maanantai 28. heinäkuuta 2014

REVIEW - Child of Light | PS4 | 2014

GENRE(S): RPG / Platformer
RELEASED: April 29, 2014
AVAILABLE ON: PC, PS3, PS4, PS Vita, Wii U, Xbox 360, Xbox One
DEVELOPER(S): Ubisoft Montréal

Ever wondered what it would be like if the French made a J-RPG? ...That must be the most unattractive kickoff in history. Director Patrick Plourde, who had previously worked on Ubisoft's greatest hits such as the Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six, Assassin's Creed and Far Cry franchises, introduced Child of Light in 2013 - as a heartfelt tribute to his long-time love towards Japanese role-playing games, especially the Final Fantasy series. The art style in itself was so influenced by legendary Final Fantasy artist Yoshitaka Amano that even dedicated Amano followers were convinced the maestro had his hand on the game. This unique mix of a classic turn-based RPG and a platformer in the direct vein of Ubisoft's very own Rayman was one of the most anticipated digital downloads of the spring, and in the end of April it was finally unleashed. So let's go back to my original question... ever wondered what it would be like if the French made a J-RPG? Wonder no further - get Child of Light. Now.

Child of Light, what a sight - so God damn tight

Aurora, the daughter of an Austrian duke, falls into a coma the night his father marries a new wife and imagines a surreal, yet vivid fantasy world named Lemuria where she is hounded by the Queen of the Night - her stepmother - and her daughters, as her path towards the light.

When I got the PlayStation 4 back in April, I was struggling to find decent games for it - ones that I couldn't get for any other system I already had. I bought the thing for games that now aren't coming until 2015, just to ensure I have it and that I've grown comfortable with it once the hits start to pour. Then I read about this upcoming digital download named Child of Light and I was stunned by the specs alone. Of course, a few days later it was confirmed that this was yet again one of those "next-gen" games the developer ultimately decided to capitalize on by unleashing 'em on older systems, but I was still quite convinced that the PlayStation 4 version would be the way to go, that's what the previews I had watched were about. The game showed some highs and lows right from the start - you could as well say gameplay and presentation, respectively, 'cause that's how it is. At least that's how it feels like at first.

It's pwetti.
The plotline of Child of Light is really hard to follow, 'cause absolutely everything in the game, 99% of the dialogue and even menu entries, is written in verse - meaning, everything rhymes, and it's far from natural. The forced rhyming makes the game extremely hard to understand at times, and heavy to read; no, there's no voiceover work at all beyond the narrator's occasional readings in the four or five key points of the game. However, if you're not into poetry but are fascinated by unconventional, artful games, then Child of Light is still definitely your thing. You don't need more than 30 seconds to realize that. Check this out.

Child of Light is largely hand-painted, in watercolours, in the distinctive, innovative style of classic Japanese role-playing games. You'll probably find yourself realizing time and time again that this game is not Japanese, but French - or Canadian, whatever. Let's just go with French since there are just a few real Canadians on board. Although the party characters might not be of the most unique kind, there are plenty of enemy designs that practically reek of Final Fantasy, if not all of them, not to mention the beeeeeautiful landscapes. It's a treat to look at from the start and those landscapes just keep getting more beautiful on the go, which basically means that halfway through the game, you'll be hooked just because you want to see where Aurora and her companions are travelling to next.

Then we have the music... just thinking about it almost made me skip a beat. 24-year old Béatrice Martin, a.k.a. Cœur de pirate, who is like Canada's own Adele, composed the whole soundtrack. Although there's an end credit song that could easily be mistaken for a "kinda different" Adele song - the similarities with these ladies' voices are uncanny - the rest of the soundtrack is a steady mix of beautiful atmosphere and absolutely EPIC battle music. I was thinking of breaking all of my personal rules about dating French folk - OK, OK, Canadian - and writing this chick a love letter once I had beaten the game, but it turns out she's married. Daymnnnn. But, seriously: the soundtrack. It's on Spotify. Do yourself a favour and check it out. Hell, while you're at it, do yourself a favour and get this game, I implore you - for the second, yet probably not the last time.

The combat mechanics set an example for
genre games that are actually Japanese.
Child of Light uses the UbiArt Framework engine used in Rayman Origins and Rayman Legends; I first played the game while I was still very much addicted to the latter, so I found the game very accessible from the start. Physically speaking, it plays out exactly the same for a time, and there are many general gameplay-related things in common between the Rayman games and Child of Light, such as the placement and presentation of secret passageways and the wishes. Wishes are these orbs of light used to replenish the energy of Igniculus, your firefly companion - quite like Murfy in Rayman, yet not as annoying - and by collecting lines of wishes in a certain order you'll replenish your health and mana as well, just like collecting lums in a certain order in Rayman granted you score bonuses. In just few tens of minutes into the game, you're granted the ability of flight, which enables you to fly freely all over the game world and that's when you'll realize how damn vast it is, and how many collectibles there are. You can do it the hard way, or make searching for the collectibles easy for yourself by buying maps for those collectibles at uPlay; Child of Light yields a LOT of points to spend on uPlay, so if you're into Ubisoft games in general, there's another reason to not miss Child of Light.

