Why do we love games? It is a simple question and there is no single answer. Perhaps we love them because of the beauty of seeing stunning landscapes and the intensity of a challenge barely overcome. Perhaps it is because of the joy of hearing a gorgeous piece of music and the engaging nature of a story well told. There are many reasons we love games and not every game is capable of offering every element of what can make an experience great, but I believe there is one thing that can truly put a game over the top. The visuals, the gameplay, the music, the story, and everything else — when all of these elements come together perfectly and form a true world. A world that takes no effort to get lost in, a world that takes you far away. Individual parts of a game are huge, to be sure, but it is a world that we as gamers truly crave, a world that takes us to an experience beyond anything we previously could have imagined.
When I look back at all of my favorite games, it is the worlds that stand out to me. Feeling like I can truly become a part of the experience I am partaking in is what really puts a game on another level. Child of Light perfects every single element it attempts, but most importantly, all of those factors come together to create an experience, a world, unlike any other, and in doing so goes beyond greatness to become something truly spectacular.
Child of Light is about Aurora, the daughter of an Austrian duke, who gets transported to the world of Lemuria. She soon discovers that the only way home is to recover the Sun, the Moon, and the Stars and defeat the villainous Umbra. That is all I will say about the story, but it is suffice to say that there are also some twists and turns. It is certainly a well told story and an enjoyable one. Even if it is slightly cliché at times, it still manages to be surprising, intense, and beautiful all the way through the 15-20 hours. The plot itself will not get any awards, if only because of its simplicity.
Characters are also well done, even if they are not anything particularly memorable. They all have well defined personalities, from the kindhearted Aurora to the finance-obsessed Robert to the ignorant and innocent Igniculus to the depressed jester Tristis. Not one is unlikable and it is always a blast to see them interact with one another.
The story is brilliantly told entirely through rhyme. Though I did not expect much to come from this, it added a surprising amount to the game, helping the world feel more like a whimsical fairytale from a storybook. The tale is more poetic, the dialogue more fun, and the more emotional conversations received an additional layer of depth.
Visually, the game is breathtaking. Using Rayman Legends‘ Ubiart framework, the style of animation is unmistakably similar, but what Child of Light accomplishes visually is unparalleled. Not a single moment passed that I was not in complete awe of the stunning backgrounds that somehow each managed to be more beautiful than the last. They really help to give the world a sense of perspective and scope. Characters — both friends and foes — are beautifully detailed and animated, not to mention creatively designed.
To be honest, I am not sure anyone has the ability to adequately describe the music, but try I will. “Beautiful” does not begin to do it justice. Béatrice Martin did something exceptional with the soundtrack. Every song perfectly encapsulates the game as a whole — melancholy, almost sad, yet still hopeful. The battle music could have easily passed as boss themes and the boss music is ten times as extraordinary. Without a doubt, this has become one of my all-time favorite soundtracks.
The gameplay is inspired by several different genres and it takes all of them on with great aplomb, meshing them together flawlessly and even perfecting what could have ended up being parts of the game that dragged down the experience. It ultimately combines two genres: classic turn-based RPGs and sidescrolling exploration.
The combat is a unique take on a classic formula. There are the standards for a turn-based RPG: physical attacks, magic attacks, and different characters with different abilities and specialties. Here is the catch, though. Along the bottom of the screen is a timeline that both you and your enemies use. Most of it is a “wait” portion, where you both spend a period of time waiting to choose an action. Eventually, you reach a point where you can choose what to do. Different actions can slow down or speed up progress on the remainder of the timeline for each character. Once you reach the end of the timeline, the action, whatever it may be, is performed.
Actions can be interrupted. Once an action is chosen and is waiting to be performed, if an enemy attacks the character that has already chosen what they want to do, that character will be sent back a considerable ways along the timeline, and will have to wait several seconds to choose an action again. The vice versa is also true: enemies waiting to attack can be interrupted by the player. To take advantage of this is Igniculus the firefly. Controlled by the right stick, he can slow down different enemies’ progress on the timeline, but only one at a time and doing so uses up an energy meter. That same meter can also be used to help heal your allies.
