Spoilers are marked.
I convinced my husband to download Child of Light not long after its release date of April 30, 2014. It was a late birthday present. The instant I saw the trailer, I knew I had to own this game.
Even now after finishing, this still gives me chills. I love, love, LOVE fairytales and Child of Light is reminiscent of Snow White, which is one of my favorites. There are also shades of Sleeping Beauty (Disney’s version named the princess “Aurora,” too) and Pan’s Labyrinth, as well.
So…this review shall be in three parts, and in three parts shall be this review. Gameplay and music and best of all story shall all be showcased for you. For now I present Child of Light without any further ado.
Child of Light is a 2D platforming, puzzle RPG developed by Ubisoft Montreal (which is exactly why all of the French names now make sense) and published by Ubisoft. It was released for PS4, PS3, Wii U, Xbox 360, Xbox One, and PS Vita.
The player controls the main character Aurora (and titular Child of Light) in an almost water color landscape of Lemuria where you can find both treasures to collect and dark creatures to fight. No random battles in this game; you will be able to see every antagonist beforehand. Battles are turned based and the system is similar to the one used in Grandia II where each character has a Waiting and Casting period.
At the end of the waiting period, the player has several options. They can act, switch characters, use a potion, or run away. Choosing to act opens up more options that vary from character to character. You can physically strike your foe using whatever weapon the particular character has (this doesn’t change throughout the game though strength stats et al do); you can use a spell, or you can defend. Either physical or magic attack is considered “casting” and will take up time on the casting part of the time line. Certain actions are quicker than others, and certain characters are quicker than others e.g. Aurora is a medium speed character whereas Rubella is faster than most enemies. If you are hit while casting, your character will be knocked back on the timeline. The same goes for enemies, so you want to learn how to time your attacks. This is where the firefly character Igniculus comes in handy as he can shine on enemies to slow them down. There’s also the defense option, which happens instantaneously, and is a good choice if your action won’t occur prior to an enemy’s.
Certain foes are weak against certain elements. All enemies are considered “dark creatures,” so light tends to be a good go to option,, though there are particular enemies that are more susceptible to light. None of the foes have official names, and you sort of have to go by their appearance to figure out what they’re weak against or use trial and error. Enemies that look wooden or papery are usually weak against fire; blue/watery enemies are weak against lightning; fire enemies are weak against water, and so on. You can only have two characters in battle at a time, but you can switch them out at will, which happens instantly and doesn’t cost a turn. Within the battle screen you will always see two or three bunches of flowers, which will replenish your HP if you pass Igniculus over them. These are also found in the overworld.
After battle, you’ll gain experience (just like your typical RPG), and if you level up, that refills your HP/MP. Experience works by granting points you can spend on each individual character’s grid. It reminded me a bit of the sphere grid in FFX except each character had their own unique one with skills only they could learn. So while Aurora would have the skill Starlight and upgrades thereof, she wouldn’t have Tristis’s Unstoppable. In this way no one character can become a jack of all trades, and they need to rely on each other for support. I like the greater message this sends beyond just the gameplay.
Child of Light uses “oculi,” which are gems found in chests and coffers throughout the world and by defeating enemies. They can be equipped to affect attack, defense, and other attributes, and you can craft them for greater and different effects. Crafting three of the same type of stone will yield a higher quality gem for example combining three rough rubies will result in one tumbled ruby; combining three tumbled rubies will result in one faceted, and combining three faceted rubies will result in a brilliant ruby. Combining different stones will result in an entirely new one e.g. sapphire + ruby = amethyst. This is the guide I used while playing, and it was super useful.
The world of Lemuria is very open, and you reach a certain point very early where the sky truly is the limit. The graphics are whimsical in a bittersweet way looking almost like a watercolor painting, and it would behoove you to explore every corner as there are chests and coffers everywhere. The towns and villages of the world are scattered throughout and you come to them as part of the plot line. There are numerous sidequests, and each new character you add to your group has a particular plight that must be resolved in order to advance the…
Aurora is the daughter of an Austrian Duke in 1895. Her mother is deceased because of course she is. Not only is this a fairytale, but I personally can not escape from the dead/missing mother paradigm. It is in Every. Single. One. Of. My. Fucking. Favorites. Now this could be my fault. Well not my fault per se, but rather I subconsciously seek it out, because I can understand it. *sigh* sorry for the mini-rant…where was I anyway? Oh summarizing the story. Aurora’s mother is deceased and the Duke remarries, but the very night of the wedding, Aurora takes a chill, and in the morning she is found dead. However…she awakens in a strange land she comes to know as Lemuria (which is a known lost land), and it is here her quest begins.
