Child Of Light begins when an adorable firecracker named Aurora, daughter of an Austrian duke who loves her dearly, dies in her sleep. She wakes up on a stone altar in the Renaissance land of Lemuria—a fantastical place where entire towns’ worth of people have been turned into crows, and the lava spiders outnumber the smiles approximately 100,000:1. There is a lot in Child Of Light that casts darkness, even beyond the fact that the sun and the moon have been stolen by an evil queen. Appropriately enough, I got an achievement near the middle of the game called “Tragedy.”
It’s hard to see the sadness in this role-playing game, though. Lemuria is a beautiful kingdom with bursts of vivid colors, like someone put cartoon stickers over a watercolor painting. Cliffs crumble and fall in showers of deep green. A rare ray of yellow sunlight shines down on the orange-leaved tree that stands at Lemuria’s center. Aurora stands out, her long red hair defying gravity as it waves behind her. Aided by a fallen blue star named Ignatius who looks like the tip of an e-cigarette, she searches for a way home, finding that even in a land as vibrant as Lemuria, there are black caves and miles of dank brown swamps to wade through.
Aurora sees all those colors but only lets the bright ones in. Child Of Light is the story of how she grows up and learns that light is not just the absence of dark; it’s every color, even the unsightly ones. Her “Tragedy” achievement comes from triumphing over hardship, flying in spirals around it with her invisible wings accompanied by a merry band of valiant friends.
The team that made this game also worked on 2012’s Far Cry 3, where, while vacationing on a tropical island, a group of bandits kidnap all of your friends and you covertly set off as many grenades as possible to get them back. It’s an explosive game that demonstrates its self-awareness by going over the top, especially in Far Cry 3’s ’80s action movie-inspired add-on, Blood Dragon, where the ultimate weapon is literally called the Kill Star.
Child Of Light takes a more bold, outlandish approach to progress that matches its visual style. Unlike Far Cry 3, you don’t fight covertly behind bushes but rather out in the open—underneath waterfalls and stone pillars, say. This is a turn-based role-playing game, like the Final Fantasy of old. Aurora’s actions happen one by one, and so do those of the enemies. It is possible, using no fancy moves whatsoever, to trade hits back and forth until Aurora falls or slays a lava spider.
There’s also the option to have Ignatius blind enemies to slow them down or cast a glow over an ally to heal them. This makes fighting a more complicated rhythmic exercise that is not as easy as, say, selecting “Lightning Strike” and sitting back. There’s even the option to recruit a friend to play as Ignatius as you explore the bottom of the ocean together like two childhood friends heading into the basement with just one flashlight.
The members of Aurora’s party grow to share her shiny outlook and her whimsical habit of speaking only in rhyme. They typically join Aurora’s side as a product of circumstance, whether it’s a mouse archer who’s on the hunt for treasure or a gargantuan prison guard who is sick of his former employers. Aurora offers these supporting characters an alternative to the drab, and they take it. But the longer they live Aurora’s fairy tale, the more eager they become to beat back the darkness in Lemuria. Rubella, a sad clown whose circus abandoned her, joins Aurora simply to find her brother. Then, after the merry reunion, she recruits her sibling to join the cause. Aurora’s freckles are magnetic.
Still, even as a child, Aurora knows it can’t last. Her journey wizens her quickly, as seen in exchanges like the one where Ignatius asks, “Aurora, what is love known by?” She replies, “When it hurts to say goodbye.”
Growing up is not a linear process. It swirls and nose-dives like Aurora through Lemuria’s cloudless skies. Child Of Light is a joyous story about how tragedy, be it in achievement form or otherwise, shapes the strongest of us, how the only way to measure love is through pain. Aurora’s coming-of-age is disguised as a righteous fight. There is a lot of tragedy in Child Of Light, but she chooses to see the triumph.
Child Of Light
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Platforms: PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Wii U
Reviewed on: PlayStation 3