Avoiding the overwhelming temptation to deliver this review in decasyllabic verse, I’ve been charged with delving into the realm of Lemuria to report upon the trials and tribulations of Aurora, Child of Light’s red-headed protagonist, whose bildungsroman adventure sends her on a quest to restore the world’s light by rescuing the sun, moon and stars from the clutches of darkness.
Yes, Child of Light is ‘that game with the poetry’ and yes, the gimmicky appeal of this ‘feature’ quickly withdraws leaving only a pair of insane monkeys going mad on my mind’s internal cymbals and a more than sour taste. Whilst this aspect of the title jibes wonderfully with the fairy-tale flavour, channelling the tales and rhymes of childhood, its laboured execution sacrifices ease of flow for stilted sonnetry with ever diminishing returns, the ponderous rhymes quickly becoming an annoyance in an otherwise brilliant gaming experience.
However, one should not linger. Whilst Ubisoftian claims of Child of Light’s being ‘a playable poem’ are hyperbole embodied, the developers must be lauded for their originality and, frankly, for having the balls to push the concept all the way to market. Such an idea can’t have been an easy sell to the suits, so well done you, folks of Funhouse. To reiterate: the concept is great but poorly manifested.
That nasty business aside, Child of Light is truly a wonder to behold. The artistry comprising the fabric of the game, with its luscious, lovingly crafted environments, its sumptuous fairy-tale aesthetic, its eschewal of realistic visuals in favour of a dreamlike palette of watercolour brushstrokes, it’s bloody wonderful to behold. There were moments where thoughts of the films of Hayao Miyazaki, specifically Howl’s Moving Castle were conjured and I’m sure that’s pretty high praise to the artists involved.
From the outset the visuals play a massive role in endearing the player towards Child of Light. The whimsical world set forth is as fantastical as can be and would appear as much at home in one of Aesop’s fables as it would here in-game. Building upon Ubisoft’s familiar UbiArt framework, the game’s basic visual mechanics can be broadly compared with those of Rayman Legends, also using the engine, but the execution here is truly second to none. There’s the sense that this engine has blossomed here in its most pristine form.
The pitch is that our heroine, Princess Aurora, is snatched from her life as the daughter of an Austrian Duke and, in the throes of a deep and tormented sleep, cast into the realm of Lemuria. Aurora is free to explore her two-dimensional world but gently guided by environmental clues towards each plot point. This does give a slight feel of being on rails, but it is entirely feasible to avoid progressing through the story and simply explore the world set forth in all its splendour; something that becomes an even greater pleasure when very early on our protagonist is conveniently blessed with a pair of her very own wings.
Through her adventures, a host of playable party members join Aurora in her quest. These bring with them particular skills and specialisations that can be manipulated and geared towards defeating the gamut of enemies that are crossed as the story unfolds. Though not communicated explicitly, each character quickly reveals how it fits into the standard RPG build, with healers, casters, buffers and tanks each making their appearance.
The turn-based battle system is familiar and comfortable, as accessible to players of Pokémon as to those of Final Fantasy. Here it has been coupled with a UI representation of each combatant’s turn, and Igniculus, Aurora’s blue-spark companion, can be used to slow enemies at strategic moments to get in a quick attack and push back their progress bar. Altogether the battle system relies on thinking a few steps ahead of the action and consideration of timing in unleashing hell upon your foes. If everything becomes too much, a quick delve into the inventory will provide redemption, a slew of potions available to remedy any malady.
Enemies usually come with some particular vulnerability and as the difficulty spikes it will become necessary to take advantage of the party hot-swapping feature to bring in the right character for the job.
Of particular significance is the absence of enemy HP/stat indicators, making a mental map of each enemy type’s strengths, weaknesses and health capacity essential for victory, something which ties in with the innocent naïveté of a child in a world which is not their own. The player’s characters can be further specialised with the application of ‘Oculi’; gems, found as loot in the world or earned from battle, that alter the characters stats and can apply elemental augmentations to their base damage.
With each battle delivering experience points, level ups make a predictable appearance, with skill points and skill trees to match. These work much as expected and are a bit of a disappointment, offering little in the way of specialisation. These elements are too simplified to have a noticeable effect on gameplay, making them a rather lazy and vacuous element in Child of Light.
The musical accompaniment to the story is beautifully scored and aids the game in becoming an immersive, absorbing experience. Within minutes of play, once the controls begin to make sense and the title’s rather laissez-faire attitude to delivering objectives is overcome, the plight of one little girl becomes the plight of the player, and, despite its intoxicatingly surreal and offbeat nature, this fairy-tale forms a truly emotional connection with its audience.
A rather loose and at times detached ride, Child of Light offers a free-form experience that adapts well to the player’s wishes. Following the story is an option, and an eventual inevitability, but there is also ample time to freely explore the fantasy environment, flying free amongst the clouds or through the burrows beneath the roots of the forests. The flimsy skill system feels a little arbitrary and anaemic and the abundance of potions means there’s almost always some means of escaping defeat, but the story and rewarding gameplay render these areas for improvement rather than game breaking flaws. A magical and transporting experience, a journey to Lemuria is just what the Doctor ordered for anyone in search of an enchanting 10-12 hour break from reality and a return to more innocent times.