By Joe Strange
Those regular readers of Axby may have caught on that I love myself a good story. So, during the Playstation ‘forgiveness’ sale of 10% a few weeks ago, I took the chance to load up my cart with the sort of short, story focussed games that thrive on digital market places. Along with Never Alone, which I’m working my way through, I picked up Ubisoft Montreal’s Child of Light, a delightfully beautiful game whose art and story was lifted straight from a story book.
Released last year, Child of Light is a game with overworld platforming, RPG character and skill progression, and a fantastically fresh time based combat system. In Austria in 1895 a Duke’s daughter named Aurora falls asleep and wakes up in the land of Lemuria, disappearing from her bed and her family. In this magical land she discovers the plight of its people; how an evil sorceress named Umbra has stolen the stars, sun and moon of the land, and it’s down to Aurora, and the band of misfits that she recruits, to restore them and bring light back to Lemuria.
If that’s all sounding a bit like a fairytale to you then you’ve hit the nail on the head (or the fairy on the wing). The entire game, from the art to the dialogue, glows with magic and wonder. Everything, from the scenery to the character models, is in a water colour style, and pastel colours are in absolute abundance. The 3D overworld model of Aurora in a 2D world, where the enemies look as though they’re straight out of a pop up book, emphasises how out of place she is in this magical world of mouse people, trolls and talking fireflies.
Even the dialogue is poetic, written in an ABCB rhyme scheme (with some exceptions), the feel of a fairtale is never far away. What the rhyme scheme also does is presents the writers with a challenge; how do we convey all that we need to while keeping it inside the scheme? With time, effort, and a lot of creativity (and more than its fair share of half rhymes), that’s how. The result is a story full of flavour, character and style, that while it isn’t all that complex, (After all, why would you want a fairytale to be complex?) it’s incredibly endearing and an absolute pleasure.
The soundtrack adds to the experience even more and like the art and the characters, it’s magical and completely engrosses you in the world of Lemuria.
The game is a wonder to watch, let alone play. Aurora’s hair flows as you turn around, or fly through the air (Fairy wings, need I say more?) and settles in a very calming way when you inevitably stop to appreciate the scenery. Beautiful vistas take up the background while charming animations fill the foreground. Enemies appear in the overworld and take you into the battle screen, and it’s even possible to sneak straight past, or up on enemies to gain an advantage, but they can do the same to you. The events in the over world are peaceful moments of exploration, using your firefly companion to light the way and retrieve treasures, which juxtapose brilliantly with the haste and tension of the battle screen.
Speaking of the combat system; 2 of your party members fight up to 3 dark creatures, but it’s not quite turn based. Using a time line, which utilises character’s speed stats, icons move along into a ‘cast’ phase where the characters act. At the start of this phase you pick a move, from magic, to potions and a nice variety of attacks and buffs, pick a target, and wait a brief moment until the icon gets to the end of the time line. If you, or your opponent, is hit during the casting phase, you get stunned and sent back along the time line. It takes some getting used to, but once you get into a rhythm you can end up defeating hordes of enemies without taking a single hit. It’s incredibly rewarding and a lot more engaging than regular turn based systems.
I’ve mentioned briefly the party members; those characters you pick up on your quest who lend their combat abilities, and, more importantly, their personalities. With a total of 7 possible companions, each with distinct personalities, there’s rarely a dull moment, and interactions between the team are humorous, heartfelt and helpful all at once. One character, a Jester, who lives in a house suspended in the air by balloons, in search of her brother (who ran away with the circus, naturally), makes a point never to rhyme, which results in Aurora and her firefly, Igniculus, becoming confused, and just a little irritated. There’s also a 13 year old with a full beard and an archer mouse who’s looking for love.
I honestly can’t recommend this game enough for anyone who enjoys charming games that are just as enjoyable to look at as they are to play. Saying that, it’s definitely not a case of style over substance. The combat system is rich and surprisingly complex, especially when you include the gems known as Oculi that act as equipment bonuses and when the enemies you face get a little more dangerous. The game’s pace is just right to keep you relaxed and enjoying the beautiful scenery, but there’s still a sense of haste, after all, you’ve got a world to save. It’s not a particularly challenging game on the normal difficulty either, meaning that you can really play it for the ride, and you should.
Child of Light is available on WiiU, PS3, PS4, Xbox One, Xbox 360 as well as Steam.