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Child of Light (PlayStation 4) artwork

Child of Light (PlayStation 4) review

"In this, my review / The words did spew / About a child of light / Who was ready to fight"

If nothing else, Child of Light takes the typical turn-based RPG experience and illustrates that, with a bit of creativity, things can feel at least somewhat fresh — even for those of us who've been playing that genre for more than 30 years.

Oh, on the surface, it' might seem like more of the same. You'll control an idealistic young heroine venturing across a land of fantasy on a quest that eventually sets her against shadowy evildoers. As she travels, she'll gain allies to help her on her journey. Defeating monsters will bestow experience which translates into additional levels and the stat boosts and new abilities they provide.

But it doesn't feel the same due to its presentation. You'll control Aurora, a young princess who wakes up to find herself trapped in a mysterious land. With only one goal in mind — to get back to her world and father — she starts to explore a horizontally-scrolling land. This place will quickly give off "metroidvania" vibes, as you'll notice places that Aurora can't access with her very limited movement. And so, you'll work you way along the path that's been set for you until it leads you to the game's first boss. Upon overcoming that pair of animated statues, Aurora will gain the power of flight and things immediately open up for her.

You'll realize those introductory areas are actually fairly vast now that you can move freely. You'll find treasure and additional monster encounters, as well as doors that occasionally lead to side areas where, by solving puzzles or defeating tough foes, you can collect all sorts of goods. In short, the instant you get the ability to fly, this game becomes really fun to explore. Every area is littered with stuff off the beaten path, meaning you'll have to diligently explore every nook and cranny to ferret out all the secrets. You'll find all sorts of spiky hazards to avoid, while wind gusts often make getting from one place to another somewhat tricky. Occasionally, you'll encounter puzzles or obstacles that likely will require the use of Aurora's most stalwart companion.

Igniculus is a blue firefly that constantly hovers around the girl as a multi-use tool. In battle, it can stun enemies with its light. Both in and out of fights, it can activate little shrub-like things to release orbs that restore life and magic. And while exploring, its light can open devices that hold items, activate mechanisms to temporarily shut off traps and open magically-locked doors. Child of Light has multi-player capacity, with the second player controlling Igniculus to handle its duties. It's no bother if you're going solo, though, as it's easy to control with the right analog stick.

Most of this game could best be described as charming. Possessing a fairy tale vibe, characters tend to talk in rhyme — or at least attempt to, in one ally's case — and the backgrounds are nicely drawn to capture the essence of a magical land. You'll find yourself in such locations as the interior of a living mountain and a foreboding prison used by the forces of darkness to imprison their enemies. There is a village inhabited by mice with a love of commerce and there are entire areas giving the impressive of a formerly majestic kingdom in decay, with crumbling buildings being overcome by lush vegetation.

Child of Light also is smart enough to not overstay its welcome. It's a short game that'll take 15 or so hours to complete, which felt about right. Too much longer and the combat likely would have brought things down for me. To give credit where it's due, Ubisoft did try to make things interesting by utilizing a system that brought back memories of Grandia.

Aurora, her allies and the monsters will be displayed on a meter at the top of the screen displaying how close they are to taking their next turn. If you can hit a foe who is just about ready to act, you'll stun them and cause their turn to be delayed — something that enemies can do to your characters, as well. Making things even more interesting: DIfferent attacks take differing amounts of time to pull off. A basic attack or the use of an item tends to happen very quickly, while spells and special attacks take a bit longer. You'll also get attacks and spells that can attack all foes at once, but if you want to use those, there better not be any enemies remotely near their move or you'll be crossing your fingers and hoping those guys were planning to attack your other character.

With how Igniculus is able to use its light to greatly slow down the movement speed of one monster, there is a fair amount of strategy to planning out your moves, as you'll have some ability to use the firefly to game the system in your favor. The make-up of your party also plays a big role. Aurora has spells that are great against dark-aligned foes, while the diminutive Finn learns spells for the remaining elements. Other characters might have power at the expense of speed, speed at the expense of power, the ability to heal others, the capacity to provide buffs and debuffs or proficiency in status ailments — all of which can be useful at times. Everyone in your party also can equip up to three gems that provide various boosts such as providing additional health or magic, applying an element to a character's basic attack or providing resistance to said element.

When all is said and done, players who've gotten the hang of this and have Lady Luck on their side could wind up fighting a lot of zero effort battles where the opposition just can't seem to get anything going because you're exploiting weaknesses to quickly eradicate a couple of them, while using Igniculus to prevent the remaining one from having any sort of impact. Or, if you're struggling with the system, the same thing might happen to you — especially when foes start bringing out all sorts of counterattacks. One boss fight gave me hell due to how the main enemy in it had the habit of countering with a full-party speed debuff whenever I interrupted its turn. Since it was flanked by a pair of fast-moving allies, that was the sort of thing that could easily lead to disaster.

How good you'll have to be will be determined by which difficulty level you pick. With Expert, you'll need to know the ins and outs. Which characters to use against which foes, how to time your attacks, all of it. With Novice, you'll want to do more than mindlessly attack, attack, attack, but you'll have a lot more lee-way. It won't be a complete cakewalk due to how you can have a maximum to two active characters in battle and there can be up to three enemies going against them at any time, but it will definitely be a lot easier to bully the opposition.

So, what about the combat made me happy this was a short game? The limited bestiary of palette-swapped foes. There only are a handful of different enemy designs that get repeated frequently and those new versions of old foes usually can be handled roughly the same way as their predecessors. If Child of Light had stretched on for too long, the repetition would have gotten to me, but as it was, I was able to focus my mental energy on the things I truly liked about this title. Such as the penultimate boss — whom Aurora had the most personal grudge against by the late stages of the game.

You enter her chamber looking to settle the score, only for her to taunt you and then release poison gas into a massive room. Now, while your health is getting whittled away, you'll have to fight through monsters to activate switches to open the way out of this deathtrap, only to then have to maneuver through a narrow spike-filled passageway on your way to the actual fight. Go through that chain of events and your eventual victory over that baddie will be especially cathartic!

Child of Light may not be a blockbuster title and may not be for everyone, but I found it to be a short and sweet RPG featuring a fun world to explore due to Aurora's quickly-earned ability to fly. While it might not be a masterpiece, I found it to be a pretty charming diversion with a battle system that kept the game's turn-based battles more interesting than they usual are in these games — at least for a while.

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Staff review by Rob Hamilton (February 02, 2023)

Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.

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