Child of Light is sterile; it’s what happens when an adventure is all tropes, but no intrigue. The game was billed as an RPG for kids, but instead of targeting children as an audience it works on the assumption that kids fiction never moved beyond the fable, and that their gameplay experiences are coddled and straightforward —which they aren’t.
The story starts off with your untimely end. Protagonist Aurora’s death in her father’s Austrian castle whisks her away to the fantasy world of Lemuria where she quickly earns the power of flight, makes new friends, and tries to find her way back home. With the exception of a small plot twist in the middle that’s about as interesting as things get: find a way home, hopefully save the land, battle evil. I’d equate it to a version of Chrono Trigger where Crono wakes up, goes to the fair, but instead of finding himself wrapped up in a time traveling adventure, just has some blue thing show up and tell him what he should do next.
The narrative never develops a sense of purpose. It’s full of abstract ideas that have successfully made-up these kinds of stories in the past, but doesn’t do anything with these tropes to make them its own. The large cast of characters are all quirky enough to pique interest, but don’t amount to more than slight variations of the Tin man; they’re all just looking for that one thing that will complete them. Even the blue fairy sidekick feels like a forced attempt to pay homage to Navi from Ocarina of Time, rather than a character with legitimate motivation. In literature and cinema, fairy tales are constantly revitalized, but it’s done by using the tale as a springboard to more interesting takes on a theme or premise. Child of Light leaves the framework unaltered and it ends up feeling the skeleton of a much bigger and more interesting story.
It’s a shame the plot feels focused on keeping up appearances, because the game’s actual production work is so impressive. Everything you will see and hear in Child of Light is gorgeous; there are a lot of small-scale games with extraordinary visual design, and Child of Light still manages to stand out. The watercolour look and attention to depth go a long way; even the character art has a real sense of confidence. The soundtrack, composed by Montreal singer-songwriter Coeur de Pirate, is exceptional; standing completely on its own, the soundtrack is worthwhile.
The game presents itself as a 2D side-scroller. What’s interesting is that by letting Aurora fly in all directions, navigation actually ends up feeling more like a top-down RPG in the vein of an early Final Fantasy. This doesn’t drastically change things, but it’s a neat way to improve visual design while keeping a bird’s eye view. Areas are filled with treasures to find, but with only two different things that can potentially be inside a chest —either potions or crafting jewels— they become wildly unsatisfying to find really quickly.
Battles are reminiscent of an active-style JRPG, but with one important addition: using Igniculous, your fairy sidekick —also known as your onscreen cursor— you can impact the flow of combat. By hovering your blue fairy cursor over yourself or an enemy you can either heal Aurora and company, or slow down an adversary. It’s not a very robust concept, but adds an extra layer to a pretty simple system, and is actually a pretty fun addition if you let a second player controller Igniculous.
There is an enormous amount of talent on display in Child of Light. The production work is incredibly strong, but there’s very little in the story or gameplay to back it up. The game’s vision is that it will create a nostalgic experience for adults, and a traditional experience for kids, but the result is a game that’s generic, and does not live up to the ideas it is trying to replicate. Even after finishing I’m wowed by how it presents itself, but the game itself is far, far from being as rich as its aesthetic.
- If we ran one-sentence reviews, I’d go with @booboobouchard‘s “It feels like a huge publisher trying to be indie.”
- The blue fairy is some weird attempt to recreate a false game history where blue-fairies an important part of explaining intent.
- Because there isn’t any armour to speak of, a lot of pressure falls on the crafting system and sphere grid style levelling to make character progression feel involved — both of which are unsurprisingly flat.
- The combat is about as much fun as a pokemon battle — but a bit more intricate.
- The crafting is super streamlined, but it’s alright. It’s getting the treasure that ends up being tedious.
- The 2-player mode is by no means perfect, but I think highly of that kind of co-op mode.
- I can’t emphasis enough how good looking this game is. My first, first reaction was that it didn’t match up to other indie games, but I was being silly.
- You should be able to swing your sword to initiate a sneak attack — that’s an oversight.