Child of Light Review: A Beautiful, Somewhat Empty World

Child of Light is Ubisoft Montreal’s homage to both fairy tales and Japanese RPGs of the 1990s, and in invoking both of those things, it is a success.

The team behind Far Cry 3, which slipped from its usual triple-A work to create a beautiful, leaner downloadable title, clearly understands the ingredients necessary for an interesting and nostalgic take on old-school JRPGs. Child of Light channels those games that, for many adult players today, were instrumental in our gaming development.

Titles such as Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy VI, Vagrant Story, The Secret of Mana, Grandia and Star Ocean all told stories and delivered gameplay in ways that made those games stick with many players even years later. Child of Light recognizes the elements we all know and remember from our younger years as players and faithfully recreates them in the beautiful UbiArt engine, delivering a watercolored world whose story is delivered wholly in rhyme and whose battles are fast-paced and menu-based.

But in replicating the nostalgic feel by the numbers, Child of Light hasn’t necessarily tapped what makes so many of these games iconic or long-lasting. In fact, where Ubisoft Montreal’s game seems to go flat is in the story driving you forward and the characters you meet along the way — the very things that keep JRPGs of the past so ensconced in the minds of their fans.

For all the attempts at presenting the story in a cute way, like a script delivered entirely in rhyme, Child of Light skimps on actually making you care about it.

Child of Light
Platform: PC (Reviewed), Playstation 4, Playstation 3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, WiiU
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Publisher: Ubisoft
Release Date: April 30, 2014
MSRP: $14.99
Available: Steam, uPlay

Child of Light was inspired by fairy tales, as well as paintings created to illustrate them, and faithfully (or obsessively) works to maintain a similar feeling. It focuses Aurora, an Austrian noble’s daughter at the turn of the 19th Century, who one day falls ill and can’t awake. It seems everyone presumes her dead, or at least comatose, and her widower father (who has “misplaced his heart” with a new woman) falls into a deep, crippling depression. But of course, Aurora isn’t dead — she’s just been transported to a strange, dreamlike world called Lemuria, where she’s about to go on an adventure.

There are plenty of parallels in literature and film within Child of Light, and it wears those inspirations on its sleeves alongside the JRPGs that inform its presentation and gameplay. The Wizard of Oz is pretty apparent as influence, as are stories such as The Chronicles of Narnia, His Dark Materials and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and the works of Studio Ghibli. Aurora is a lost girl who finds herself taking up a sword and going on a quest. There’s an evil queen who has imprisoned the rightful ruler of Lemuria, and stolen the sun, moon and stars, and with them, the light the land needs to flourish.

Early on, Aurora meets her principal companion, a blue talking firefly called Igniculus. He palys sidekick (and second player) as well as acts as an indispensable game mechanic: Most of Child of Light’s puzzles require Igniculus to boost his light briefly to activate switches or project images, and he’s necessary in battle to control the timing of attacks for strategic benefit.

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