Take a stunning oil painting, bring the tapestry to life, and the result is an overload of visual splendor embodied by Child of Light. But much like how the quality of art is determined by the eyes that behold it, Ubisoft Montréal’s fantasy RPG can seem like a series of meaningless images, or a powerful message on how far one would go to reclaim the things they have lost.

Child of Light is a gem. A gem that not only pleases the senses, but one that makes up for its simplicity with emotional depth and a combat system that both preserves and deftly reimagines the archaic trappings of turn-based RPGs.

In a fantasy mirror-world replete with dark creatures and the helpless denizens that call it home, Lemuria sees Aurora awake after a deep but restless sleep with the knowledge that her father has fallen ill. As Aurora, the player explores a world draped in shadow and faces the likes of bloodthirsty wolves, archers encased by stone, ethereal wraiths and other antitheses to her light. And as a physical space, Lemuria oftens seems like a reflection of Aurora’s own internal struggle with loss; environments appear lavish and bright in moments of hope, but remain shrouded and obfuscated amidst despair. Though the story quickly degenerates into Cinderalla-ish territory, Aurora’s struggle with loss feels touching, immediate and relatable. And Child of Light is less about where Aurora is heading, and more on the people she meets along the way.

First to accompany Aurora is a sprite called Igniculus. At first, Igniculus seems to function in the same way Navi does in Ocarina of Time, spewing incessant reminders and the occasional hint. But he quickly comes into his own, providing Aurora with emotional support and shrewdly correcting other characters on their word choice. Igniculus is very much an extension of Aurora, since he can also be controlled to lighten dark areas, subdue enemies or retrieve barred-off objects and unlock hidden chests.

But where Igniculus truly shines is in Child of Light’s action sequences. As the score moves from somber to forceful, enemy encounters prompt a riveting shift into gorgeous mini arenas. Every skirmish feels like a set piece. And unlike turn-based RPGs in the past, the battles remain more active than passive. Instead of the malaise between turns, a time bar tracks periods of waiting and casting. In the same way Igniculus can blind enemies, this same move effectively delays an enemy’s opportunity to strike in combat. Whether Aurora is given a break to defend or a perfect moment to interrupt a foe, Igniculus renders what was once an innocuous waiting game into something tense and meaningful. He can also harvest some of the local fauna for a general recharge on health and magic while you decide how to act. And even though battles appear as discrete events, every clash reflects a stepping stone in Aurora’s immovable persistence to reunite with her father, cementing a sense of gravitas after every vanquished foe.

Igniculus is not the only one who comes to aid, as Aurora soon enlists some of the locals who share her dread for the darkness shrouding Lemuria. At first, these acquaintances can seem like one-shot, rhyming caricatures with no real depth. Still, how they relate to Aurora is what truly defines them. Whether it’s the performer separated from her band, a pipe-smoking mage bereft of his father’s acceptance, or the warrior on the quest to reclaim his honor, these companions rise above any underdeveloped backstories or unspoken motivations through the way their struggles foil with that of Aurora’s. All of them have lost something, and seek desperately to reclaim it. And Child of Light benefits from their inclusion in combat. Replete with their own unique set of skill trees, augmenting Aurora and these characters gives way to a great deal of customization, but in a way that is sleek and intuitive. And since Aurora can only bring one other member – minus Igniculus – into a skirmish, pursuing certain skills becomes a calculated decision on pairing which may or may not work universally. This gives a surprising amount of depth to a system that seems otherwise simple.

Child of Light impresses with its hand-painted art style and hits some deeply personal issues despite the strokes they’re painted with. From haunted forests and deserted plains, to accursed dungeons, the environments are lavish and revel in personality. And the way trees sway in the wind, floating fortresses yaw and giants saunter in the background enliven this side-scroller with a sense of awe few games can muster. But the muted colors and the constant threat of overcast underwrite some darker tones despite a gorgeous veneer. For example, I encountered a miner forever relegated to a dark cave, whose only wish was to see a light other than the one attached to his hard hat. At another point, a clown, after his circus left him adrift for being unfunny, stood on the edge of a precipice ready to jump. And even if there are only a handful of side quests assigned to the entirety of Aurora’s followers, they did not play out as I expected. And I soon received some harshly eloquent statements on the nature of loss and the necessity to move forward. It was in moments like these that Child of Light grazed an emotional touchstone.

Across a beautifully realized world threaded with some charming, rhymed dialogue, I still doubt that Child of Light will win any hearts and minds with its story. Aurora’s whole quest to reunite with her bed-ridden father feels all too familiar. And the events towards the end – which I won’t spoil – tear pages straight from early Disney fables. Change the setting and perform a few facelifts, and Aurora’s cohorts are cut from the same cloth as Dorothy’s maladjusted family in Oz.

And even if players wish to experiment with different builds for combat, there aren’t any powerful incentives to play again. And this can be good or bad depending on how you look at it. For myself, I see it in the same way I see Journey and Gone Home, games that require no second playthrough to garner a complete experience. If one wants to look, there are plenty of stories to be found, hidden gems to pluck or scenes to admire. And Child of Light astutely observes turn-based RPG conventions that can easily appeal to a wide audience and appease those transfixed on tradition. What really sets Child of Light apart is its ability to foster emotional depth and important messages on loss and perseverance. But what will leave an indelible mark are the times when the sound of Aurora’s flute lifted her companions out of the darkest corners of their hearts, and I couldn’t help but smile as my spirit emerged anew.

Review: Child of Light
Both stunning and astute, Child of Light captivates from beginning to end
Pros:
  • Visually splendid
  • Brilliant combat
  • Emotionally touching
Cons:
  • Clichéd story
9Overall Score
Reader Rating: (2 Votes)
10.0