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Here’s why you should play Child of Light

The princess is the hero, everything is watercolour and fantasy rocks its core. Child of Light is a lovely game, but wait, what’s this, there’s more …

Here’s the situation: Aurora is a princess in Romantic-era Austria. After contracting a deathly illness, she falls into a deep sleep and finds herself transported to a mythical land which needs saving. The story is quite formulaic – as the descendant of the Queen of Light, Aurora is destined to return light to the realm of Lemuria, which has been held under thrall of darkness from her stepmother, the Queen of the Night.

Aurora at the gates to the sunken Palace of the Sun
Aurora at the gates to the sunken Palace of the Sun
image © nintendo.co.uk

So far so fairytale, but what is wonderful about Child of Light lies in how well it constructs its fairytale mythos. It’s damn near perfect, and rarely do I say this. The creators have evidently read their Hans Christian Andersen and their Grimms anthologies, as well as adding in a dash of modern-day New Age lore for us to enjoy.

A similar concept was used in the 2007 game Eternal Sonata, which saw historical figure Fryderyk Chopin, also on his deathbed, in Romantic-era Europe, enter a strange dreamland in which he becomes the main character of his own farewell adventure.

The main difference here is that Aurora is not a historical figure and thus her story is not necessarily one of impending doom like Chopin’s is. To find out for yourself, you will have to play the game. And I promise, you will find it cute and wonderful and beautiful and amazing.

But first, let’s look at some of the game’s influences in more detail. While it may seem that the creators have modernised some of the fairytale aspects by giving the girl a sword and making her the hero of the game, this actually runs more in line with older fairy tales such as The Snow Queen, The Wild Swans, or the older Russian ‘Baba Yaga’ stories, which see the girl as the principal hero. The innocence of making the girl the hero without having ostentatious costumes, worrying about her strength, or having sex appeal as a prerequisite is refreshing, and more videogames could probably do with looking back at these older fairytales for inspiration, really.

Aurora
Aurora
image © childoflight.ubi.com

Aurora, a word which is used both to refer to the dawn of each new day and to the fantastical light displays of the solar winds hitting Earth’s upper atmosphere, is the perfect symbolic name for the child who is destined to bring Light to the realm of Lemuria.

Lemuria itself is named after the hypothesised ancient continent of New Age lore, so called because it was meant to link the countries of Madagascar (the only place where lemurs are currently found) to India (the only other place where lemur fossils have been discovered). According to the theory, Lemuria was meant to be the mystical sunken continent, where a huge human civilisation once flourished, and is also sometimes used as an analogy for Atlantis. This is echoed in the game, as Lemuria is a half-sunken magical world whose citizens are in danger of dying out thanks to the Queen of the Night.

Lemuria, according to New Age lore
The location of Lemuria, according to New Age lore
image © Mike Perry

Interestingly, the idea of Lemuria has a sort-of truth, thanks to the discovery of plate tectonics, which revealed India and Madagascar to once have been connected long ago in geological time. There are also sunken ancient continents in the Indian ocean, such as the Kerguelen Plateau, but these are much further south!

It’s hard to miss the intense characterisations of the friends Aurora picks up along the way. There’s a pair of jesters which have a melancholy feel to them, and in their duplicity echo Punch and Judy, even animated in such a way to suggest they might have strings attached (this type of characterisation was also used for the Final Fantasy 9 court jesters Zorn and Thorn).

The jester duo
The jester duo
image © return222.com
Igniculus
Igniculus
image © gamewise.co

There’s a water nymph who looks to be a mixture of Danish folklore and japanese kappas, and there’s a hefty beast reminiscent in style to Balinese demons. Aurora’s firefly guide, Igniculus, is a mixture of Scottish Will-o’-the-Wisps and Japanese Hitodama, fulfilling a function often seen in Japanese games, like Navi in Zelda’s Ocarina of Time, or Issun in Okami.

While her friends appear to be a mixture of different mythological elements from round the world, Aurora’s enemies stick mostly to the European folklore camp, where dryads and wolves and trolls abound. It’s a veritable watercolour Narnia, and it’s immense on the senses.

Everything is written in a tail rhyming style, where the last words of the sentence sound similar, sometimes offset by a sentence or two. This gives it that extra folkorish feel, as tail rhyming became a popular form of storytelling during the Middle Ages in Europe, and is still a common poetic metre found in our kids’ nursery rhymes here.

Throughout all this the game moves forwards like water rippling on an afternoon lake while sunlight dances through the trees. The music helps with this – it’s like a mixture of Hauschka and Johann Johannsson. It’s an incredibly calming experience, something that you don’t just play, but can practically bathe in at the same time.

Gameplay is highly derived from the Active Time Battle system found in the Grandia games, where characters and enemies progress along a timer bar according to their own personal statistics of speed etc. Commands are issued at the ‘Cast’ point near the end of the bar, then the character has to reach the very end of the bar to perform their attack. This allows for some great opportunities for blocking and knocking-back attacks in semi-real time, which is a lot more interesting than many purely turn-based RPGs and keeps you thinking on your feet.

Example of gameplay
Example of gameplay
image © spawnfirst.com

Although you can only have two characters in your fighting party, the game allows for versatility as you can swap out characters whenever you feel like it (once they reach the ‘Cast’ section) and you also have control of Igniculus as an extra, who can either hover over your party and heal, or hover over any enemy and slow them down with firefly light.

At some point during the adventure, Aurora gains the ability to fly, and travelling about becomes highly enjoyable and a more fluid experience.

The bottom line is that this game was fun to play, and I only wish I could have given it to my eight-year-old self, because this is exactly the kind of thing I would have wanted to play back then. What is doubly brilliant is that it is highly enjoyable even as an adult, as its whimsical charm will entrance anyone who is, or once was, a fan of fairytales.

Child of Light was released on April 30th this year. It was produced by Ubisoft Montréal and you can purchase it for download for the PS3, PS4, Xbox One, WiiU, Xbox 360 and Windows! It’s currently retailing at £11.99, and there’s loads of downloadable content too.

 

main image © cgmagonline.com

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