Quick Look: Child of Light

Pals Brad and Vinny play their roles and fight, while struck by art and words in this delight.

Drew Scanlon on Google+
Embed
Play
Please use a flash or html5 video capable browser to watch videos.
00:00:00
Sorry, but you can't access this content!
Please enter your date of birth to view this video

By clicking 'enter', you agree to Giant Bomb's
Terms of Use and Privacy Policy

Giant Bomb Review

81 Comments

Child of Light Review

3
  • PS4

As visually resplendent and periodically fun as Child of Light can be, it too often buckles under the weight of its own aspirations.

Child of Light is at once a thing of beauty and a minor tragedy. Here is a game that seeks to evoke the kind of wondrous storytelling you'd find in any childhood storybook. This is a playable fairy tale, replete with all the magical kingdoms, evil stepmothers, quirky adventurers, rhyming dialogue, and hand-drawn artwork that such a description would typically come along with. Yet despite having all the pieces seemingly in place, something about Child of Light remains pervasively off. For all its allusions of wonder and childlike fantasy, its story rarely finds way to inspire any such feelings. Quirky characters continuously pop up, the plot twists and turns as any good fairy tale should, and all throughout, Child of Light delivers visual splendor after visual splendor. Yet, little of it sticks. Even now, mere hours after finishing the game, I'm finding myself oddly struggling to come up with one memorable detail about my time in Child of Light's world beyond its mere aesthetic pleasures.

It's a shame the game doesn't do a better job endearing its characters to the player. That constant rhyming dialogue certainly does them no favors.

Maybe "mere" is the wrong word, given how tremendously good Child of Light looks. Using Ubisoft's trademark UbiArt engine (which has most recently been used to bring Rayman Origins and Rayman Legends to life), Child of Light paints its magical world with tremendous care. Every character looks like it could have come from an old hand-painted book, every environment is full of amazing detail, and it all animates with a fluidity that makes every on-screen action--up to a point--enrapturing. Those visuals are complimented by a terrific soundtrack by Cœur de Pirate, one that's as good at emphasizing the (supposed) intensity of the game's battles as it is underscoring the tranquil beauty of the game's many low-key moments.

It's a shame, then, that Child of Light's best qualities are only skin-deep. As a fairy tale, it's fairly bland. You play as Aurora, a princess from the magical fantasy kingdom of...Austria. No, this isn't a game about a girl trekking up the Grossglockner Alpine Road. Early on, Aurora finds herself transported against her will to the land of Lemuria, a place where wizard gnomes, depressed circus performers, mercantile mice, and a variety of other people find themselves oppressed by a dark queen of...darkness? Evil? I don't know, to be perfectly frank. I read every line of dialogue in Child of Light, and I still found myself frequently wondering just what the heck was going on. Some of the details of the world and its various issues are filled in by collectible "confessions," which you'll find floating around, but that's hardly an ideal way to keep a player fixated on a story. The key thing to understand is that Aurora desperately wants to go home to her father, who has become gravely ill in her absence. Everything else around that core plot detail isn't particularly necessary.

This means that it's okay if you find yourself itching to skip through the game's aggressively twee dialogue. Everything in Child of Light rhymes. Everything. Nobody can say anything to anyone without a cutesy rhyme coming somewhere near the end of it. I understand why this is the case. Fairy tales are often told in rhyme, and that's what Child of Light is trying to be. Unfortunately, those rhymes are often more confusing than clever. Dialogue that should just be explaining what's happening often feels needlessly convoluted. When the game starts making jokes about characters that can't make rhymes, it proceeds to run those jokes into the ground almost immediately. There are at least a few instances where it tries to rhyme words that absolutely do not. It's a messy script made worse by the distinct lack of voice work. I don't mind reading in-game dialogue, but with a script so clearly meant to be lyrical in its delivery, at a certain point the words all just started to blend together in a bunch of sing-songy nonsense in my head.

So the story may be a wash, but there is still the whole game portion of the equation to consider. In this regard, Child of Light fares better, but still finds itself stumbling over its own aspirations.

Child of Light is undeniably beautiful to look at.

