Posted by Pip
F122- Something Fishy
Well that doesn't seem normal.
Quick Critique: Child of Light
The following discussion mentions some story spoilers.
Child of Light... is. It is a video game. It has gameplay. It has a story. It doesn't do a lot poorly but the interesting things it does don't push the game that far out of the middle ground after the game undermines its own fun pieces. A few days out of finishing it, I don't have a lot more than a vague recollection of having played it to completion and the notes I took during that time.
At the start of the game, you're met with rather tiny text and some platforming with a rather swimmy camera that is hard on the eyes. By the end of your first play session, you unlock the ability to fly and the camera no longer becomes an issue, so maybe they didn't bother to fix the platforming areas because they're all but forgotten quickly. Easily the best part of the game is that it has a version of the Grandia battle system, which is by far my favorite way to do combat in a turn-based game, but you have the power to manipulate the enemy's speed on the timeline using a sprite ally. At the start of the game, you just have one character and the system doesn't work as well with just one person since you lose the teamwork aspect. You eventually get more party members but it doesn't have the same grace as the Grandia system. In Grandia, you could slightly delay or knockback enemies on the timeline, but you can't do that here, so you don't get the ability to juggle enemies between allies. Part of the fun of Grandia was that once your characters got strong enough and you as the player got good enough, you could manage the timeline so well that not even the final boss could get an attack off. CoL doesn't have that same feeling and managing the timeline through the manipulation your sprite ally gives you is tedious because it involves painting it around the screen and holding triggers. It feels more artificial. This is also the biggest place that the game shoots itself in the foot because bosses quickly gain the ability to hit you with massive stat debuffs or heal themselves if you interrupt them on the timeline. It's basically the game's way of punishing you for engaging in its best system. Against bosses that have minions, you can spend several rounds not attacking at all because you're either open to being interrupted by the minion or you'll interrupt the boss and be penalized. The game also doesn't remember your cursor position between turns, leading to some blown opportunities and wasted turns if you forget to scroll back to your previous attack. You level up quickly, which is nice, but the regular battles feel like time wasters. You can heal for free between fights with a meter that refills over time, so if you do well, it just saves you from having to stand around while the meter fills, but if you do poorly, just stand still and you'll be back at full health. That means that only boss fights have anything at stake or a feeling of urgency, but the game puts a lot of small fights along the way. I'm always in favor of lower frequency but more meaningful combat, especially when there's nothing driving the need for a lot of little fights. It has a fun skill tree that you move through at a nice clip due to leveling up quickly, but there are only three useful allies so I spent a lot of time managing the skills of characters I used in battle once. There's also an oddly long delay between when you collect an item and when it shows up in your inventory, but if you get into a battle during that in-between time, the item won't go into your bag and it disappears from the map. The trick is that the item respawned on the map, but it's now invisible so you have to collect this invisible item again to actually get it.
While the battle system is fun but with problems, the story just goes nowhere. The characters speak in poetry and in a way that hurts the game. It's a terrible way to get expositional dialogue across and it feels so overwrought. Some of the rhymes are so forced that it detracts from what's actually being said as you focus on how bad the poetry is. The story has some good moments in it though. There's one character that joins your party to impress a lady and win her heart, you complete said quest, return to town, and she immediately shoots him down for being so shallow that he thought she would fall in love with him for completing a quest. That's a nice little bit I appreciated. For every small moment that's nice, the game completely undermines its main story. There's a big moment where you say goodbye to your friends and then the next room has a chest only your ally can open, so you immediately know you're going to get them back and it makes you suspicious of another character, who two minutes later double crosses you. So the game destroys its own emotional moment and big twist for the sake of an item chest. There are hints about more story than you actually get but it doesn't go anywhere. As you play, you can see the story concluding with either Aurora actually dying and this fantasy world is her way of coping with it and passing on peacefully or that the magical world actually is real and that she just happened to get sucked into at a dire time. Instead, the game seems to want to have it both ways and Aurora is dying but that sends her to a fantasy dream world but the fantasy dream is actually real and maybe visited by people from modern times through magical time or dimension breaching mirrors but definitely visited by some villagers. It doesn't make good on either side of the story so instead of feeling like there's a deep mythos at work, it feels like they couldn't make up their mind and just slapped the ending together. The whole final sequence is horribly rushed. You go from fighting a boss, you beat it, get your rewards and level up and get your skill points, and then there's a story sequence and you're immediately thrust into the final battle without even being allowed to use the skill points you just earned. Unless there were major revelations in the few collectibles I missed, it ends in a disappointing manner. Also, stop burying your story in missable collectibles. Do you want me to care about your game and its story or not? A big problem with all this is that without a deeper meaning to the story, the plot boils down to: light is always good, dark is always evil, and all step-parents are horrific monsters that will commit genocide just because and probably kick puppies.
I neither disliked nor liked Child of Light. It was on sale, it reminded me that Grandia 2 is awesome, and it entertained me in a manner for a few hours. Perhaps the biggest disappointment is just that it feels like it could be so much more than time filler.