The PS4 will be released this week without a role-playing game in its launch lineup. I'm pretty bummed about that. But being able to get my hands on a PS4 build of Ubisoft's upcoming Child of Light made me feel much better. And now that I've got a taste of what they're working on, I'll be counting the days until I can play it again.
Ubisoft took the JRPG formula and played with it a bit to come up with what they have for Child of Light. Its battle system draws inspiration from Grandia 2, though its look and feel align more with old fairy tales than any game.
Game co-creator and writer Jeffrey Yohalem explained that Child of Light is set in 1895. It stars heroine Aurora, the daughter of a duke. Aurora wakes up on a lost continent where the sun, moon, and stars have been stolen by an evil sorceress. She just wants to get home to her father, but she can't do so until the heavens are recovered.
The story is about growing up, so they've worked the game's leveling system to tie in with that idea. Aside from gaining skills and abilities, Aurora will grow up as she gains levels, changing over the course of the game.
To take the storybook idea even further, the entire game was written in verse. They worked the entire script to have every second line rhyme with every fourth line, locked into a set syllable count. Yohalem explained that they had to do this for over 120 pages of lines.
The art of Child of Light shows the same dedication. The game uses the same engine that Rayman Legends used, which means that their 2D assets work in a 3D world. Programmer Brie Code explained that the concept art is the game's art, giving the game's artists a lot of freedom to try out their ideas. She said that one morning's concept art could be in the game by that afternoon.
The artwork I saw in my playthrough was stunning. The characters look like they've been drawn and then painted with watercolors, and the backdrops look like animation cels. The animation and movement were beautifully fluid. Most of what I saw was quite soft and pretty, but Yohalem says that things darken as the story progresses. He warns to expect "some pretty sad moments" later in the game.
Adventuring with Aurora is a breeze as she floats through the world. I walked through a village for a bit before meeting a new party member. We found our way into a cave where spiders and other baddies had me testing out the battle system for the first time.
Child of Light's battles are turn-based, with the standard attack/magic/item/block structure that JRPG fans are used to. But a time bar gauge adds a new twist to the standard formula. All allies and enemies have icons that slide along this bar gradually, from left to right. When the end of the bar is reached, each can execute their turn. But, if one attacks another while their icon is in the end segment of this bar, their attack can be interrupted, forcing their icon to start back at the beginning again.
This time bar would add a new layer of strategy on its own, but things get even more interesting when you add a second player.
Aurora has a firefly companion that can be controlled by using the right analog stick, but a second player can also take control of it, helping Aurora in both her adventuring and in battles. In battles, the firefly can move freely over the play field to use its allotment of power to either heal allies or hinder enemies. Using its power to slow down enemies can help Aurora attack at an optimal time to gain an attack advantage.
In the standard encounters I tried, having the firefly's help was nice, but not necessarily required. But when Yohalem and I teamed up to take on a boss battle against a giant water dragon, carefully timed assists made a huge difference. The boss wore us down to one party member, but with some aligned strategies we were finally able to take it down.
If the storytelling turns out to be anywhere near as nice as the presentation and battle system are looking to be, Child of Light will be a remarkable game. We look forward to seeing more as we come up on its 2014 release for PS3, PS4, Wii U, Xbox 360 and Xbox One.