Child of Light is a turn-based role-playing game. You navigate Aurora through the world of Lemuria either by running or by flying (an ability she gains soon after arriving). Every time you encounter an enemy on screen, you have two options. You can try to avoid the fight by zooming right past, or you can try to take them head-on. Assuming you do find yourself in battle, two characters from your party will appear on the battle screen alongside up to three enemies. The flow of battle is dictated entirely by a bar that sits at the bottom of the screen. On it, icons depicting each character will race toward a section of the bar that allows you to perform an action. This can be an attack, assuming a defensive position, using a potion, or any number of other things. The key is timing your actions against those of your enemies. Everything you do (outside of the defensive stance, which is instant) takes time to enact. If an enemy attacks you while you're in the middle of casting a spell, it will interrupt you, thus negating the spell and sending you back to the beginning of the bar.

Initially, this system creates a thrilling little risk/reward mechanic for how you approach battles. The only real advantage you have comes in the form of a little elemental spirit, which you control with the right stick (or a second player can control with another controller). Hovering this glowing ball over a specific enemy slows their progress on the bar, while hovering it over one of your party members slowly increases their health. That spirit can't do either of those things forever, mind you. You can collect energy for it using various plants that are scattered throughout the world and in battle screens, but they're limited.

Unfortunately, that initial thrill is negated pretty quickly by Child of Light's dearth of challenge. Most battles for the first seven or so hours of the game are a breeze. It doesn't really matter which party members you use in what situation, because few enemies are strong enough to put up a hard fight. While the easy response to this might be to just skip most battles, that means you won't be leveling up your characters, which is problematic when you first start facing tougher bosses. This turns Child of Light into a bit of an unfortunate grind, where you'll find yourself in battle after battle against mostly dull-witted foes for hours on end.

At least there is some room for variance in who you choose to bring into battle. Each character has their own set of abilities. One, for instance, is a wizard whose magical attacks play into the various elemental weaknesses of your enemies. Another, a sad jester you meet early on, mostly provides healing and spell boosts to your other party members, while occasionally making use of a quick "tumble" attack that outpaces most other enemy attacks. Each character is nicely varied, and a big part of the strategy comes from figuring out which pairing of party members best suits the enemies you're presented with. The problem is, you don't really have to start developing those strategies until considerably later in the game. I don't think I even bothered to swap a party member mid-battle until over halfway through Child of Light's 12-hour story. And by that point I'd gotten so used to everyone's attack rhythms that I was still trouncing most every enemy encounter.

Part of that probably stems from the insane frequency with which your characters level up. Every character comes with an almost ludicrously lengthy skill tree, full of minor and major upgrades for every statistical category and ability. The way things are paced, you level up after every few fights, which means you're constantly going into the game menu to fiddle around with which upgrade to assign. A lot of these are pretty inconsequential, and exist mostly as a way to space out larger upgrades that come after every four or five small ones, but there are still so many of them that it feels like you're constantly staring at that skill tree, which does break up the pacing of the game a bit. Far worse and much more useless is the game's "occuli" system, which lets you combine collected gems into buffs you can assign each character. The buffs themselves aren't without value, but having to sit and combine gem after gem while trying to chase down the ideal boosts for each character is the opposite of fun. It's just tedious busywork.

There's a lot of leveling up to be done in Child of Light, as this beast of a skill tree demonstrates.

The good news is that Child of Light does get better as it goes along. Once you start fighting bosses and delving into some of the game's more elaborate dungeons, the game finally starts finding ways to trip you up. And with that added challenge, fights become more strategic, more intense, and generally more fun. That fun comes only about four or so hours from the game's conclusion, but those four hours are far more enjoyable than the preceding seven or eight. It's worth noting that Child of Light only comes with two difficulty settings, and at the time of release, those were titled "normal" and "hard." Apparently those designations are going to be patched to say "casual" and "expert," which feel more accurate to what the game actually presents. I restarted the game on "hard" after finishing it on "normal," and while the difficulty increase does make enemy encounters tougher, it doesn't entirely negate the sluggish, grindy feel of the early parts of the game. You just have to work a little harder to dispatch a lot of enemies that still don't require a ton of strategy to best.

