Child of Light is an upcoming platforming RPG conceived and developed by Ubisoft Montreal's Patrick Plourde, whose last game, the testosterone-fuelled Far Cry 3, is about as far away from his newest venture as you can possibly get.
Set in the gorgeous UbiArt Framework-created world of Lemuria, it stars diminutive heroine Aurora, who has been tasked with restoring the sun, moon and stars to the sky after they were stolen away by a wicked queen.
The game is a curious combination of visual influences, with nods to artists like Final Fantasy's Yoshitaka Amano (who, incidentally, provided the game with a beautiful piece of pre-order concept art), legendary Japanese anime house Studio Ghibli, and nineteenth century illustrator John Bauer.
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Little girl lost
In the past, Plourde has described the game as 'feminine,' but not in the stereotypical sense that everyone in it will be covered in pink bows and frilly lace. It's feminine in terms of its dreamlike watercolour world, of its delicate, beautiful art design and considered characterisation of its central figure.
Aurora, the game's protagonist, carries a sword larger than herself, and it's refreshing to see her as the default melee/attack character - rather than a white mage or some other stereotypically girly support class.
That said, she's still just a child – even if she's an uncommonly powerful one – and so her attack animation has her struggling to lift her sword. You can almost feel the cost of each move as she winds up and puts her full force behind every swing.
Out of battle, she's also empowered by the ability to fly around the screen by holding down the A button, and it's astonishing how giddy this small touch can make you feel as you gracefully pirouette around obstacles and explore the world's varied and beautiful locations.
Don't get caught off-guard by its good looks, however; this game is no pushover. Its challenging turn-based combat is directly inspired by classic Final Fantasy titles. But it does grant an extra layer of engagement through the option to have a second player join the fray in the role of Igniculus, Aurora's little blue orb companion.
Two's a charm
Though he can just as easily be controlled through your right stick, having a second local co-op player guide him around can be much more beneficial to the experience. Igniculus moves freely in real-time around the battlefield, giving him the ability to collect health and magic orbs that drop from enemies and to distract them long enough to allow your team of fighters to get an extra hit in.
Enemies can interrupt your attack while you're winding up for the kicker, you see, thus sending your party member to the back of the queue - so it makes sense to strike them before they get the chance.
There will be moments where you're facing multiple attackers, and at times like those you'll often be better served concentrating on simply disrupting their attacks rather than just focusing on whittling down their health points.
Igniculus plays an important role on the battlefield, but off it he can be just as handy too, accessing items Aurora can't reach or blinding enemies long enough to let her slip by undetected. I imagine the second player role won't tax too many adult gamers, but for, say, a parent and child playing together, he and Aurora might just be the perfect combination.
Got the stones?
The game's combat mechanics are given additional depth with its crafting system, used to upgrade weapons and items or give them enhanced stats. You'll find and collect gemstones, called Oculi, which are ranked from rough to polished and can be set into your weapons or armour to grant you either offensive or defensive buffs.
Some gems might grant your weapon an elemental edge to its attack, for example, but equipping that same gem to your armour will reduce the damage taken by that same element instead.
Further to these optional skills, there are over 200 character-specific abilities to unlock over the course of the game, which will keep gamers busy as they attempt to round out their party's skillset. In fact, Plourde has assured me in the past that players will definitely be getting their money's worth in terms of Child of Light's run time, and, at the same time, he hinted that the game would feature multiple endings, ensuring some level of replayability.
Plourde and the team in Montreal are well aware that a whimsical little game about a little girl growing up and passing from childhood to womanhood might not appeal to the average gamer, but they, and more importantly publisher Ubisoft, are willing to take that risk.
At a time when most of our games are about muscular displays of power, both in terms of its platform prowess and its protagonists, that shows a level of lion-like courage worthy of little Aurora herself.
Aoife Wilson is a writer for Official Xbox Magazine. She recently moved house, and her comic book collection took up approximately 75-80% of the space in the moving van.
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