PAX East 2014: Hands-on: Child of Light

Saturday, April 12th, 2014

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Child of Light - PAX East 2014 | oprainfall

Child of Light is a game that has me both excited and nervous. It’s rare for a traditional RPG to bring anything new and innovative to the genre. While that’s not necessarily a bad thing—after all, part of the appeal of niche games is the familiar design—Ubisoft has embarked on a rather ambitious journey to bring us their “love-letter” to Japanese RPGs. And this ambition has the potential for a big payoff—or a big failure.

The part of this that unnerves me the most is that Ubisoft is not a company that produces a lot of niche titles. The ones that do, like ATLUS or Bandai Namco, they get it. They know what their fans want and what they expect. They design their games with that in mind, and we as fans trust that it will be good. As a JRPG fan, Ubisoft doesn’t have that kind of track record, and they haven’t built that trust with niche gamers. It makes you wonder what kind of JRPG you would get from the makers of AAA series like Assassin’s Creed or Far Cry.

After getting a chance to play Child of Light at PAX East 2014, I have to say my questions went unanswered.

On the surface, the game looked incredible. The hand-drawn artwork was nothing short of beautiful. The graphics were bright and colorful and served their purpose without being a distraction.

Child of Light | Screenshot 004

Gameplay was very intuitive. The backgrounds are interactive. You get instructions to press a button (in the form of the button that you should press) when you walk in front of an object you can interact with, be it a door, a bird, or an NPC. I was actually surprised to see that you do not need to be precisely in front of the object, which makes everything a little less frustrating. Entering a door would take you inside a building where you could find a treasure chest—a process that reminded me a lot of the bonus game houses in Yoshi’s Island.

The dialogue would appear on the screen in chunks, sometimes with both characters’ lines together at the same time, which was a bit disorienting. As each line was said, it would become highlighted. The text itself almost made it seem like a poem was being constructed.

The battle system is similar enough to that of a traditional RPG, however there was one twist. You have a second controllable character: a little fairy-like fire creature named Igniculus, who can either heal your party member or slow down your opponent by spending stored up energy. However, healing your party members with this ability only restores 4 HP, and there are only so many uses before you run out of energy, which puts the usefulness of this ability into question.

You get a second party member, an old man who knows elemental magic. His spells can take out an enemy with one shot. However, he has only enough MP to cast a few spells. Your main character, Princess Aurora, has strong physical attacks, but it still takes about four hits to kill a monster. The monsters hit pretty hard and the few healing potions I got as treasure early in the game were used up quickly so I often found myself in a low-HP situation.

Child of Light | Screenshot 001

I really liked the leveling system where, upon leveling up, you can spend points to unlock various stat boosts in a manner similar to the license board in Final Fantasy XII, only not as tedious.

One thing that bothered me was the fact that there was no sound. Whether this was by design or a problem with the equipment, I don’t know. The absence of any real story is probably what bothered me the most. I encountered only one NPC, who immediately joined my party.

At the end of it all, I came away with a lot more information about the game, but I still feel like I’m back where I started as far as opinions go. Don’t get me wrong, there was plenty to be excited about, and I certainly am excited, but the demo didn’t do enough for me to answer all the questions I had.

About Eric Chetkauskas

Eric has been playing video games for longer than he can remember. His interests skew toward retro games with an emphasis on Japanese RPGs like Chrono Trigger and the Dragon Quest series.