Even with all these issues, I felt like Child of Light was a game worth seeing through to the end. Up until those last few hours, I was ready to write it off entirely. It's a shame that it takes so long to find its groove, and even when it does, it's not as if the story becomes markedly better, the dialogue any less obnoxiously opaque, nor the gameplay any less rote. But in those few hours, you catch a glimpse of a stronger, more thoughtful, more engaging experience than the gorgeous, but disappointingly empty one that makes up too much of Child of Light.

Alex Navarro on Google+
87 Comments
  • 87 results
  • 1
  • 2
Posted by BatmanBatman

Still on the fence on this one...

Posted by Atwa

I like it a bit more than a 3/5, but fair enough.

Posted by Orange_Pork

Holy shit, there's another jester in this game? I finished it last night and never saw that character. I almost missed recruiting that magic lizard girl too.

Edited by Ravelle

I'm almost done with it and found the Rhyming charming at start but as the game went on it became rather tiring and skipped pretty much the minor dialogues.

One other thing I didn't really like was that you're only allowed one character on your side in battle, so I pretty much ended up with only the healer at my side and switched some Occuli once in a while when different element type monsters showed up.

Posted by OleMarthin

I liked this a lot more than Alex! My game of the year so far, only thing i don't like about it is the dialog.

Posted by Veovisjohn

I had odd feelings about the game and it wasn't quite grabbing me, but I was at a loss on how to explain why. Thankfully you have masterfully turned my feelings into words. This is an incredibly well written review, Alex. It sums up all the strengths and weaknesses perfectly. Bravo.

Posted by Baltimore

I, like Alex, wanted to enjoy the game more but I am not enjoying myself at all. I just got out of the second big boss fight and feel no need to press on. Alex's reviewed sums up all the issues I have with the game and I don't have the fortitude to get through the muck and into 'the good stuff."

Posted by JFiveJ5

Thanks for this. I was going to buy it, but now I won't. Hopefully it'll be free on PS Plus someday.

Posted by RVonE

I'm about to finish the game with my characters hovering around level 50 and I must say that I had a blast with this game. It does have it's problems, mind you, and Alex sums them up pretty well. Nevertheless, it is only 15 dollars and for that price you get a non-cynical, very charming, small game with a visual style that sets it apart from just about anything else and an outstanding soundtrack.

It is, without a doubt, the best 15 bucks I spent in a long, long time.

Edited by TheBlue

I respectfully disagree with a lot of the criticisms here. I've played through most of it at this point and I think the common criticism that it tries to be deep and profound is unwarranted. At no point does the game seem like it's trying to be anything more than a simple fairytale.

I'm glad they're renaming the difficulties as well. Though, expert/hard should be renamed to "the way the game was meant to be played". Suddenly the quick level ups, character specific skills, and oculi become much more meaningful to the overall experience. Enemies hit a lot harder and move faster so you end up having to really think about when you're attacking or defending, when you should chance a heal, which enemies to slow down and so on and so forth. Battles suddenly became much more tense and I found myself switching out characters every battle because most everyone had useful skills.

The game is only $15 and people seem to be forgetting that. Definitely well worth it but hey, that's just my opinion.

Online
Posted by DasaKamov

Enjoyment of the game seems to depend a lot on the player's personal preferences. Brad seemed to enjoy it more than Alex, at least during the Quick Look.

Posted by RVonE

@theblue said:

At no point does the game seem like it's trying to be anything more than a simple fairytale.

The game is only $15 and people seem to be forgetting that. Definitely well worth it but hey, that's just my opinion.

Exactly.

Edited by Helios1337

Just a heads up for people thinking about getting the WIIU version for a Rayman Legends Murphy levels type second screen co-op... DON'T. For some reason the girl can only be controlled by the gamepad so the second player has to use a wiimote sideways to control the glowing ball dude. Yes, that's right, instead of touch controls for the second player or atleast Mario Galaxy pointing controls you have to use the dpad.

Posted by MythDarK

Thanks for this. I was going to buy it, but now I won't. Hopefully it'll be free on PS Plus someday.

