Video game consumers have come to expect a steady diet of grit, gore, and absolute realism in games they buy. Rarely do publishers give players the chance to just be kids again; to experience a touching story in an imaginative way. This is why Child of Light is such a welcome breath of fresh air. Ubisoft Montreal has created an interactive fairy tale that will stun audiences with incredible visuals and music. More importantly, Child of Light has the potential to awaken the inner child within all of us if we allow it.
Child of Light tells the story of Aurora, a young Austrian princess whose soul is brought to the kingdom of Lemuria. The evil Black Queen has stolen the sun, moon, and stars, filling the entire kingdom with darkness and monsters. It is up to Aurora, her firefly companion Igniculus, and a band of colorful allies to retrieve the Stolen Lights and defeat the evil queen. Only then can Aurora return home and reunite with her father, the King.
Let us start with the obvious: the visuals are magnificent. Playing Child of Light is akin to interacting with a living watercolor painting. Environments are ethereal and almost dreamlike. As impressive as realistic cities are, Child of Light contains some of the best looking environments on the PlayStation 4 to date. Character and enemy design are equally as impressive as the environments. Never has so much detail been put into 2D sprites. There are triple A 3D game releases that do not have near the same level of personality and spirit in its characters as Child of Light has in its own. The game is an absolute spectacle to behold.
Child of Light not only looks beautiful, but also boasts one of the most impressive and memorable soundtracks in recent memory. The music is often haunting yet hopeful, perfectly setting the mood for such a tragic fairy tale. Voice work, though limited to the narrator, is impressive and does a good job relaying the tale as if we were listening to our parents tell us a bedtime story. Lastly, sound effects are spot on perfect. It is possible to hear every small movement of the wind, the leaves rustling, water dripping in a secret cave, and so much more. There was an amazing amount of sound design done for a title that will never see a major retail release.
In terms of story, there isn’t much to discuss. Child of Light was meant to be simple and approachable by all ages, as a good fairy tale should be. There are touches of sadness, humor, and an overall sense of triumph. The forced rhyming may get tiresome for a few people, but many others will find it cute and endearing. While it may not be on the short list for the best video game narrative of 2014, Child of Light tells a decent enough story to provide a nice distraction for a few days and is light enough to enjoy again and again.
Child of Light’s gameplay almost meets the greatness of the rest of the game. Exploring the world of Lemuria first by platforming and then by flight is fun and rewarding with plenty of hidden secrets and caves to discover. However, the battle system is a little too oversimplified at times.
When playing on Casual (originally Normal), most players will find themselves sticking to one or two favorite characters, rarely switching them for a different ally. That being said, the fact that these underused characters still earn XP and level up despite not being used is a nice touch and ensures players will not be at a disadvantage when forced to switch to them. Expert, however, does substantially up the challenge and players will find themselves swapping characters in and out much more often, but the RPG veterans that this difficulty was designed for may still find it lacking.
That isn’t to say combat in Child of Light is bad. Far from it. The constant presence of the active time battle bar on the bottom of the screen lets players plan their moves ahead, looking for chances to interrupt more powerful foes before they have a chance to strike. This adds a layer of strategy and tension to conflicts, especially on Expert. Igniculus also offers a nice twist on battle strategy, serving both as a healer for Aurora and her allies and a distraction for enemies, and having the option for a second player to control the little firefly adds a modicum of co-op playability. Still, there will come times when players wish for a more traditional three character setup of attacker/healer/support. Despite these minor quibbles, combat in Child of Light is very much enjoyable, if a tad repetitive.
One area of Child of Light that was far too simple is the leveling system. Meant to be approachable by anyone, players earn skill points but aren’t really given any extensive options of where to spend them on. Instead, points must be spent on one of a handful of pre-determined character paths, allowing for little customization. RPG players are used to being able to level up certain attributes and talents at their own pace, not being forced into the same mold as everyone else. While disappointing, it isn’t enough to greatly harm Child of Light’s lasting appeal.
Child of Light could have easily been put on a disc and sold at retail for full price. At only $15 on PSN, this tribute to Japanese RPGs and fairy tales is an absolute must buy. No where else will one find such an enjoyable 10+ hour experience for so little investment. Comprised of breathtaking visuals, amazing music and sounds, enjoyable combat, and a heartfelt story, Child of Light is the one of the best games available on the PlayStation 4.