I’ve always gravitated to entertainment that showcases great dialogue between its characters. It doesn’t matter if they are going for something darker and more moody or trying to infuse their characters with a sense of wit and energy. A lively script with colorful (read: not necessarily swearing) language gives you characters that have a sharp tongue, and can be quick on their feet. Anything aiming to convey a message or a powerful theme can throw in some hidden nuggets into their dialogue, be it some grand foreshadowing of something to come or the entire point of what you are watching, and without you even noticing that this one line is what the entire plot is all about.

A writer's ability to write either convincing or entertaining scripts can be the difference between an enjoyable piece of fiction and a throwaway one. The sharpest of writers can overcome the most generic of settings with character exchanges that more than make up for how played out the concept is. It’s why shows like Justified can garner such fanfare, and it’s the type of stuff that’s separates great sitcom writers from mediocre ones.

So when you tell me someone is going to make a game where all the dialogue is in rhyme, I’m automatically more into it. I’m going to go in glass half-full and expect a delightful experience. Knowing that the plot is based around the idea of fairy tales only makes it more of a delight. Some may look at this attempt as something hokey, but I am not one to dismiss it as a crime to drop some rhymes. It would be splendid if more video game writers messed around with how they handle character exchanges in their game.

Well, you can chalk up rhymes as something that probably aren’t the answer. Being an optimist might get you to try Child of Light’s way of conveying a story, but that doesn’t make it an effective method. The rhymes themselves do a great job of delivering the idea that this is a fairy tale game, and it probably will work for a younger audience as something charming and whimsical.

For someone looking for something more nuanced, however, what you get is a script that is ill-equipped to handle the plot. Poems have been able to tell bite-sized stories for hundreds of years, but the plot here might be too much for something as gimmicky as doing the entire script in rhyme. Child of Light is about Aurora, a princess who has either fallen into a coma or is at her death bed at the beginning of the game, and is now in this enchanted world. She must try to find her way back home while gaining some allies as well as some enemies on her quest to get back home. It’s very much in line with Dorothy trying to escape from Oz, minus the yellow brick road.

You have your evil queen, your mercenary character with a heart of gold, a misunderstood creature that is mistaken for a beast, a failed jester capable of so much more, and all the sappy stuff you’d associate with a fairy tale setting; the stuff that should help Aurora come of age in what might be one of her darkest hours. It’s simply too much to convey in any meaningful way in rhyme. It makes the plot too messy because the game is too busy focusing on trying to make everything rhyme, which stops the dialogue from being striking or remarkable, and makes it opaque without any real justification for it.

It also doesn’t help that, as far as poems go, this isn’t exactly a grand showcase of someone’s skills in terms of iambic pentameter poem construction. I don’t claim to be well-versed in poetry, but even my basic understanding of the rules of this kind of structure made it obvious that the developers don’t have a grasp on how to do this. Too often words that were used to rhyme wouldn’t really match up in what syllable is being emphasized. Maybe the most egregious moments happen during the few moments that have a voice acting. When you have to pronounce a word a certain way just for the sake of making a rhyme? That’ is contrived. I don’t like that when I’m listening to rap music, and I’m not exactly thrilled by it from a game trying to win me over with dialogue comprised of rhymes.

So without its biggest gimmick, what else does Child of Light have to offer as an experimental project made by Ubisoft using the UbiArt engine (the one used to make Rayman Origins and Rayman Legends look so pretty)? What you get is a game with visual direction that is resplendent from beginning to end. The hand-painted world of Lumeria is a richly detailed world, from a town of mice in 1930s business attire fretting over the world’s economy to wizard gnomes in a quaint little town.

It is very much a world that would fall right in line with some of the whimsical stuff that I found to be magical when I was a child, all accompanied with a soundtrack that compliments the bewitching look of the game with captivating music that ranges from energetic, joyful, and intense to the used and internet abused epic.