This comment symbolize what I dislike about mainstream and streamlined minded thoughts and people.

"What is a mind of your own, when you can let others think for you?"

I know it sounds pretty fucking harsh, but it's just the way I feel whenever I hear or read narrow minded things like this.

Posted by gerrid

Think it's a little unfair that so many reviews complain about the game being an easy grind, having played it on normal. I understand why people chose normal , but on hard the battles are a much more tactical challenge.

I imagine it isn't the same having completed the game on normal and then coming back to hard either - of course you will still find it grindy.

So take that into consideration when reading the review, since you will know to play on hard, unlike Alex.

Posted by DerekDanahy

@mythdark said:

I know it sounds pretty fucking harsh, but it's just the way I feel whenever I hear or read narrow minded things like this.

That is harsh. Perhaps narrow minded as well?

Posted by Efesell

For not knowing anything at all about this game aside from that it made for some really pretty screenshots I ended up loving nearly everything about Child of Light, corny poetry et al.

Edited by InflectionPixel

Maybe only 1.5 hours into it so far, but I found the challenge (started on 'Hard', however) to be pretty good. I find myself scrambling to be slowing down the correct enemy and timing moves correctly and getting decently punished if sloppy. I think the difficulty naming (normal/hard to casual/expert) could be a real issue when players pick normal because that's what they do and inadvertently give themselves an easier time.

Posted by Gauss_chan

This game deserves at least 4 stars in my book. Just finished the game and I could not disagree more with this review. Sure, I like jrpgs, so my opinion is biased, but if there is a game, that is like playing a fairy tale, with a battle system similar to Grandia, beautiful graphics and great music, count me in.

Posted by RVonE

Just a heads up for people thinking about getting the WIIU version for a Rayman Legends Murphy levels type second screen co-op... DON'T. For some reason the girl can only be controlled by the gamepad so the second player has to use a wiimote sideways to control the glowing ball dude. Yes, that's right, instead of touch controls for the second player or atleast Mario Galaxy pointing controls you have to use the dpad.

Wow, really? That's a weird design choice.

@efesell said:

For not knowing anything at all about this game aside from that it made for some really pretty screenshots I ended up loving nearly everything about Child of Light, corny poetry et al.

Yep, that's exactly my experience.

Posted by ZedsDeadBaby

That's a bummer the narrative doesn't support the style/intention. I was thinking of getting this but I've just got too big of a backlog to justify it. Well written piece, Alex.

Posted by Zornack

I've got to agree. I want to enjoy the game much more than I do. I doubt I'll finish it.

Posted by MarkWahlberg

Sounds like it has the same problems Sword+Sworcery did, which is unfortunate.

Posted by TheManWithNoPlan

Still looks cool enough to try out. I'll probably pick it up later this month.

Edited by rangers517

@efesell said:

For not knowing anything at all about this game aside from that it made for some really pretty screenshots I ended up loving nearly everything about Child of Light, corny poetry et al.

Yep, same here. Didn't even know what kind of game it was when I bought it. Then I couldn't put the controller down and stayed up way too late 2 nights in a row playing this. Enjoyed it a lot.

Edited by 24thDoor

@mythdark:

What a ridiculous and judgmental thing to say.

Listen, the rub is that you're going to die before you get the chance to play every game, read every book, or watch every movie that you may enjoy. You will not have the time to form your own opinion of every bit entertainment out there. You're going to have to make cuts.

The only practical reason most video game reviews exist is to help consumers make purchasing decisions. That's what this whole "games journalism" thing is ultimately about. Alex did a fine job detailing the game's faults as he sees them, and Giant Bomb users probably know enough about Alex to understand where and how their opinions mesh or clash. Why else would anyone spend his/her time reading a review?

Now that I know what Alex thinks, I'm a little closer to deciding whether or not I will spend any of my time on this game. That's not "closed-minded," or "mainstream" (what the hell do you even mean by that?) It's practical.

Posted by development

I may play it for the art... but I'll wait for a sale.

Posted by tooPrime

Pshh come on. I've been dealing with Alex's Kirby Epic Yarn 5 stars, but this is the game he decides to get critical on?

