In July 2012, after several years of working at Ubisoft Montreal, Patrick Plourde earned the chance to submit a pitch for a game of his own. Plourde had contributed to large-scale projects like Assassin's Creed and Rainbow Six: Vegas, but instead of pitching the next entry in either of the blockbuster series, he decided to make a much smaller, more personal game. Inspired by the indie movement in the industry, and interested in contributing his first non-triple-A title, Plourde came up with the idea for Child of Light.
Child of Light was released as a digital download in April 2014 for PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, and Wii U. It came to Sony's handheld system, the PlayStation Vita, in July of the same year. Developed entirely at Ubisoft Montreal, the title was deemed successful enough that a physical copy was made available in some territories.
Patrick Plourde's passion project is a coming of age story set in a fairy tale world. Aurora is raised alone by her father, a Duke. Aurora's mother passed away a long time ago, and the Duke has since remarried. One night, Aurora falls asleep for a long time and doesn't wake up. Her skin turns cold. The Duke, convinced the worst had come, becomes gravely ill. Aurora awakens in the mythical land of Lemuria, where she is told the Queen of Light used to rule. With the rightful queen gone, the evil Umbra stole away the sun, the moon, and the stars. Together with Igniculus, a magic blue firefly that a second player can control in co-op mode, Aurora must recover the Lemuria's light and defeat Umbra if she has any hope of returning home.
Child of Light plays as a side-scrolling adventure, meaning Aurora travels across a two-dimensional world. The environment has a gorgeous hand-painted watercolour quality to it, and each area feels as lively as it should. Your adventure will take you through lush forests, dark caves crawling with monstrous spiders, and odd temples with light-based puzzles. The art style was inspired by legendary illustrator Yoshitaka Amano, who designed many characters from the Final Fantasy games. Child of Light features a breathtaking and highly evocative soundtrack composed by Montreal-born singer-songwriter Béatrice Martin, better known as Coeur de Pirate.
Aurora's tale incorporates a few elements from role-playing games (RPGs), especially with regard to the crafting and levelling systems. Throughout her journey, Aurora will come across various gems called Oculi. These can be fitted into a weapon, armor, or accessory slot. The bonus they confer depends on where they are placed: adding a ruby to a weapon grants fire damage, whereas the same gem increases a character's maximum magic points (MP) when placed in an accessory.
Oculi can be combined to create different stones, or they can be upgraded if three of the same type are mixed together. You can replace a character's gems at any time outside of battle, so Oculi management is definitely one of the most strategic elements in the game. Regularly upgrading and reassigning Oculi according to the enemies in each region has a measurable impact on the outcome of each fight. The system is incredibly rewarding even with its minimalistic approach.
Each time Aurora and her friends win a battle, they earn experience points. For each new level, the characters gain a skill point that can be placed in their specific talent trees. Spending skill points this way unlocks new abilities or enhances existing ones. Each talent tree that splits into three distinct paths; Gen, a master of crowd control, has a branch that specializes in Paralyzing enemies, one that teaches spells that make party members faster, as well as a more defensive path. As the player, you can choose which skills to learn first, but know that you can unlock them all eventually if your characters earn enough experience.
Combat begins when Aurora comes into contact with an enemy. Although just one appears in the overworld, up to three enemies can be present in battle. Aurora and her team can only fight in twos, but you can switch party members at any time. The combat in Child of Light is not turn-based, nor is it real time. Instead, all characters in the encounter appear as icons on a sort of timeline at the bottom of the screen. When the characters enter the red portion of the gauge shown below, time freezes and you can select the action you want to perform. However, the attack or spell isn't unleashed until the end of the timeline, and if the character gets hit while casting, he or she gets interrupted and knocked back on the bar.
The first few fights in the game demonstrate the battle system very well with simple encounters, but before long, the game challenges you to put what you've learned to the test. A myriad of enemies exist in Child of Light, and you'd do well to remember which ones have specific elemental vulnerabilities and which ones automatically counter all physical attacks. Combat difficulty will vary depending on whether you play the game on normal or hard mode, but spending skill points and playing with Oculi are required to stand a chance against bosses.
Igniculus' character design and abilities make co-op play nothing short of amazing. Although the firefly doesn't have any spells or attacks of his own, he is actually a big asset during battle. While the first player selects character actions according to the state of the timeline, Igniculus can freely roam over the battle scene. Hover over an enemy, and the firefly's bright light will slow down its movement on the timeline. Moreover, if Aurora or her companions are badly injured, Igniculus can go over to them and heal them up. These actions consume a magic resource that replenishes over time, so Igniculus can't constantly keep his friends at full health. Outside battle, Igniculus is unaffected by traps, wind, or other hazards, and can even open chests in restrained areas.
All the dialogue in Child of Light rhymes, which really sells the fairy tale atmosphere. Almost all the characters' lines are in ballad form, with short stanzas in which the second and fourth lines rhyme. Occasionally, a couplet or triplet breaks this pattern, but the writers are clever enough to reserve those exceptions for important moments in the narrative. Line length varies, but style and tone was inspired by Coleridge's "Rime of the Ancient Mariner." Despite the fairly rigid form, each character in Child of Light still has a distinct voice--one of the game's most impressive achievements. When Aurora meets a circus acrobat named Rubella, for example, she finds her new partner's choice of words deliberately avoids rhymes, so a perplexed Igniculus buts in and corrects her. This humorous, elegantly crafted scene is a prime demonstration of the writer's skill. Each line is colour-coded, so there is no confusion as to which character is speaking.
If you're at all intrigued to experience a playable poem, you'll have a blast with Child of Light. It doesn't come with the hefty price tag of a physical game, and it doesn't require that you sit down for hours on end in each play session. The game will keep you busy for about 20 hours, or double that if you're inclined to try out the New Game Plus, which will pit you against much stronger enemies. Extremely accessible even for casual gamers, Child of Light is a great entry point for anyone beginning to delve into RPGs.