So, LusiChildren, Child of Light comes out today, and I was lucky enough to get a chance to start playing it a day early and I sunk an appropriate number of hours into it to dedicate the first part of this Miscellany to talking about how awesome it is. Mostly.
Child of Light Is Awesome! Mostly!
I am not sure how many chapters there are, but I am at Chapter 6, have reached level 20 and am just about to get my fifth party member, so I feel like I can safely assume that I am at least 25% through the game, especially as I am hearing that the game is not particularly long. But wow is it ever beautiful. Ubisoft is not new to beautiful art styles as 2008’s reboot of Prince of Persia also sported a stunning watercolour world, but the difference here is that while that game had some good ideas that were never properly executed, Child of Light knows exactly what it is doing the vast majority of the time.
What I love about Child of Light is how it understands the best parts of the RPG genre – exploration, progression, a sense of adventure – and explores those ideas using whatever method makes sense. The battle system is even more traditional than, say, Stick of Truth‘s more Paper Mario-esque system, but it uses an effective method of simplifying concepts, but then not holding the player’s hand in regards to them. For example, the elemental system is extremely straightforward and includes a traditional set of opposing elements (such as fire and water) and makes it exceedingly obvious when an element is effective, not effective, or neutral against a target, but it does not categorize this information anywhere and as far as I have seen, there is no ability to reveal this information. Instead, enemy design is distinct and full of personality and hints so that the player has to internally become familiar with enemies and their weaknesses, making it even more exciting when Aurora runs into a new set of enemies, as it feels like she is moving into new territory, while feeling equipped enough from previous successes to face a new challenge. The essence of adventure.
The result is that Child of Light encourages players to really engage with the game, paying attention to which abilities are effective against which enemies. This extends out to enemy behavior, ally abilities, and equipment-enhancing gem crafting. In fact, the game is incredibly refreshing in that it is tutorial-light. Things are never confusing, but I never felt like I was just pressing “x” to get through explanatory dross I had heard a thousand times. The clues are in the meticulous design and paying attention pays off. This is good game design.
While the design and visuals and gentle but not ambient music all succeed heavily, the game does seem to falter where most games do: the writing. While characters are interesting and varied and work on their own terms, Child of Light chose poetry as its form for dialogue and narration. Conceptually, the choice is excellent. It could have added to the sense of another world and it could have given characters extra identity through the different forms of poetry they speak in. Unfortunately, poetry is not an easily mastered form and whether in writing or translation, the poetry of Child of Light fails the game it is trying to support. The development team obviously did not take the choice lightly and the attempts to use poetry to great effect is obvious, but it is an ultimate failure. Poetry done well would have catapulted this game to high art, but mediocre-at-best poetry, even as it attempts to respect the form, just pulls the game down. Bouncy rhyming poems should not be treated as easier. Dr. Seuss would spend months and months on a single children’s book and it showed off in the quality of the poetry. Poetry that reads effortlessly requires a lot of effort and with as much dialogue as Child of Light has, I am not sure it would even be possible to pull off what it was attempting to do unless they had a master poet in every language they were attempting to translate to. The game deserves better.
Still, accepting this makes it easier to focus on what is fantastic, and thankfully not all of a good game’s story-telling is done with words, and exploring caves with Aurora’s magical floaty flight and testing out battle strategies and crafting combinations is purely delightful. I am not finished the game, but I am already thankful for its existence and I hope it is successful. These are the games that should be succeeding if gaming as an art is going to be kept alive at the AAA level.
A Princely Detour
Talking about 2008’s Prince of Persia in that last section made me think about that game for the first time in a while and now I am upset that it never got a sequel. I mean, I understand why it did not. First of all, despite Assassin’s Creed being born from Prince of Persia, the latter was actually beginning to feel like a ripoff of the former. Secondly, 2008’s Prince of Persia was not very good overall. But like the original Assassin’s Creed, it had a lot of good ideas that would have benefited significantly from a second attempt. Of course, it would have been nice to get it right the first time, but sometimes there needs to be some distance from these things.
Cutting down on enemies and making battles one-on-one was an excellent choice, but it did not have the atmospheric punch it could have if enemies had been placed with more thoughtfulness. This choice also put more of a focus on platforming, but that element was far too linear and only hampered by the special ability points that only made the mechanics less exciting, not more so.
The best part of the game was how an area transformed after Elika healed it. The music changed, the environment changed, and enemies stopped appearing. In fact, the more I think about it, the more I wonder about a Prince of Persia (2008)-style game with absolutely no traditional combat. Of course, that could never be made on a AAA level, but an Ethan can dream.
I suppose that was less of a detour and more of a that-is-all-I-had-to-talk-about. I have also been playing Kirby Triple Deluxe and Mario Golf World Tour and Mario Tennis Open, but I need something to talk about next time, and those three seem to be good to put together. So let us talk about Ubisoft instead. Are you excited for Child of Light? What are your thoughts if you are playing it already? What did you think of Prince of Persia (2008)? And oh yeah, did you guys hear about that side-scrolling Prince of Persia rumour? Given the success of games in Ubisoft’s side-scrolling engine, it is a choice that makes sense to me. Discuss below!