Posted by RuneseekerMireille

It seems starting on hard really made my experience with the game much better than it would be otherwise. I find on hard you are forced to use everything at your disposal to dispatch foes (switching, potions, and interrupts) or you will take lots of damage. Bosses are actually the easiest part of my playthrough so far, since one you kill the minions they can be easily controlled with Norah/ Robert. I guess I'm a little weird, because I can follow all the rhyming dialogue just fine; plots nothing exciting though.

I respectfully disagree with a lot of this review. I wholeheartedly recommend this game to anyone looking for a good light RPG, just do yourself a favor and start it on hard.

Edited by MasturbatingestBear

@mythdark said:

Thanks for this. I was going to buy it, but now I won't. Hopefully it'll be free on PS Plus someday.

This comment symbolize what I dislike about mainstream and streamlined minded thoughts and people.

"What is a mind of your own, when you can let others think for you?"

I know it sounds pretty fucking harsh, but it's just the way I feel whenever I hear or read narrow minded things like this.

What? How is it narrow minded? He's not saying that he saw 3 stars and immediately said he won't be buying it. He probably read the review and noticed the flaws that Alex pointed out and realized that it is not a game for him. Way to jump to all kinds of gnarly conclusions.

Posted by MasturbatingestBear

@gerrid said:

Think it's a little unfair that so many reviews complain about the game being an easy grind, having played it on normal. I understand why people chose normal , but on hard the battles are a much more tactical challenge.

I imagine it isn't the same having completed the game on normal and then coming back to hard either - of course you will still find it grindy.

So take that into consideration when reading the review, since you will know to play on hard, unlike Alex.

If the game is too easy on normal that is on the game. People will always default to the normal difficulty, this is standard among game reviews. Unless the difficulty actually says what is recommended for how experienced you are.

Posted by altairre

@theblue said:

I respectfully disagree with a lot of the criticisms here. I've played through most of it at this point and I think the common criticism that it tries to be deep and profound is unwarranted. At no point does the game seem like it's trying to be anything more than a simple fairytale.

I'm glad they're renaming the difficulties as well. Though, expert/hard should be renamed to "the way the game was meant to be played". Suddenly the quick level ups, character specific skills, and oculi become much more meaningful to the overall experience. Enemies hit a lot harder and move faster so you end up having to really think about when you're attacking or defending, when you should chance a heal, which enemies to slow down and so on and so forth. Battles suddenly became much more tense and I found myself switching out characters every battle because most everyone had useful skills.

The game is only $15 and people seem to be forgetting that. Definitely well worth it but hey, that's just my opinion.

I pretty much agree with this. I'm generally not a fan of turn based combat but the way the slowdown/heal mechanic works combined with the abilities of the different characters and the weakness of the enemies I found it to be quite engaging. Playing it on hard helps the game a lot and makes you appreciate every level-up and every skillpoint to spend way more than on normal.

For me the art style and the soundtrack alone are worth the 15 bucks. Yes the rhyming does become a little bit grating after a while and I didn't much care for the story but that wasn't really what the game was about for me. The amount of content you get for 15 bucks is pretty nuts and I would easily give it 4/5 stars though I can see where Alex is coming from.

First Rayman, now this and soon Valiant Hearts. It seems like this engine is becoming a real seal of quality.

Posted by LarryDavis

Yeah, it's a lot like Puppeteer. Visually stunning, but a chore to play.

Posted by nkster

I think enjoyment of this game really depends on how much the story grabs you. I mean i was engaged straight away and dug this game throughout. The story is mostly predictable, though a little darker than i was expecting which was a nice surprise. The rhyming wasn't fantastic, but personally i was never annoyed. The plot is a little messy, but i thought the important stuff came across well enough.

All the characters get their little arcs, most aren't super incredible, but their all lighthearted enough to be charming. Aurora's arc however, i thought was great. By the end of the game she had grown both literally and figuratively, to the point where she is willing to sacrifice the things most dear to her for whats right.

