Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Now Playing: Child of Light

It’s not often I buy games on a whim without really knowing anything about them, but then I saw a few images of a game called Child of Light and snapped it up almost immediately. It’s a RPG with turn-based combat mixed with platforming and light puzzle elements.

So we have to start with how fantastic the game looks. It’s almost like somebody was putting together concept art for the world and then someone else said, ‘hey, why don’t we just use that?’ Visually, Child of Light is beautiful. It’s like (and quite appropriately) stepping into a children’s storybook. It’s colourful and bright, but also very detailed, with a lot of small, charming touches combined with a great deal of location and visual variety.

This also extends to the game’s characters and enemies, all of whom look great and are all wonderfully animated. The music is also very good, moving from calm, gentle exploration pieces and ramping up during combat segments. So it looks fantastic and it sounds very good too. But what about the story?

Child of Light tells the story of Aurora, a young girl cast into the world of Lemuria, on a quest to thwart an evil queen who has stolen the Moon, Sun and Stars. Like the visuals, the story of Child of Light is like something out of a storybook, told in the game by characters who only speak in rhyme. It’s a charming story with charming characters, all of whom get a chance to shine.

So how does it actually play? Well, you have the exploration element, whereby you traverse the world at your leisure. This is a game that, refreshingly and perhaps surprisingly, doesn’t lead you by the hand but instead allows the player to explore as they see fit. And exploration in CoL can be very rewarding as you discover hidden chests, upgrades and optional bosses.

Engaging an enemy triggers a battle. If you engage the enemy from behind you’ll get a free, first strike, so positioning in the world is important, although it’s not exactly hard to get behind an enemy thanks to Igniculus. He’s Aurora’s constant companion throughout the game. You can use him to collect certain items and blind enemies so you can get past them. He’s also used to help solve the simple puzzles. In battle, you can use him to slow enemies on the action bar or heal your characters.

The action bar determines when and who can attack, so slowing your enemies actions and speeding up your own can be key. It (plus Igniculus) adds an interesting real-time dynamic to the turn based combat, keeping you on your toes and keeping track of who’s going to make the next move. Because nearly all moves require casting time, some longer than others. On top of this, casts can be interrupted, knocking the character back down the action bar.

This makes the combat far more tactical than you might expect from a game like this, as you have to figure out the best timing to strike, defend, swap characters, heal or use special abilities. If you don’t plan accordingly, you’ll get wiped out surprisingly quickly. What’s more, the game doesn’t treat you like an idiot, spelling out how to beat certain enemies or bosses. It’s up to you to figure out their weaknesses and the best pattern for attack.

So far, so good, right? But CoL unfortunately suffers from some of the same issues I had with another RPG recently – The Stick of Truth. Like that game, CoL limits you to only 2 characters per battle. Okay, so you can can easily switch in and out characters during battle, and this is certainly a strong part of the strategic dynamic, but I really would have liked it if the game expanded on the active party battle size as the game progressed. Enemy groups are also always limited to 3.

Also like The Stick of Truth, CoL has all the components you’d expect in an RPG battle system such as status effects, elemental attacks, upgrades, potions, special abilities etc, but it never really makes use of them to the extent that you might hope. With the battle party and enemy sizes never changing, the non-boss battles grow rather repetitive to fight through as you’ll quickly establish an effective rotation. The game does allay this problem slightly by frequently introducing new enemy types with different abilities and weaknesses (something Stick didn’t do very well) but still, once you work out the perfect counter rotation, it’s all rather easy. I played it on the hardest setting, but I think I only died 3-4 times.

There’s no character customisation in the game in terms of gear, but you can collect and craft Oculi upgrades for different bonus effects. Given that it’s more of a budget title (11.99 on release), I can’t be too fussy about this, and I don’t really think different armour/weapon items would have quite fitted the game’s aesthetic anyway.

The Oculi system isn’t just a tacked on thing though, as the gems are almost essential against certain enemies and you’ll find yourself swapping them out on a regular basis. Especially for bosses, which is where the game really shines in terms of its battle system. All of the bosses are great fun, not just to look at but to fight, requiring some creative tactics and clever strategy, swapping out characters turn by turn and rotating your attacks to limit the enemy as much as possible.

Overall, Child of Light is a great little game. Whilst I’d have liked the game to evolve its battle system as it progressed, I can’t be too hard on it for that, because the system, as it is, has far more depth and tactical nuance than you’d expect. (I just prefer it when games give me something new to adapt to as I progress, and this is something neither CoL or TSOT really offered). I beat it in about 15 hours on the Hard difficulty, but it’s definitely a title I’ll play again, and it even comes with a New Game Plus mode.

And with a fantastic art style, fluid animations, a charming story, characters and world, plus a fine soundtrack, Child of Light was a very pleasant surprise. It doesn’t treat you like a moron or hold your hand with quest markers and big arrows telling you exactly where to go. It rewards exploration and experimentation. It’s a joy to look at and fun to play, uncomplicated, simple on the surface but with real depth beneath. Certainly worth checking out.


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