Lemuria is lacking the sun, moon, and stars stolen by the dark queen Umbra, and Aurora is entrusted with the arduous task of fetching these entities back. The world has a sort of dusky hue that is yet not lacking in beauty.
Her first and only companion for a while is Igniculus, a helpful firefly, who is the first to start calling her “princess” due the crown she wears. It was given to her by her father and though technically “false” it imbues our heroine with protection. With her firefly friend in tow, Aurora seeks help from the Lady of the Forest in order to wake herself from this dream; however, the lady tells her this is not dream only a different sort of truth. There is a magical link between Lemuria and and her world held in a magic mirror . The power of this mirror is reflected through still bodies of water in Lemuria through which Aurora can the past of Lemuria and the present of her world. Peering into it for the first time, the princess discovers the Queen of Light once ruled this kingdom before it fell into darkness ruled by Umbra and her two daughters who unleashed fell creatures upon the land. The magic mirror itself is in Queen Umbra’s possession, and Aurora must find the stolen celestial bodies and defeat the dark queen in order to return home. The Queen of Light gives Aurora the stars, which grant her wings, and also bestows upon her a flute. She tells the child to seek help along the way in order to retrieve the sun and the moon.
Aurora does find many brave companions as she travels through Lemuria. Rubella, a jester who is seeking her brother after being abandoned by her troupe.
Finn, a member of a dwarf-like race with a quaint, rustic accent.
Norah, Aurora’s very white haired step sister who was forced through the mirror into this dreamland.
Robert, the princess’s mouse-like companion with his heart all a-withered for mouse lady, Margaret, who barely gives him a glance.
Tristis who embodies the Sad Clown paradigm.
and finally Genovefa or simply Gen, the Piscean child with a fiery temper belying her watery roots.
Aurora renders assistance to all of her joined companions *spoiler* reuniting Rubella with her brother Tristis, *end spoiler* helping Robert win Margaret’s heart, *spoiler* returning Finn’s people, the Capilli, back into their human forms, *end spoiler* *spoiler* comforting Gen’s grief at the plight of her family, *end spoiler* and trying to cheer Tristis up. Eventually, they reach the Temple of the Moon, say a tearful goodby, and Aurora and Norah pass through the mirror together where *major spoiler* the princess finds Umbra waiting for her. Her step-sister Norah, whose real name is Nox, betrayed her to her mother, the dark queen. (By the way, SUPER PISSED about this. I really, really liked Norah. I was all like, “Yah! Mystical White Hair, but the story was like, “No bitch! White Hair, Black Heart! *evil laughter* So very, very angry, anyway…) Together with the older sister Cordelia they plan to kill Aurora out of hatred for the princess’s true mother, the once queen of Lemuria. Theirs is the wrath of the dispossessed and the rage in belief that Aurora is of lesser blood (this is sounding familiar…), and they will take back what was stolen; however, neither the queen nor her daughters can render true harm to the little princess due to the crown her father gave her. All Umbra can do is imprison Aurora and her companions. *end major spoiler*
While in dire straits Aurora plays her flute and I have to break this summary to tell you the melody of that song broke my heart and it bled tears. There’s such a longing in ever single note and such a depth of sorrow between. It is so heartbreakingly beautiful there are bare words in any tongue for me to render such poignancy to you.
It is at this melody that *spoiler* Óengus, currently the queen’s creature and Aurora’s jailer, comes to the princess for he last heard that song when the Queen of Light ruled. He breaks fealty to Umbra and *end spoiler* becomes Aurora’s companion and guard. They *spoiler* rescue her other friends, *end spoiler* and together confront Umbra and her eldest daughter Cordelia for control of the moon, which Aurora wins. *spoiler* This victory turns the princess into an adult or at least young woman. *end spoiler* The final task is to seek the sun, which now lies beneath the waves. *spoiler* It is in the midst of this final journey that Aurora also meets her final companion, Gen, and replays her flute to comfort her loss. I, myself, lost it again at that part. That song… *end spoiler*
Beneath the ocean Aurora must face *spoiler* her false sister Norah/Nox who transforms into *end spoiler* a powerful sea serpent, but even after vanquishing this beast *spoiler* thereby killing Umbra’s youngest daughter *end spoiler* all is not resolved. *spoiler* In Austria the duke lies dying, his people are in danger of rising flood waters, and Aurora is faced with a choice; abandon the people of Lemuria to go back home and save her father or finish the task at hand. She does a very adult and queenly thing, choosing to remain in the shadowed realm, but actions have consequences, and as a result, her father dies. With his demise *end spoiler* she loses her crown and thereby her protection, and *spoiler* Umbra delivers the mortal blow. With the last of her strength, Aurora gathers the sun and the moon, falling into the waters of the sea. Her body is lifted out of the waters by fireflies who carry her to an alter where the Lady of the Forest, hooded and cloaked, awaits. Aurora is resurrected by the Lady’s flute, the wishes of the celestial bodies, the prayers of her allies (basically the power of love), and the Lady is revealed to be the Queen of Light, the Aurora’s mother. There’s a brief and heart-wrenching reunion then *end spoiler* Aurora has the final battle with the Queen of Night. After Umbra’s defeat, there is a moment where you (or at least I) feel sorry for her and her dead daughters. While they did cast the realm into shadow and while the validity of their dispossession was questionable, they only wanted a place to call their own.
