Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Child of Light - Review

Developer: Ubisoft 
Publisher: Ubisoft
Platforms: PC, PS3, PS4, Wii U, 360, Xbox One (version played)

Child of Light is one of several games to use the UbiArt Framework engine (first used to power Rayman Origins) in order to give the appearance of a moving art book or illustrations.

As great as Rayman Origins and Rayman Legends look, the art style almost feels more justified, for lack of a better word, with Child of Light. This is a classic fairy tale; full of queens, princesses and talking animals that all talk in a rhyming fashion. As you’d expect, this places the story almost front and centre in what is otherwise a fairly beginner-friendly and light-hearted RPG fare.

Playing as Aurora, a little princess who wants to be reunited with her father, you’re tasked with travelling the land of Lemuria with an ever-growing band of followers. Above all else, one thing that Child of Light captures is its tone. This is very much a fairy tale, but as is the case with many fairy stories, there’s a much darker, sinister edge to them once you look more closely.

The game captures this sense of light-hearted children’s adventure mixed with more menacing elements perfectly. For all its beauty, this is a game with a distinctive melancholy atmosphere, not only in some of the artwork and enemy designs, but also thanks to the sombre musical score.

When it comes to the gameplay Child of Light mainly functions as a turn-based RPG, but with some action/platforming elements thrown in as well. Enemies are encountered in the overworld, and contact with them will transition to a battle screen. It seems to be a common trick nowadays with more casual RPGs (i.e. South Park: The Stick of Truth) to mix in timing based elements and button prompts along with the standard turn-based combat.

Child of Light achieves this by having every character, both friend and foe, operate along an attack bar. If any character is hit during a sweet-spot whilst they prepare an attack, that attack is interrupted and they’re shunted back on the turn bar, delaying their action. What’s more, Aurora’s firefly companion, Igniculus, can temporarily blind and enemy by holding the right trigger, delaying that enemy’s progression along the battle track.

This leads to a much livelier and more reactive nature to the combat than you’d find in many similar games. It enforces players to establish a strong rhythm and beat to the action, in order to anticipate what the enemy is about to do, which is appropriate, considering the game’s obsession with rhyming, poetic dialogue. As a result, the game ensures that even the most regular of battles requires the player to actively engage with it, rather than default into auto-pilot and mash the attack button.

Whilst Aurora is the game's main character, she’s not required in combat once you encounter new party members. Child of Light hosts a creative mix of weird and wonderful characters that join your ranks, although not all of them are mandatory, meaning some searching is required in order to have a full party. Members include Robert, a mouse who’s skilled in archery; a pair of jesters named Rubella and Tristis, and a dwarf who’s skilled at spellcasting, not to mention several others.

The diverse character cast means there’s a surprisingly high level of strategy when it comes to choosing which party members to use. Fortunately, all characters receive experience points regardless of their participation, encouraging you to constantly switch party members in and out as you see fit, depending on the battle at hand. By the end of the game I was surprised to find myself regularly swapping between every character, rather than relying on two or three favourites and ignoring the other party members.

With a runtime of maybe five or six hours, provided you root around and complete some side quests (there’s a few dotted about each area), Child of Light just about keeps going up until its finale. By the end, there’s a sense that the battle system has run its course. Whilst it remains entertaining, it’s certainly not deep enough to carry a game for longer than several hours, and, by the end, you start to see some repetition kick in. This shows up primarily in boss fights, who almost always end up using the same formula: one major enemy with two sub-bosses or lackeys.

It can lead to a predictable strategy by the game’s halfway mark, as you pound bosses with area-of-effect attacks to start with (to kill off the helpers) before turning to your focused damage dealer to take care of the main threat. That’s not to say that boss encounters are all necessarily poor, just that, for all their visual creativity, the strategy that underpins many of the fights occasionally feels somewhat prescribed and predictable, despite the emphasis on timing your attacks correctly.

Some of the other elements can seem a little poorly thought out, too. The level up system isn’t anything to write home about, with a simplistic tree layout which forces you down several linear paths. Although this does maintain the games “RPG: For Beginners” mind-set, it is disappointing that more wasn’t done with the skill system. Likewise, the Oculi system, which allows you to attach different gems to your party members, improving various stats, seems somewhat tacked on. Crafting systems are banal at the best of times, and RPGs have had a love affair with them for several years now. Child of Light in all honesty didn’t need one.

Child of Light takes tried and tested ideas and simply mixes them with a well-suited art style. As an RPG, it isn’t going to change anything. But, as a showcase of what can be done with UbiArt Framework, it’s a success.


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