Combat is traditionally turn-based, but it plays out very uniquely in that sense. You can switch between party members at any time without wasting a turn. A few characters are optional acquaintances, and you can actually leave some of 'em you don't like out of the fray by just refusing their special request (loyalty mission for you Mass Effect fans) at a key point - but if you're going for the full party, you'll have every kind of character you'd need in any RPG by the end of the game. A couple of healers, a ranged combatant, a tank, and a black mage, just to name a few. Aurora's non-surprisingly moderately adept at just about everything. She can use light magic, which half of the game's enemy cavalcade is weak against, and has good physical power. Switching characters in the later combat parts of the game is one of the most important keys to your success. Action time is determined by a timeline in the bottom of the screen. If you manage to sneak up on an enemy from behind in the field for a surprise strike, your characters start way further down the timeline than the enemies; however, making it to the end of the timeline does not mean you'll gain the first strike. Casting time varies between different actions; the stronger the attack, the longer casting time. For example, using any item takes just a second, but an AOE healing spell might take as long as five seconds, and it's interrupted immediately if an enemy gets an attack in on your healer during casting time. This works both ways, of course. Usually, if you manage a surprise strike and use Igniculus to great effect, the enemy won't stand a chance, might be they never get the mere chance to attack.

Igniculus is invaluable in field and combat, both. Like in Beyond: Two Souls, you can even set up a two-player game where the second player controls him, though that's just a pathetic way to force a multiplayer mode in my view. Essentially you control him with the right analog stick. In the field, he can get items and open some certain types of chests that are out of your reach, the light emitting from him is the key to most of the puzzles in the game, he can blind enemies to set you up for a surprise strike or help you avoid encounters altogether, and finally, he can heal your minor injuries as long as he has energy left. In combat, he can also blind a single enemy at a time, this time with the purpose of slowing down their timeline progress, and regenerate your health. There are a few batches of wishes in the corners of each battle screen to replenish his energy, making it absolutely clear that you wouldn't survive without the little bastard. The game starts out real easy, and it doesn't get much harder, but you'll need some perception of how the combat actually works and how much use Igniculus really has as you make your way towards the sudden end. And of course, some perks.

Back in the world of Limbo.
The skill tree's (apparently) inspired by director Patrick Plourde's previous megahit Far Cry 3. The characters gain one skill point each via leveling up, and can be developed according to the player's own preferences and needs, along several different branches. One basic skill or stat boost costs that one skill point, but mastering a special attack costs two. In addition, most stats can be permanently boosted with hidden Stardust collectibles, which you can also buy from uPlay, in limited numbers of course. It's all really simple - casual players will appreciate it, some veteran role-players are known to have criticized it. Then again, Child of Light's core is all about the beauty of the experience, not necessarily the challenge of gameplay...

...Which is proven further by the fact that I did not perish once during Child of Light; plus, I didn't find all the collectibles, but I did acquire each and every Trophy with just 20 minutes of extra gameplay after the credits (easiest list ever, but no Plat), and these days, whenever you manage to do that, you're done with the game at hand. Child of Light is really, really easy for an RPG vet, and in my mind, that's its greatest flaw. However, it is so pretty, it sounds so epic, and it's so immediately accessible to people who don't usually play RPG's, that I'm able to imagine that more casual players might have a fun challenge here. Besides, I was still very happy with the game. The fact that it was easy was nothing compared to the fact that it ends so abruptly - just when you're starting to have some grip on a story behind all that incessant rhyming. I have all the Trophies, I'm probably never going at the game again, personally, but I'd gladly watch someone else do it.

It looks and sounds like a piece of art, and it plays out fabulously. These, I think, are the things that matter. It's the best fifteen you've been implored to spend in a long, long time, if you don't count the tad pricey 12-pack I consumed during the final hours of the game - it's the hottest summer ever. Yeah, it's easy and it's simple, but when the weather's like this, I find solace in even that fact. I don't need any more sweat. Get the game. Seriously. And make your own judgement.

+ Just beautiful graphics
+ The music tip-taps between epic, beautiful and awesome
+ Smooth gameplay
+ Fun combat mechanics; ATB with a few twists
+ Easy access to non-RPG players
+ Reasonable price

- Easy as heck, all the way to the Trophies
- Comes to an abrupt end
- There's a good story with life lessons there somewhere, but it's hidden behind deeply annoying dialogue

< 8.9 >

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