Aurora realizes her work isn’t yet done for while she’s saved Lemuria, *spoiler* her kingdom in the other world is still in peril. She passes through the mirror and leads her subjects through to this newly revitalized land where she is to be their Light Queen. *end spoiler* It’s a bittersweet end to a beautiful tale, and in the epilogue, *spoiler* it’s revealed that the person reading the story as heard in the trailer is non other than Aurora herself rendering the tale to her own daughter and revealing Child of Light to be a book end, one of my favorite tropes. *end spoiler*
The developers of the game created it as a sort of “love letter” to JRPGs in the vein of FFVI and Chrono Cross. It was inspired by Studio Ghibli (of Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke fame) and Yoshitaka Amano in its are style, but we have Coeur de Pirate to thank for its wonderful…
I can’t begin to tell you how phenomenal the music is for this game is. It’s close to Uematsu-san status in how it has moved me. Everything in it carries the soul of a lost child wandering a strange land that may or may not be a dream. I already shared Aurora’s flute song above, but her theme music shivers my heart no less.
Then there’s “Patches of Sky.”
While each character doesn’t have a leitmotif as in the later Final Fantasies, there is one for Genovefa titled “Little Girl, Gen.
And of course…because no soundtrack can epic without it, Child of Light goes the route of so many games before and has ominous Latin chanting for not only its final boss music
but for just its general boss theme
Coeur de Pirate did a fantastic job with rendering the proper melodies for the ambiance of the game. It was part that which drew me to this story. Music can enhance or diminish any narrative. I have seen less than stellar movies and video games with wonderful scores that help the subpar story, and conversely there are tales I love where, while the lack in music quality doesn’t lessen my love, it is noted. So with that we finish with the…
Gameplay: 8 – Very easy, very simple. There’s no reason to have an overly complicated system in order for something to be good. This is not to say it’s over simplistic either, but nearly anyone could play Child of Light without reading a word of the instructions. I did use a strat guide, but I always do so for RPGs, because I like to be prepared, and I don’t want to miss anything.
Graphics: 9 – CoL doesn’t boast over the top, fancy, CGI graphics. It’s almost watercolor quality is perfect for this whimsical, poignant tale. The graphics should fit with the raison d’être of the game and these do. Fancy visuals for the sake of fancy visuals go nowhere with me if there isn’t a foundation of substance to back it up, *cough cough* Squeenix *cough* and it’s clear these aren’t amateurs muddling around with paintbrushes. You can see that in the way they animate Aurora and Norah’s hair.
Music: 10 – I am very hard to impress, and I do not give out 10s all willy-nilly. Child of Light’s music is a work of art just by itself. It captures the the magic and mourning of the game in every note, and while I didn’t love or even like every single song, every song I did love had the very real chance of bringing me to tears.
Difficulty: 6 – This is not a particularly hard game especially if you grew up on Coleco, Atari, and NES in that order, hehe. Even if you haven’t (or are a little rusty on the oldies), you will not find Child of Light hard to play. That’s not the point of it.
Story: 8 – Because I am a lover of fairytales, I was not too surprised by how this story played out, but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t moved by it. There were a few shocks, which I shan’t give away and prove myself a spoil sport. You’ll find them yourself if you make the wise decision to puchase this phenomenal game. The creators were not afraid to play around with tropes of death, loss, and betrayal, which makes for a far more powerful and poignant story. In a coming-of-age tale, life is filled with hard choices and letting go of that which we always thought would be.