Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Platforms: PS3 | PS4 (reviewed) | Xbox 360 | Xbox One | PC | Wii U
RPG games are usually big-budget epics with the promise (threat?) of at least forty hours running time. Ubisoft's Child of Light is here to change that assumption by providing a low-priced downloadable alternative. Others have failed quite miserably (Hello, Mars: War Logs), but ze Germans made a solid effort with the tough Rainbow Moon. But with Ubisoft providing genre classics in action, shooters and platforming (Assassin's Creed IV, Far Cry 3 and Rayman Legends if you're asking), we can't wait to see how they handle an RPG.
The first thing we all noticed about Child of Light was of course the visuals -and they don't disappoint. Using Rayman's UbiArt engine, Ubisoft have this time favoured a watercolour approach to the visuals instead of bright colours and cel-shaded lines. This has resulted in a classic fairy tale aesthetic that gives the game its own unique endearing personality throughout the ever-changing landscapes.
Less lovable though is the way the story is told in achingly forcing rhyming verse. It's downright painful at times and the only genuine sour note in the whole experience. The story itself sees a young girl awaken in the dreamy landscape of Lumeria, trying to make her way home to her sick father. To do this though she must overcome an evil queen and help out a few locals with fetch quests. Hardly breaking the mould, but in all honesty I wasn't pinning my expectations on the story for this one and am happy enough to trade it off for the sake of the purdy visuals.
Pretty visuals will only get you so far in an RPG though if your combat isn't up to scratch. Thankfully, this new take on turn-based battles is engaging enough to keep you involved in every scuffle. As shown in the screenshots, there's a bar at the bottom of the screen with each enemy and friendly character represented by an icon. After an icon moves along the 'wait' part, they arrive at the 'cast' section, where they choose a spell, physical action, item or party member swap.
This is where it gets interesting though, as different actions take different times to pull off. These commands are only cast when the icon reaches the far end. If an enemy icon gets there first and attacks that person, their command will be cancelled and their turn will be delayed by pushing them back down the gauge. Naturally, you're able to interrupt and cancel enemy attacks too. Using the right stick (or a second player) you can also move your firefly companion around the battlefield to heal allies, pick up a few HP/MP drops or briefly blind enemies to slow their progress on the gauge.
The battles ease you in gently for the first few hours and it feels ever so rewarding when you manage to continuously keep the enemy pinned down. That's not to say that things don't get tougher later on, especially when you get in a nasty pattern on the time bar and it seems that you're constantly on the verge of having your attacks cancelled. But overall, it's a neat new take on a traditional turn-based model that should be applauded. Applauded and copied by Square Enix.
Additional party members you pick up on the way add further depth to the combat. Rather than have lots of spells each, standards skills are thinly spread over the group. So you have specialists in melee, elemental, light, protection, debuffs and so on. XP is shared amongst everyone in the party too, even if they don't participate in a battle, keeping everyone nicely balanced.
Only two party members are fielded at once during encounters. And while one part of me says the game needed three so I didn't have to do so much swapping for the tougher fights, I can appreciate how managing more than two characters simultaneously on the interactive timeline would have been hard work.
Any further combat depth is hard to come by. Instead of new weapons and armour you can equip three crystals each to add elemental damage and stat boosters. Levelling up is a frequent experience and with each level you can usually buy a new item on the skill tree. Most of these are stat boosts, but occasionally you'll gain new skills (or upgrades for existing ones). There are typically three branches on each character's tree, but you're able to take lots from all of them without much grinding at all.
Occasionally there will be a minor difficulty spike in a new area, but some clever rearranging of your equipped crystals or finding a new enemy's weakness is usually more effective than backtracking and grinding. This is definitely a good thing and fits in with the idea of a smaller downloadable RPG.
When not in battle you're able to explore the 2D landscapes for extra items and collectibles. Having the ability to fly makes exploring and sneaking up on enemies for a pre-emptive strike even easier. Environments are surprisingly vertical in their design, making it worthwhile floating around to see what you can find in the tallest trees, in the cloud-covered cliffs or in the dark caves underneath a sleeping mountain.
Depending on how much exploration you put into the game, you're looking at roughly 10-15 hours of game, which for £11.99 feels like a fair deal and the gameplay manages to stay fresh for the duration. One thing is clear, Ubisoft have laid some solid foundations here and proved their worth at the RPG table.
- An involved approach to turn-based combat
- A unique 2D visual style and soulful soundtrack
- Relaxing flying mechanic makes exploring fun
- Rhyming verse dialogue is poor
- Arguably too many characters
- Tougher enemies require strict approaches
The Short Version: Child of Light proves that cheap downloadable RPGs can be done right after all. Visually enchanting and featuring a clever twist on classic turn-based combat, this puts many full-sized RPGs to shame. Even with painful rhyming dialogue and generic story, you'll find yourself hooked to the end.