Child of Light is able to majestically portray that struggle between darkness and light through the use of its artistic prowess. Lemuria’s fantasy landscapes are, therefore, constantly accompanied by a sensible feeling of dread.
An extra dash of levity is brought to the game via its dialogue. If Child of Light seems to have sprouted from a storybook thanks to its artistic direction, the writing makes that feeling even stronger. All of the game’s conversations are written in rhymed verses, giving its characters an unmistakably whimsical touch while being able to make their dramatic outbursts even more moving and their happiness considerably more palpable.
The script is, for the most part, greatly satisfying and it will put smiles on the faces of those whose hearts still carry parts of a child. However, given how difficult it is to write a full story through rhymes, a small portion of the lines will not resonate as effectively as intended. Despite those slip-ups, the game’s dialogues remain completely commendable, as they give the impression Aurora’s quest was inspired by an epic and fantastic poem.
If the dialogues are stellar, the same cannot be said about the plot development. Child of Light raises some great questions from the get go, and they add to the great mystery that is Lemuria and its atmosphere. 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?
Though all of those doubts are indeed answered, it is impossible not to feel like they could have been explained in a more satisfying way that would put all of the puzzle pieces together in resounding glory. In relation to the other masterfully done aspects of the game, the plot feels a little bit quickly put together, as if it were one smart twist away from being truly moving.
In terms of gameplay, the game takes place on a sidescrolling perspective. Aurora must traverse the world, engage in conversations with NPCs, and explore locations in search of items, enemies and hidden caves. There are lots of chests to be found, a few sidequests to tackle, and nice collectibles.
The items that can be acquired through truly exploring the world and helping people are extremely valuable: potions provide a welcome aid in battle, letters add backstory to Lemuria, while stones and stat upgrades make characters stronger. Consequently, exploration becomes extremely attractive and rewarding, which – in turn – plays right into the hands of the beautiful world Ubisoft designed.
Child of Light’s off-battle gameplay would have been pretty standard in terms of what players can do if it wasn’t for the presence of Igniculus. A tiny spirit of light that behaves like a cursor, he can be used to solve puzzles, light the way when Aurora enters a specially dark place, collect objects, and even stun enemies temporarily so players can either avoid battles or approach foes from behind in order to start the matches with an advantage.
The game’s battle system, another one of its best features, is also designed to make use of his presence. Every battle presents a timeline divided into two parts: waiting and summoning. Icons representing the characters move across it according to their speed stat, and once they reach the border between the two areas players are prompted to choose which action to take: attack, defend, use a potion, switch to another party member, and so on. Each move, according to its power, has a summoning time. Therefore, the icons will then move to the second part of the bar and slide through it with the speed determined by the action that was picked.
However, if characters are attacked while on the summoning phase, they are interrupted and sent back to the beginning of the waiting phase. Igniculus comes into play as tool that allows players to affect the speed with which enemies move through the bar. Shining his light right into a foe’s face will cause the respective icon to slide slower. As a consequence, through every second of the battles and as long as Igniculus has power, players will be on a constant struggle to try to manipulate speeds so that enemy attacks are interrupted while Aurora and her party can perform their moves without disturbance.
Instead of being a dull affair, Child of Light’s battles are extremely exciting, and have the potential to please even players who are not fans of the turn-based system. They work as never-ending puzzles on which it is important to choose the right moves at the right time, requiring quick reasoning so that players can figure out where characters should be positioned on the timeline so that their moves are either interrupted or perfectly performed.
Although it is not an extremely deep RPG, something that is to be expected given the game’s low price tag, Child of Light still provides some degree of depth. Aurora’s party is numerous and nicely varied, featuring offensive mages, support mages, physical attackers, and others. Besides, all characters have full skill trees with branching paths that give a good degree of freedom in the building of a moveset.
To top it all off, even though the equipment they use cannot be changed, it is possible to attach different kinds of stones to them (three are allowed for each character). Acquired inside chests or through battles, those stones can be forged together to form even more powerful ones and they have a large number of effects, which include making characters resistant to certain types of attacks, upping stats, making dodging more likely, and etc.
In the end, Child of Light is nothing short of spectacular. Although it stumbles a bit on its storyline, the remaining aspects of the game are truly remarkable. It presents over ten hours of solid gameplay and an adventure that is delightful, offering players great value for the money they spend. It is a game that feels and plays like an enormous journey through a fairytale land, and despite the grand size it conveys, it never loses sight of the little magical things that make a game of its kind unforgettable. It lifts the spirit, transports players to a magical land of unquestionable charm, and does wonders to the children that remain in the hearts of many gamers.