Philip Tang ’15 / Emertainment Monthly Staff
A splendid feast for the eyes – such were my first thoughts upon seeing Ubisoft Montreal’s upcoming JRPG-styled game, Child of Light. In a five minute demonstration of gameplay, Lead Programmer Brianna Code gives us a glimpse at the game’s premise, environments, and combat system. With over a decade of game programming experience, Code has worked on acclaimed titles such as Company of Heroes and Assassin’s Creed 2. Her interest in contemporary art and design has led to her current role in developing Child of Light.
Set in the magical, fairy-tale like world of Lumeria, Child of Light uses the UbiArt Framework game engine to power its surreal graphics. The engine allows unedited, raw concept art to be inserted directly into the game, creating a surreal, immersive, and enchanting atmosphere evocative of walking inside a magnificent painting.
The demo begins as lead character Aurora, with her flowing, bright red hair adorned with a crown, approaches a village. Her round, firefly sidekick, named Igniculus, accompanies her, and also functions as character playable by a second player.
Aurora and Igniculus wander into the forebodingly silent village. Its inhabitants have been cursed, all turned into crows except for Finn, a member of what Code calls “bearded race of healers that enjoy smoking mint out of long pipes.” Speaking to him reveals that the village’s drinking water was contaminated, and all who consumed it became crows. As an aside, Code mentions that the dialogue is written intentionally to rhyme, making the game a playable poem.
Finn joins the party, and the three descend into the well. Down in the expansive cave beneath the village, the game has really opened up. Aurora can fly to explore the multiple winding paths throughout the underground labyrinth. Igniculus, controlled by a second player, can distract enemies in the overworld and go through walls and environmental obstacles to collect treasures that Aurora would otherwise not have access to.
At about the halfway mark into the demo, Aurora comes into contact with a spider in the overworld, and a transition into the battle screen occurs. As with most traditional JRPGs, the party is separated onto one side of the screen while the enemy team constitutes the other.
Code emphasizes how Child of Light innovates upon traditional turn based combat, differentiating itself from RPGs of the past. A timeline bar occupies the bottom of the screen. Three quarters of the bar on the left are colored blue, called the “Wait” portion. The other fourth of the bar is separated off and colored in red, called the “Cast” portion. Small icons depicting every participant in the fight adorn the timeline. At the start of the battle, they are all at the start, the left side of the Wait portion of the bar. They quickly travel to the right, eventually reaching the Cast portion. Reaching the end of the timeline bar at the far right allows the character to perform their chosen action.
The differentiating factor comes into the play when Finn attacks a spider and appears to “interrupt” it. If a character was in the Cast portion of the timeline when it gets attacked, its turn is obliterated and it must start over again from the beginning of the timeline to make a move. The strategy lies in making your foes lose turns as often as possible while minimizing how often it happens to you (the player is vulnerable to this turn loss mechanic, too). Igniculus, once again controlled by a second player, can also take action by slowing down the cast times of enemies or healing the party. With different moves having varying cast time lengths, Child of Light’s combat system has plenty of potential for deep and intelligent combat.
It wouldn’t be a JRPG, or an RPG for that matter, without a leveling system, and Child of Light definitely has its own. Leveling up grants points to be used in a character’s skill tree, and a quick glimpse of Aurora’s shows she can spend points on upgrading melee attacks, defensive traits, ice spells, and fire spells.
With the fight complete and the game now back in the overworld, Code explains how players can leave “Light Messages” in the environment to give friends hints and tips about things such as hidden treasure. The system sounds similar to the message leaving ability found in Dark Souls, and if that game is anything to go by, it would be safe to presume that some malicious people out there will leave misleading or untrue messages lying about.
Aurora comes across another staple RPG element, an environmental puzzle. Igniculus is used to cast light upon an object and direct its shadow onto a matching pattern in the background. Igniculus can also help by disabling treacherous spike traps, allowing Aurora to proceed thankfully unscathed.
With the puzzle and the spike trap conquered, Aurora moves forward as a sign that says minimum level 4 appears in view. There’s also a skull and crossbones drawn next to it. Regardless, she walks past the ominous message into a vast lake as the camera zooms out. The demo ends as the party engages a massive boss creature, a serpentine behemoth that explodes into view from the water’s surface.
In just under five minutes, Code’s Child of Light demonstration showed that the game has the potential to revive an art seldom seen so far in this so-called next generation of gaming: the elegant, yet simple and accessible, yet strategic RPG. Compelling RPG experiences are not constrained to technical 3D graphics and long, drawn out cutscenes, as Child of Light attests to. The game comes out in early 2014 for Xbox One, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Wii U and Windows PC.