STAFF REVIEW of Child of Light (Xbox One)

Monday, April 28, 2014.
by Adam Dileva

Child of Light Box art You know that excited feeling you get when it’s a game release day that you’ve been anticipating for quite some time and the day can’t go by quick enough so you can go home and play it? That day came for me a few days ago when Child of Light arrived to review. If you’ve been following the game at all, you’ve seen the fantastic job Ubisoft has been doing with new videos and previews to showcase the game. If you’ve not been following along, I suggest you do so as it’s got some of the most beautiful artwork you’ll see in a digital release.

Child of Light at its core is a traditional JRPG, though it’s done everything it can to get away from the clichés that tend to go along with the genre. Oddly enough, Child of Light is actually comes to us from the team behind Far Cry 3, coupled with the UbiArt Framework engine, which helped Rayman Origins look so lively and memorable. If JRPG’s generally aren’t your thing, I still suggest looking into Child of Light, as it doesn’t follow the normal stereotypical story that is bloated and drags on for 40+ hours, but instead pay homage to the earlier roots of the genre that many of us grew up with and made us love the genre. It’s not often a game come around that feels special and will have a long lasting impression; this is one of those games.

You play as Aurora, a young girl from Austria in 1895 who one day becomes ill and falls asleep. When she awakes, she realizes she’s not at home with her father whom she loves dearly, but instead in the world of Lemuria. In the real world, Aurora seems to be dead, yet somehow she lives as well. In the world of Lemuria, the Black Queen has stolen the Sun, Moon, and Stars, and if Aurora wants to reunite with her father the Duke, she is now responsible for recovering these and returning Lemuria to its former glory and peace.

Aurora comes across an adorable firefly named Igniculus, whom seems to have been sent to help her on her quest and repair Lemuria. Along your journey you’ll meet other characters that will join and help Aurora as well, each of which are very unique and memorable, though some of these personas are completely skippable and missable, so Aurora should be searching everywhere possible to garner these friendships and have their aid on your quest. Interestingly, all of the dialogue in the game is spoken in rhyme, even including the seldom spoken narrator. It gives a poetic quality to the game, and coupled with the remarkable visuals, it really looks like it’s a fairy tale book that you would read to your children and gives a storybook quality that is very unique. There is even a character you’ll meet that doesn’t seem to know how to rhyme, but Aurora and Igniculus will correct him, making the rhyming flow continue uninterrupted; it’s quite clever.

Child of Light’s backdrop is a 2D plane that Aurora navigates, though some objects, especially her hair, flow as if they are in 3D, making for an interesting visual track to make her pop from the screen. Heavily influenced from past Final Fantasy’s, and even more so Grandia II, the combat takes place on a 2D plane as well, just like the classic RPG’s we grew up with. If you’ve played Grandia II before, you’ll feel right at home with the combat system, as it uses an active action bar with a wait and act section, which will have to be used very strategically during the boss battles. Your team, Aurora plus one other character (not including Igniculus), and the enemies on field show on this time gauge bar at the bottom, showing when each characters turn is going to take place as it races from the wait to act side of the bar.

If you attack an enemy while they are in the short act section of the bar (and don’t miss), they will become interrupted and have their progress on the battle gauge set backwards a certain amount. Be careful though, as the same can happen to your team as well, so learning when to defend or be aggressive becomes an integral part of successful battles, as you don’t want to lose your turns. Naturally the more powerful attacks and spells take much longer to prepare and execute, so you’ll need to weigh and calculate your time on the combat bar to make strategic choices. You’ll need to keep an eye on your battle meter constantly and some of the battles become quite tense, especially when there are multiple enemies and a boss.

This is where Igniculus comes into play. Since he’s a firefly that can fly around freely on the battlefield, he also has a few abilities that will not only greatly help Aurora in battle, but will become absolutely necessary as you progress further against tougher enemies. Aurora’s little light can blind enemies, causing their timer on the battle meter to become much slower. This allows you to manipulate turn orders for enemies and your team to have the upper hand. Most of the time you’ll want to blind the enemies to make their turns slower, but sometimes you’ll want to be strategic and let them get to the act section of the battle meter so that you can purposely interrupt their actions, setting them back further. Igniculus can also use his own light meter (that replenishes slowly in time) to heal your team if needed in an emergency. There are even plants in battle that can be activated with Igniculus that provide some health and magic orbs to assist you in battle. You’ll learn quite early on that he’s just as important in battle as Aurora, if not more, to be successful.

