Child of Light: Beautiful and challenging

My decision to buy was right; I very much like Child of Light.

 

I think much of the consensus about CoL is correct: the game is good, almost unique — a side-scrolling homage to classic JRPGs, set in a fairy-tale world — and an aesthetic feast. I would also argue that CoL‘s combat system deserves more credit than it receives, but for now, let’s start with visuals.  The trailer below comes close to doing CoL justice (skip to 0:35 to see in-game footage), but the actual game looks even better:

 

 

As much as I love my Vita, I don’t regret buying CoL for PS3 – those graphics and my TV are the perfect match. At the game’s best, those graphics and the excellent music combine to produce moments that are epic — an over-used word, but nothing else describes watching the camera focus on an enormous, three-headed hydra while the choir roars out a boss battle theme.

 

I’ll return to hydras and boss battles in a moment, but I should note that the consensus is right about one other thing. Almost every bit of text in CoL is written in rhyme, but I think this idea worked better in theory than it does in practice. It is never a deal-breaker — I do have a reasonable sense for who is saying what, and why — but it can feel clunky.

 

Where I disagree with other players — and reviewers — is CoL‘s  reputation for being too easy. On Hard, I find it just right — challenging without being frustrating — which suggests that the difficulty setting is what makes the difference. Here is a pre-release battle screenshot:

 

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Combat is turn-based, but combatants take time to charge up their next turn — their progress is shown via the “wait/cast” bar at the bottom. When a character hits the end of the “Wait” section, you can choose their next action (attack, defend, cast a spell, use an item…), but all of these, except defending, still take time to execute. If a character is hit while an action is in progress, he or she will be interrupted and the action will be cancelled.

 

The beauty of this system is the way it interacts with individual character (and monster) abilities, plus frequent resource constraints, to produce tense, rich, interesting battles. For example, the ability to interrupt introduces risk/reward trade-offs – should I try to interrupt a monster or simply defend? Is it safe to cast a slow but powerful spell? Your firefly companion Igniculus — the little blue light with the smiley face —  can slow down one enemy at a time, at the cost of some energy. But you can also use Igniculus’ energy to heal, so what should his priority be?

 

As another example, three enemies are much more deadly than two, and two are more deadly than one — it’s not that hard to stunlock a single foe, but against three enemies, interruptions become a constant risk. This suggests that players should go all-in and focus fire on one enemy — after that, the survivors will be easier to interrupt. But if the opportunity comes up to interrupt a second enemy, is it worth spreading fire? Is it worth taking high-risk attacks to kill the first target? And since MP is scarce (mages can only cast a few times, and as consumables are finite, recovering MP generally has to wait for the free HP/MP top-up when a character levels up), is it worth using magic to quickly knock a 3 vs 2 fight down to better odds?

 

Correction: It turns out there is a reliable way to replenish MP outside battle. This discovery has definitely made life easier – although the game is still no cakewalk.

 

This also allows CoL to sidestep a common problem with boss battles — repetition. Too often, boss battles are lengthy simply for length’s sake, and it is just not interesting to repeat the same series of steps (or worse, the same gimmick) over and over again. By contrast, CoL‘s boss battles are long, but remain engaging due to resource constraints. Boss fights begin with a bang, as my spellcasters unleash the elements themselves, but they conclude with tired heroes struggling to land the finishing blow. They feel gruelling — and they should! Fighting a hydra, or a giant, or a gargoyle, or any of the other bosses of CoL should not be tedious. Instead, they feel as epic as they look.

 

If you are interested, CoL is well worth checking out. Even if you have been put off by warnings that the game is too easy, I think it’s still worth checking out.  Give the demo a whirl — it’s available on most platforms — and if you enjoy it, I hope to hear your tales from the realm of Lemuria!

 

 

Child of Light screenshot taken from the Ubisoft website.

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