(I would love to do this entire review as a poem, but I’m too lazy. :P)
In the past few years I’ve come to terms with the fact that I’m not a big fan of turn-based RPGs. I tend to enjoy games that emphasize execution and reaction times, so I usually find it difficult to get invested in a turn-based game. As such, I was worried that I might have trouble enjoying Child of Light, as I simply wasn’t too interested in the genre in general. I decided to jump out of my comfort zone and plunge headfirst into it, however, and I’m very glad I did so.
I’ve actually owned Child of Light ever since it came out in the Spring of 2014. I loved the idea that a big triple-A developer like Ubisoft was releasing a turn-based RPG full of gorgeous 2D art. They were appealing to a niche and pouring their hearts into a passion project, and I wanted to support this practice by buying the game on day one. However, I bought the game on Steam and, unfortunately, my poor old laptop could only manage to run the game in super slow motion. I tried for a few weeks to remedy the situation before finally conceding that I just wasn’t able to play the game. It sat in my Steam library as an everpresent reminder to always keep my laptop specs in consideration when buying Steam games. I forgot about Child of Light for almost two years.
But then! In a spur of the moment decision last month I bought myself a PS4. While surfing around the online store looking for games to buy I ran across Child of Light again and thought, “Oh yeah, I never got to play that game, did I?” Seeing as it was only $15, I bought it without hesitation. I was ready to finally play that gorgeous game I bought so long ago.
The first thing I noticed about Child of Light is that it’s gorgeous. It runs on the UbiArt engine in the vein of the recent Rayman games, and it looks absolutely fantastic. Every backdrop looks like a painting, and every environment is lovingly crafted and detailed to look as wonderful and awe-inspiring as possible. The visuals and soundtrack come together beautifully to create an atmosphere of loneliness, fear, and adventure.
What really pleasantly surprised me, however, was the battle system. Child of Light’s battles are turn-based, yes, but in sort of a real-time turn-based sort of way. In battle, every participant is placed on a timeline at the bottom of the screen. Each character’s speed stat determines how quickly they move along the timeline. When they reach the area on the timeline marked CAST, it’s their turn to act. However, every action, whether it be attacking, casting spells, or using items, has its own speed stat as well. This speed stat determines how long it takes to reach the end of the CAST area, at which point the action is performed and the character jumps back to the beginning of the timeline.
The more powerful the action, the longer it takes for you to reach the end of the CAST area. This is very important, as if a character is hit while casting, they will be thrown backwards on the timeline and their action will not be performed. This means you have to be careful about what actions you perform and when, as being interrupted essentially means you wasted a turn. On the other hand, you (in most situations, anyway) want to time your attacks such that you interrupt your enemies and forcibly delay their actions. This strategy is enhanced by Igniculus, the little “firefly” you control during battles. You can use Igniculus to forcibly slow an enemy down and put your party members in a more advantageous position. This is very useful, but cannot be abused, as Igniculus has an energy meter that depletes when he used. Igniculus’ power can also be used to heal your party members, meaning careful management of his power meter is required to get the best out of him.
All of this adds up to a very engrossing battle experience that includes lots of planning, management, and quick thinking. You have to keep an eye on everybody’s position on the timeline and determine if and when anyone should be slowed down or which move should be performed. Some powerful moves take very long to execute, and careful slowing and nudging of enemies is required to give yourself enough breathing room to perform them. Each enemy type has their own unique stats and movesets that must be learned and planned around. It’s important to remember which enemies are weak to physical attacks and which are weak to magic, as well as which enemies can heal or resurrect their fallen allies. Some enemies even have special abilities that are triggered when they are interrupted, so special care must be taken to avoid putting yourself in an advantageous timeline position!
All of Child of Light‘s design choices maximize the player’s potential to get creative and develop their own strategies without being overwhelmed by choices and decisions right off the bat. Things start out very simply: you have one party member – the protagonist, Aurora – and she can smack things with her sword, block, and perform a magic attack. The game walks you through initial encounters and explains how the timeline works and how Igniculus can be used to slow enemies or heal yourself. After letting you get comfortable with this, the game beefs your party up to two members by giving you a healer. Later on, the game gives you a magic attacker with powerful elemental spells, letting you experiment with type advantages as well as party rotation. The game gradually gives you new party members to develop strategies around as you learn new mechanics until eventually you have a motley bunch of characters to pair up and develop strategies with.
All of your party members receive EXP from battles, even if they aren’t used or are dead. This encourages the player to develop and refine their own personal strategies instead of going out their way to use characters they wouldn’t normally use just to bump up their EXP. Your party members will always be around the same level and no one will lag behind (unless you go out of your way to pile a bunch of EXP boosts on specific characters, and that’s your decision!). Characters level up very quickly, as well, and get skill points every time they do so. This is very satisfying, as it feels like your characters are constantly getting better and learning new, stronger moves. There’s also a very neat “Oculi” system used to give your party members specific buffs. Oculi are gems that can be combined in different ways to produce different effects that can then be assigned to party members. These can eventually be combined into large, powerful Oculi that offer substantial buffs such as attack power boosts, additional chances to dodge, elemental effects, and speed boosts.
A feature that I was personally very thankful for was the ability to change difficulty mid-campaign. As I was getting comfortable with Child of Light, I began worrying that I should have picked Expert mode to make the battles more exciting, and that I would either have to play all the way through the game on my current difficulty or start all the way over just to change it. Nope. Just go to the Options screen and change that difficulty whenever you want. Absolutely fantastic.
You can play on the easier difficulty or grind to your heart’s content, but I strongly suggest playing on Expert mode and playing through the game without much grinding. It’s completely possible to do this, and it means that you have to overcome difficult battles with good planning and timeline management. It makes for a very engaging, dramatic battle experience that results in excitingly close victories.
Child of Light‘s design decisions make it very appealing to me in spite of my general disinterest in the genre. Real time decision making, satisfying progression, and strategic potential add up to a very satisfying RPG experience that filled me with pride when things went right and stomped me into the dust when things went wrong. The beautiful visuals, great soundtrack, and charming characters are just icing on this very well-crafted cake.