I guess i can see where Alex is coming from, and i guess the story just never clicked with him like it did me. To all those on the fence about this i'd say if a turn based rpg with a story thats kinda like Alice in wonderland meets Pans Labyrinth sounds interesting to you, you'd probably not be disappointed.

Online
Edited by DarknessMyOldFriend

The Rhyming is terrible

but the game is so pretty;

It you play it on hard

your experience won't be as shitty

3.5/5

Edited by NTM

I'd give it a four out of five. Could have been better in most areas aside from visuals for me to consider it 'superb', but it was still just hitting what I would consider great overall, no more, no less. Nothing really screamed amazing to me as I played it, I just found it to be beautiful, and fun to a good extent.

Posted by Raven10

The rhymes could use some work, but otherwise I'm really enjoying this game. I think the difficulty for me was pretty spot on. I always have to pay attention to what I'm doing, and the boss fights I usually end up winning just barely. The second half of the game has managed to force me to use a lot of strategy without outright killing me. That's something I honestly enjoy in a game. It feels hard and tense, even though I have yet to actually see the game over screen. So I'm going to respectfully disagree with Alex. I should note, though, that I don't have a ton of experience with this type of battle system so that might be part of it.

The presentation is great. Lovely art and animation, beautiful soundtrack, and the occasional VO is really great. Just wish the whole thing was voiced and the poetry felt a bit less forced in places. At this point, like 10 hours into the game I would give it a 4/5 probably.

Posted by DeXterminator

I am currently playing "New Game +" on Hard, and it makes this game so much more enjoyable. Playing through on Normal was good fun, but really easy. I suppose the "default" difficulty should have been set a bit higher. Overall, I thinks, Child of Light is easily a four outta five stars.

Posted by Devil240Z

I don't know why people think 3/5 is bad. I think 4/5 is more than this game could possible aspire to for a dinky little RPG.

Posted by DeXterminator

@larrydavis: Child of Light, a "chore to play"? Have you played it proper? I thinks not.

Posted by SPARTAN3

Not everyone is an English major.

Edited by DeXterminator

@devil240z: This will be my last post on this topic. I have to say one last thing. Peeps leaving comments like "a dinky little RPG", obviously have not actually played the game. I'm looking at you devil240z. I for one, appreciate the effort the artists and creators put into Child of Light. So far, one of my favorites this year.

"I don't know why people think 3/5 is bad. I think 4/5 is more than this game could possible (edit) aspire to for a dinky little RPG."

You should brush up on the rating system at Giant Bomb.

Posted by GermanBomber

I'm kind of in love with this game...the art and soundtrack alone make me come back for more. I haven't finished it yet, because I prefer to consume this game in short bursts...just like a good meal, it's something I want to enjoy as long as possible.
Even though all the gameplay mechanics are fairly simple, in my opinion this game feels very unique. It just feels GOOD. 4 stars.

Posted by Devil240Z

@devil240z: This will be my last post on this topic. I have to say one last thing. Peeps leaving comments like "a dinky little RPG", obviously have not actually played the game. I'm looking at you devil240z. I for one, appreciate the effort the artists and creators put into Child of Light. So far, one of my favorites this year.

It is a small downloadable title. Its not final fantasy or something, its probably not going to get re-released in 10 years. So acknowledging the rudeness of my choice or words. I don't think I'm wrong. I actually want to play it, I just don't have any delusions about what the game is.

Posted by Mr_Creeper

About what I expected.

Posted by realkman
@spartan3 said:

Not everyone is an English major.

But some people are, so they could have found someone to write this game properly.

Posted by Turambar

I wouldn't say the game stumbles on its own ambition, but rather it is not ambitious enough. Everything aside from the visuals and music is a half measure, all bearing the signs of interesting ideas not expanded upon.

Edited by Limiter31

This game definitely gave me my fill in my jrpg craving, and I played alot of them in the past. Good jrpgs simply vanished in this generation. Recent ones simply plays it safe, or went full otaku, and go portable.

I am no English major, but I would love the rhyming to stay. The whole writing style is simply refreshing change. The music, art, style, and the script is this game's identity. It's a memorable title for a $15 game. It's next best thing I bought since FTL.

  • 87 results
  • 1
  • 2