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A mountain-sized giant lumbers across the background, a furtive spider lowers itself gingerly on a strand of silk, and our protagonist, Aurora, hovers over a wind-swept plain, her hair trailing behind her with an ethereal grace. This is the beauty and charm of Child of Light, a game with such endearing sweetness and whimsy that it easily finds itself placed alongside classics of children’s literature and film.
Produced by UbiArt, a division of AAA company Ubisoft, Child of Light nevertheless displays an indie sensibility both in its courageous uniqueness and in the thoughtful approach to every element of the game. Rendered in jaw-dropping watercolors, from its main characters right down to the small critters that scamper through the levels, Child of Light calls to mind classic children’s books à la Alice in Wonderland or The Little Prince. Alongside its gorgeous visuals, the game also provides an incredible soundtrack, ranging from moody piano solos as you fly through the woods to upbeat orchestral pieces as you enter a busy town, all providing an excellent backdrop to the witty (if not occasionally forced) rhyming dialogue and narration. In short, Child of Light was designed as a sort of interactive fairy tale, and in this regard it is a triumph.
All of this is moot, of course, without some sense of the how the game actually plays, and I am happy to report that it is a solid, tightly-designed RPG. Hardcore RPG fans may balk a bit at the game’s simplicity and ease (it is recommended you play on hard), but it is hard to deny the elegance of Child of Light’s gameplay. Utilizing a single combat timer that is vaguely reminiscent of the Final Fantasy series’ “active-time battle” system, the game’s primary strategy relies in timing your attacks to interrupt your enemies while avoiding interruption yourself. The system is simple but effective at making sure you are always focused on combat. The addition of Igniculus, a tiny firefly that can slow enemies or heal allies, creates an additional layer of strategy. Igniculus can be controlled by a second player, making this game perfect for a parent and child or siblings to enjoy together. Ultimately, Child of Light’s simplicity serves to allow more space for the game’s story and aesthetic to shine through, ensuring you can take it all in without a moment’s frustration.
In the end, Child of Light’s greatest strength is probably its phenomenal writing. True to its classic children’s lit influence, the plot does not patronize players young or old by pretending that the world is a happy and easily navigated place. Child of Light drops heavy morals, dealing with themes of death, duty, and populist rage, and the game endears not only through its sweetness, but also its sorrow. Over the course of Child of Light, Aurora aids the world of Lemuria’s citizens in reclaiming and rebuilding their broken lives, but she is rarely the perfect savior they expect of her. Pain is not easily cured in Lemuria, and often the best Aurora has to offer is a sweet song and an offer of friendship. By dealing heavily in anguish, Child of Light treads a fine line, risking becoming too dark for its intended young audience, but ultimately pulls through by providing an uplifting tale of hard work and friendship. It is a story you’ll be mulling over long after you finish the game.
I can’t recommend Child of Light enough. Though it perhaps lacks a bit of depth in its gameplay, it more than makes up for it with the incredible richness of its world. It is a rare game that promises to endure for many years, but I believe Child of Light’s gorgeous artwork, enchanting soundtrack, and haunting story make it an instant classic.
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