Thus, in addition to choosing the correct attacks to survive and win, it all becomes a game of timing and it helps the battles to be more enjoyable. The player is never just waiting; they are trying to decide who to slow down and when in order to achieve the best possible results. It is incredibly exciting and combined with an enjoyable set of skills and characters to use in battle, it makes for a fantastically well-balanced and fun battle system. Another thing the game does uniquely is that only two party members can be on the battlefield at a time, but you can switch between them at any point with other characters without losing anything.
It is a system that is entirely skill-based and is satisfying, yet wholly welcoming to those of less skill. Enemies have the perfect difficulty, always feeling like you need to focus completely to win, but rarely do actual deaths occur. If you do die, the punishment is — thankfully — minimal. Running into an enemy in the world transports you into a separate arena where you fight them. Some might find the turnaround between running into an enemy to actually beginning the fight to be a bit too long, but it never bothered me in the slightest. A few later bosses also gave me some trouble, but grinding is extremely rare and almost always unnecessary.
RPG elements, such as skill trees and placing gemstones in weapons and armor to add different effects, make an appearance outside of the combat as well. There is also leveling up your characters, gaining XP from every enemy you defeat. For those worried, characters still gain XP even if they are not involved in fighting, so neglecting a character for a long period of time will not set you back permanently.
Much of the game takes place outside of combat, however, and is comprised primarily of light exploration. Large sections of the world are opened to you and these can be explored for all their secrets. Potions, health/defense/magic upgrades, and the like can be discovered, usually not particularly well hidden, but you have to search somewhat to find most of them.
Though the game is not exactly a platformer, there are some platforming and flying challenges that make an appearance. Rarer are puzzles; though they are usually easy to figure out, they are always clever and fun to complete. Towns are also pretty scarce, but there are enough to make the world feel like a living one. Side quests also are not common and a few are fetch quests, but most lead to optional areas and bosses — of which, I might add, there are many.
Child of Light nails everything it attempts, yes, but most important is how they all come together. Everything meshes to make something far greater than the sum of its parts. The visuals, music, and exploration combines to create a desolate, stunning experience, one that sells the feeling of a world being destroyed by shadow, but with a glimmer of hope still remaining. At the same time, the battle system gives the feeling of fighting back with everything you’ve got against a more formidable foe — and this is without the story to heighten these sentiments.
Perhaps all of this is overhyping the game. Even still, it is impossible for me not to give Child of Light the highest of praise. I cannot stress enough how utterly entrancing it is. Then again, I would be remiss if I did not point out any problems the game has. I found very few issues: a few times audio did not play during a cutscene and … well, that is it. This can, and seemingly will, be fixed very easily through a patch.
Child of Light ended up being greater than my wildest expectations. The gameplay is exceptional, the story beautiful. The visuals are beyond words and the music is no different. But most importantly, these elements came together to deliver an experience unlike any other, one that took me on a journey through through the land of Lemuria that I will never forget. Child of Light is why I love games.
It may not end up being why you love them and that is fine. That is great, actually. Not everyone enjoys or looks for the same things, but I implore you to give it a chance. If anyone ever asks whether or not games are art, this game is the proof — proof not only that games can be classified as such, but that games can go beyond any other medium. They can make an experience so personal, so beautiful. That layer of interactivity, the way a game can turn many separate, fantastical elements into something truly indescribable that we can become a part of. That — that — is Child of Light.
- Exceptional score
- Breathtaking visuals
- Enjoyable exploration
- Smart puzzles
- Intense, clever combat
- Well balanced RPG elements
- Beautiful writing
- Solid plot
- Great characters
- A couple occasions of audio not working in cutscenes