Thursday, April 16, 2015

The Light in the Darkness - The Child of Light Take Your Time Review

Quick Note: Between the beautiful painting style graphics and the solid JRPG battle system, Child of Light hits all the right notes for any fan of a JRPG. Plus, it's short play time and simple play style makes this the perfect game for anyone curious in the genre. Child of Light is the perfect JRPG for pretty much anyone.   

My favorite games have always been predominately Japanese RPG's. From starting with Pokemon and moving into Final Fantasy, the turn based battle systems and magical abilities have always been something I have been drawn to. The 90's and early 00's were the golden years for JRPG's, with hundreds of hours worth of great story telling, interesting characters and amazing combat. That all seemed to stop with the last generation. Sure there were a few gems, but the glut of JRPG's seemed to stop, especially with the large franchises like Dragon Quest, which was almost completely absent, and Final Fantasy, which fell down a hole known as Final Fantasy XIII.

To fill in the void, smaller, shorter JRPG's that fit better into a busy schedule have been popping up, and none of them are better than Child of Light. Built by a small team within Ubisoft Montreal, Child of Light takes the traditional story, combat and exploration of JRPG's and makes it fresh and enjoyable again.

The game starts with Aurora, a little red haired girl whose father is on the cusp of dying. Right before he passes, Aurora is transported magically to a fairy tale world where the sun has been taken away. On her quest to escape this new world Aurora decides she must also help bring the sun back and help the people of this magical realm, Lemuria. 

The story is told in rhyme, which doesn't really help nor hinder the game. I know the developers were hoping it would help the game stand out, but I don't think that's the case.

Tale that's told in rhyme doesn't hurt anything, but doesn't really help either.

Aurora is an interesting character whose childlike qualities make her likable and fun to watch, while also being able to deliver a feeling of empowerment as she takes on dangerous odds. Most games put players in control of little girls to make them feel powerless, but Aurora is different. She's strong and doesn't really need anyone to help her, yet she gladly helps others and is willing to work with them, which makes the game feel very lighthearted and fun. It's not oppressive or stark, like most JRPG's like Final Fantasy where the world is always ending.

Aside from Aurora herself there is a wide cast of characters, each with unique abilities and characteristics. I enjoy the different character's abilities, but I do think the rhyming scheme story hinders the ability for the game to convey the uniqueness of each character, with the exception Robert, a mouse knight / thief. But the character abilities are the important part as they effect the unique, turn based combat system.

The 2D environments are full of enemies that will chase Aurora and puzzles to solve in order to gain access to new environments.

Enemies are found throughout the levels and will chase after Aurora when spotted. Using her firefly Igniculus, Aurora can blind an enemy, giving the party an advantage in combat, though enemies can sneak up on the party and also gain an advantage themselves. 

Once the battle starts, the characters and the enemies start on a timeline, displayed at the bottom of the screen. This timeline is what makes Child of Light's combat feel so different. Each participant in combat (up to two party members and three enemies) will move down the line until they hit the section right before the end. This little square is where commands are issued. Each command has a speed, with more powerful abilities taking more time than others. Once a command reaches the end of the timeline, it is executed. However, if the character is hit while in the middle of a command, the character is knocked back on the time line, having to wait even longer until he/she can issue a command. So the goal of each battle is to hinder the enemies while ensuring that Aurora and co. act out their commands. It's simple to understand and quite brilliant, especially as enemies get stronger and larger in number. Enemies can be stalled by hovering Igniculus over enemies and shining his light to blind them. This can also be done by a second player, which is a great way to play with someone who doesn't really play a lot of video games.

Each character has his/her own skill grid with three possible paths, creating a lot of variety per character.

After combat characters gain experience that helps them level up to obtain skill points. These skill points are then poured into skill trees that branch into three separate directions each ending in a special skill related to the character. This grid system helps build bring variety to each individual character, which is very cool when you consider how different each character feels to one another.
Each character has unique skills that help the player create the perfect party for him/herself.

Characters can also be equipped with Oculi, which are small crystals found throughout the game. Oculi boost stats or add different effects, such as increased elemental damage or resistance to attacks. Small Oculi can be combined to create larger Oculi and different types of Oculi can be combined to create even more unique Oculi. It's a great equipment system that is simple to learn and deep with it's execution, especially when you start combining different types of Oculi.

To find Oculi, Aurora must explore every corner of the land of Lemuria. To do so, Aurora platforms and (eventually) flies around gorgeous, hand painted levels. The world is full of traps to avoid and special triggers and buttons to use to expand the world. It's a very different experience from most JRPG's and helps expand the fairy tale feeling of the game. I honestly would love to see this style of exploration used more often in JRPG's, because it is a stark departure to the typical, limited exploration of 3D maps fans of the genre have come to know.

The game looks gorgeous and the environments vary greatly as Aurora continues her adventure.

The worst thing that Child of Light has going for it has to be the story, which starts out fresh and slowly moves into "save the world" territory that most games of the genre do, but it's not the end of the world (see what I did there?!). The game is enjoyable, challenging and perfect for gamers on pretty much any schedule, with a length of roughly 12 hours. If you've been away from the genre for some time, want to experience JRPG's for the first time or simply love these types of games, I can't recommend Child of Light more.

9.0 out of 10

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