Because that’s the type of game Child of Light is, one that excels at presentation, but is a stone’s throw away from ever being truly compelling on an interactive level. It looks good, it sounds good, and it animates beautifully, but what you get is a game that is shallow in narrative and its gameplay. Relying heavily on aping Grandia’s battle system, Child of Light feels like a “my first RPG combat,” specifically my first turn-based RPG combat.

The system requires your party and the opposing enemies to start on a timeline. Once you get to the casting part of the bar (this is marked in red), you pick an action. Said action can be a standard attack (which usually doesn’t take very long), a stat buff or magical attack (which usually does take long), or you can choose to go into a defensive stance to shield yourself from an oncoming attack (instant).

It’s meant to create a series of seesaw battles between you and your enemies, almost turning combat into a puzzle itself. If you can hit your enemy mid casting stage, or get hit mid casting stage, your action is cancelled out and you fall further back down the timeline. Correct management of this system can make it so you don’t even get touched in some battles. In fact, a good chunk of the boss battles require that you be able to beat the boss to the punch often enough to avoid taking devastating hits.

There is a crafting system where individual jewels can be plugged into your gear for added effects, such as increased damage, extra experience, or elemental resistances. Multiple low-grade gems can be combined to make higher grade gems for the sake of expanding on these stat bonuses. You also have tech trees for each of your characters, allowing you to choose whether the path with some added health bonuses, or one focused on allowing your character to use stat improving abilities and the like.

Child of Light’s big quirk in this combat system is Igniculus, your little Navi-like buddy who follows Aurora around. In battle, he can be used to highlight one of your party members and heal them, or to slow down one of your enemies.

In theory, this system can make for some satisfying combat. In the early going, it can be plenty gratifying to take advantage of your enemies. Unfortunately, this system isn’t without its drawbacks. Igniculus can actually slow down the pacing of battles. It’s actually fairly easy to simply ignore his existence, and try to focus on the battle itself to hop from battle to battle quicker.

Battles themselves are comprised of elemental enemies that range from fire, water, earth, lightning, ice, etc, which means that any time the game mixes and matches its enemies and catches you off guard (because you have no way of predicting what you are up against), you might fall into battles where your weapons might not be able to do enough damage to the enemies you are facing.

Not that this would make it any more challenging. Because you can only use two party members at a time, and are alive until all your party members are dead, I never had the issue of ever failing a segment. When one went down, I replaced that person with someone else. By that point, enough damage was done by my starters that the bench just needed to take care of some clean up.

Another reason why none of this is satisfying is because if you are simply ill-equipped for battle, you can flee and start back from square one. On one hand, it seems like an obvious way of getting over the fact that you don’t want the player punished for feeling like he/she was thrown a curve ball they weren’t prepared for. On the other hand, it completely robs every combat encounter in the game of any tension whatsoever.

If you are getting straight whipped top to bottom? Flee, regroup, and adjust your inventory. This means that failure in battle is meaningless. With combat being such a bore, it might be easy to skip the encounters in general, but you’d be ill-equipped to handle the mandatory boss fights. So what you’re left with is one grind after another, because the platforming is far too primitive to be enjoyable.

Most of it just has you flying around the game world using Igniculus to open treasure chests, open timed doors, or slow down environmental hazards as Aurora tries to fly through a level. This makes traversing the game world a series of going through the motions as opposed to anything resembling stylized platforming.

Like its dialogue rhymes, the traversal in Child of Light is simply devoid of any sense of rhythm. All it does is go hand in hand with combat design that is shallow and tedious. Child of Light is a beautiful light to look at, a shining example of how captivating splendid visual direction can be, and one daring to rest its hopes on a unique of way of doing dialogue, or at least on some gimmicky way of doing dialogue. 

But what you are left with is something that is mostly hollow. You get a plot that gets going far too late to be anything more than fairy tale 101 stuff, and gameplay that is nothing short of child’s play. It’s unremarkable in theme, in gameplay, and in execution. Albeit it'll still entertain anyone looking for a pretty game with solid turn based combat. 


Final Score - 5/10

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