At a top level, the Child of Light’s combat system is essentially basic, but the more you play and learn about it, you’ll learn the smaller nuances and intricacies that really make it a fun system to engage in. Usually to level in RPG’s you need to slog your way through a grind, but in Child of Light, I was looking for every enemy to fight as I really enjoyed the combat system. Once you learn the complexities of when to strike, defend, swap members, and how to use Igniculus to his full potential, you’ll have no problem in combat, even in the more difficult boss battles, allowing you to dictate the flow of combat how you see wish.

What would an RPG be without an interesting upgrade system to go along with it? Child of Light boasts a surprisingly need upgrade system for combat skills and crystals called Oculi which can be crafted into more powerful version and slotted into your equipment, allowing for further customization. The skill tree is unique for each character in your team and is surprisingly expansive. Multiple branching trees of skills has you choose which abilities, passives, and stat upgrades you want to focus on as you level up, and as you get to the latter half of the game, the expands even further, requiring you to save up precious skill points to get the most powerful version of our abilities.

While Child of Light is primarily a narrative driven single player game, I was shocked to see that there is a cooperative component included as well, and not just something as simple as a sidekick. While the main player controls Aurora, if you choose to use a second player, that player will then control Igniculus, which makes things much easier on the first player to focus on what else needs to be done. Rather than a throwaway sidekick, player tow actually has some real responsibilities and can contribute in exploration and combat.

When not in combat and exploring the world, Aurora is often blocked physically by walls and other objects, unable to reach chests and other items; this is where Igniculus comes in, as he’s not bound by the same restrictions Aurora is and can float around the world at ease, reaching anything in sight (though he can’t pull levers). While playing solo, all of this is possible with the right stick alone, having this cooperative option really allows you to enjoy Child of Light with a friend or child in a meaningful way that may not be as adept at gaming as your skills are. While it wasn’t necessary, it’s certainly appreciated and a welcome addition for those that do want to play with someone as well.

I cannot boast enough how gorgeous the artwork and visual are in Child of Light. The UbiArt Framework engine looks as if an artist can draw sketches or paint watercolor, then have that translate directly into the game itself. That is exactly how the world of Lumuria appears as well, making for a stylized watercolor looking backdrops with vibrant and amazing colors throughout. Even the character animations look fluid and unique, as Aurora needs to swing her hefty sword with her whole body, and when she gets hit, her crown falls off her head as she goes to pick it up. The world as a whole feels rich with life and I truly suggest just stopping now and then to admire the artwork when playing, as it’s truly stunning and looks like a fairy tale.

I can say the same for the game’s audio as well. The music is very fitting with the theme and tone of the game and I find myself humming some of the main songs even after turning it off after playing. The soundtrack consists of beautiful piano and flute instrument melodies that seems to capture of the correct tone of what’s happening in any moment. As mentioned above, Child of Light’s dialogue is all done in rhyme, and when the narrator speaks, it’s actually spoken. The bulk of the dialogue is text only and needs to be read, which isn’t a negative, though I wish it was spoken as well as the poetry throughout is just as beautiful.

There aren’t many games where I want to explore every nook and cranny of the world, as I always have something in my gaming queue to play next, though I found that to be irresistible with Child of Light. Rather than rush to the next objective and area, I was checking every corner and trying to uncover every secret Lumuria had to share. If there’s a path off to the side, you’ll always want to explore it to find its hidden secrets and bonuses.

Child of Light boasts spectacular visuals, memorable soundtrack, meaningful co-op, and a simple yet deep battle system to go along with an interesting story that I really didn’t want to end. I don’t know if that whole ‘video games can’t be art’ argument is still going on, but if it is, I believe Child of Light should be used to prove that they can be. It’s not often you get a game that comes along that truly feels special and that I will remember for years; Child of Light is one of those games. I implore you to purchase and enjoy it, as it’s quickly gone very high up on my favorite-games-of-the-year-so-far list.

Overall: 9.7 / 10
Gameplay: 9.5 / 10
Visuals: 10.0 / 10
Sound: 9.5 / 10


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