Princess Aurora finds herself in the magical world of Lemuria, having died and sent her father, the king, spiralling into illness and grief in the real world. She's a fiery redhead whose hair flows through the air, frame by frame, as if painted by brush. There's still hope that she can save her father and return to her normal life. She only has to find and return the sun, the moon and the stars to Lemuria - a world wrapped in darkness.
It looks every bit a children's book illustrated with watercolours. The soft, careful melodies compliment the visuals perfectly, and all the dialogue is written in verse. The narrative comes across as really playful and we often found ourselves smiling at the silliness of the rhyming characters. "What's inside?" "Homicide!", proclaims Aurora as a chest contains an enemy rather than loot. There's a whimsical touch to the visuals (such as animals popping up from behind rocks in the background as you explore) that at times we're not sure what we can interact with and what's just for show.
With visuals as beautiful as these it'd be easy to assume that looks are all there is to Child of Light, but beneath the glorious art style, atmospheric music and inspired animations, there are numerous rock solid mechanics.
Child of Light offers some Metroidvania elements as the levels are full of secrets, but beyond the wings you grow within the first hour there is no further character progression to open up new and explorable areas in previously visited regions. Progression can instead be found in the puzzle mechanics that make use of Aurora's loyal companion Igniculus (a fairy or firefly that can shine a bright light, and can be controlled by the second player), and in the increasingly challenging and intricate combat system as Aurora's crew of companions grows over the course of the lengthy adventure.
New areas to explore open up as the plot progresses through 10 chapters that last for about 10 hours. Each new area offers new things to feast your eyes on. There are new enemies, and each encounter has weight and importance to it even if you'll stroll through the first few hours without employing any proper tactics. The adventures will take you from floating temples in the sky, to the depths of the ocean and the heart of a living mountain, and every bit of the journey is as memorable as the last one.
Secrets, chests, confession notes are spread all over the levels and we managed to collect roughly half of them during our playthrough. After finishing the main story you'll be able to mop up any leftover side-quests or confession notes after the credits roll. Perhaps, you'll replay the game on a higher difficulty level but given it's story-driven nature we felt one playthrough was enough. There may not be a ton of replayability here, but for a modest sum of money you're getting ten great hours.
Speaking of combat, the encounters are turn-based affairs where two members of your group (interchangable during battles) take on up to three enemies. It's a matter of matching elemental attacks to the right enemies and bringing attacks to bear, cancelling enemy attacks as they're charging them. Igniculus also plays a part as he can heal friends and slow down an enemy's attack charge by shining his light in their faces. There is a lot of strategy, particularly towards the end in boss fights, as certain enemies can gain boosts from cancelled attacks. But the number of options available, thanks to crafted gems (that give buffs) and potions, always offers you plenty of alternatives to solve any given scenario. We were reminded a lot of the combat of the Grandia series, with surprise attacks and with trying to cancel enemy attacks.
One nice little feature is that you can use Igniculus' light (the ability he uses to solve a lot of puzzles) to blind and freeze enemies so that you can move around behind them and set up a surprise attack.
While the story deals with familiar themes we've experienced over and over again, it's beautifully told and we don't really mind another battle royale between light and dark with evil stepmothers and divine royal blood flowing in the veins of the protagonist. The charming side characters that often turn clichés on their heads add a great extra dimension to the story.
We particularly enjoyed the stories of the Robert, the jester twins and of the dishonoured guard Óengus. On average there was almost a new group member per hour of playtime, which kept things interesting throughout.
This can be seen as both a love letter to Japanese role-playing games and the perfect marriage between the creativity of the indie scene and the production values of AAA. Regardless of how it's labelled, Child of Light is a game you need to experience. That is unless you absolutely can't stand something that's written in verse.
We played Child of Light on PS4 for review purposes. The game is also available on PC, PS3, Wii U, Xbox 360 and Xbox One.