How Can A World So Lush Feel So Empty?
I'm not sure I know of a more generic story of innocent child thrust into a situation far beyond their understanding, yet somehow being depended on to save the world against an evil that exists solely for the purpose of being an adversary. Yet, somehow, Child of Light manages to transform this tried out storyline into something that’s incredibly charming, despite everyone being one step away from breaking out into song and dance.
Unarguably the game's biggest draw is its aesthetics; the art is absolutely gorgeous and conveys the idea of “fairytale come to life” to perfection. Sadly the character designs aren’t as inspired, and there isn’t huge variety to be had in enemy encounters. However the biggest compliment I can give the artwork is that it manages to completely absorb you and distract you from how uninteresting the world actually is.
For as beautiful as the game looks, the levels are sparse in equal measure. There is some puzzle solving to be had that’s tedious at best; pushing crates onto pressure plates, dodging spears that protrude out of the ground in rhythm, using your firefly friend to illuminate things. Being given the ability to fly around means the levels need to provide incentive to travel vertically as opposed to just left to right, meaning the content has been spread around thinly and the rewards you get just don’t satisfy enough to make exploration worthwhile. It does convey the idea that this world is desolate and on the brink of destruction, right up until you get to a village full of people casually sitting back or just thinking about money, with the occasional “oh yeah the evil queen” thrown in to try and tie them back to the reality of the game.
Sadly you’re not given much reason to care about the state of the world since you spend so little time within each area that it leaves you with no attachment to anything in the game outside of Aurora herself. As you travel you can find letters floating around the environment that are “Confessions”. The game doesn’t offer any explanation as to why they’re there, and how they tie into the game world, since the poems contained within refer to what seems to be a completely separate story. Maybe these were supposed to fill in backstory and add flavour to a world that is left bland by its own devices, but they’re just confusing ramblings, especially in the way they refer to real world locations, while everything else in the game leads you to believe this is an entirely separate universe.
The game offers a few different distractions from the main plot thread; for example each character will have their own requirement to keeping them in your party, which you can choose to ignore, but in most cases will result in losing the party member. Unfortunately, most offer no motivation for accompanying Aurora on her travels, leading me to not care whether they joined or not, save for having the extra punching bag in battles.
Most the time you’ll be pitted in a 2 on 3 battles with the enemy having the numbers advantage, the reason for this becomes apparent once you even the odds. With only two enemies it’s easy to get into a routine that allows you to interrupt every one of their turns leaving them completely unable to attack. While this does feel gratifying it’s incredibly frustrating when it’s the enemies’ turn to do it, especially with many of the later enemies getting counterattacks to try and up the difficulty. The consequence is; you can go from full health to dead by the end of your first turn. Then it becomes a choice of weathering it out with your lone character or hoping that the enemy chooses to spam buffs to allow you to get your revive in without interruption. Fighting against the random whims of the AI isn’t especially fun.
You can have some influence in character progression by assigning skills points to unlocks on a board, but the stat increases are so slight that it never feels like you’re getting any stronger. Also giving a single character all the elemental magic meant that you had to make a decision early on which element you were going to go for, since it’s unlikely you’ll accrue enough points to unlock all the varieties. I chose fire. After the starting area there are few enemies weak to it. By accident, I made the character basically useless. Throughout the game you collect “Occuli”, which somehow are attached to characters in one of three slots to give them various bonuses. But again, the effect is so miniscule that it’s barely noticeable, you can combine smaller ones together to make bigger ones, but again it’s still not enough, and you’re not really given enough of these to properly outfit the entire party.
Reduced to looking at its individual components, Child of Light unveils a pretty substandard game, a varied set of mechanics and a story that don’t really mesh into an entirely cohesive unit. While the packaging really does make it a treat for the eyes, for the brain it's not all that engaging.