Let’s talk about hair. No-one ever talks about hair.
It’s a full day since I played Child of Light and the first word that springs to mind when I think of the game is ‘hair’.
More specifically the hair of main character Aurora.
Aurora’s hair is red. Not normal red. A kind of deep red. A red that doesn’t belong red. Not of this world red. No-one actually has that colour of hair unless it came from a bottle red.
Super red. Mega red. Next level red.
In terms of its movement, the word you would use to describe Aurora’s hair is ‘flowing’, but that’s not quite enough. Aurora’s hair defies gravity. It floats like she is jogging on the surface of the moon. Like she’s underwater. It’s thick. Dense. Lustrous.
At multiple points during my time with Child of Light I just stop Aurora dead in her tracks and watch the hair. Yes, I am aware of how creepy this sounds.
I guess the point I’m laboriously trying to make here is this: people don’t care too much about hair in video games. Not normally. But that clearly didn’t stop the team at Ubisoft Montreal from taking that oft ignored detail and transforming it into something I literally could not forget.
Child of Light is a lot like video games you like. As a reader of Kotaku I’m going to assume a few things: you like Chrono Trigger. You like Final Fantasy VII. You like Another World. You Like Limbo. You like games with a unique art style.
You like games with dialogue delivered completely in verse…
Actually, that last one. That’s a new thing. That’s something I don’t think I’ve seen before.
To be clear: Child Of Light is a game written like a fairytale. Every word spoken or written is in verse. It rhymes. The dialogue rhymes. The narration rhymes. It all rhymes.
It makes complete sense: Child of Light is a video game with fairy tale themes. This informs every facet of the game. Child of Light looks like a hand drawn fairy tale book painted in watercolour (and if the latest development diary is to be believed it literally is a hand drawn fairy tale book painted in water colour). The rhyming couplets are an extension of that, an attempt to provide the game with another layer of authenticity.
But, I’m not quite sure how to say this, it just doesn’t quite work.
Actually, let me rephrase that. Sometimes it works. But sometimes it doesn’t work at all. There’s an inconsistency to Child of Light and it’s in the writing itself. It’s clunky. It often feels forced. It has no rhythm -- and if you want to write a video game entirely in verse rhythm should probably be your all-encompassing priority.
And it’s hampered by a weirdly dissonant voice over. Again: Child of Light is written in verse and its narrative voice over is delivered in a way that seems to completely miss every beat. Parents who have read their child the same bloody bedtime story over and over again will relate: the first time you read a new book, you stumble over it, trying to find the flow. The fourth or fifth time? You’re rapping that shit out like Rakim dropping heat all over that Toddler. Cowabunga dude.
Whoever did the voice over for Child of Light sounds like they read it once and called it a day. And in a game so obsessed with details, that feels strange.
Despite these issues, Child of Light feels like a video game people will fall in love with, and it feels a little pernickity to find issue with the writing when it’s embedded in an experience so earnest and well-meaning.
This is a game about nostalgia, and those themes intertwine magically. At first I wondered why Ubisoft would integrate JRPG mechanics (like Child of Light’s combat system) into a 2D platformer that's supposed to feel whimsical and gentle, like a fairy tale. But then it clicked: for people my age games like Chrono Trigger and Secret of Mana functioned like modern fairy tales. Child of Light appeals to two different sensibilities that adults of our age are nostalgic about. In that sense the game fuses the 16-bit JRPG and the fairy tale into something we won’t be able to resist. This game is our childhood come back to haunt us. When we play it we will all be children of light.
So yes. People will most likely fall in love with Child of Light. It seems almost inevitable. Almost unfair.
Child of Light’s combat system doesn’t need to have depth, it really doesn’t. I’d have been more than content for its turn-based battles to be slight. But they’re not. Child of Light’s combat system is layered with intricacies, intricacies I look forward to mastering when the game is finally released.
Timing is everything. Unlike most turn-based systems, players can watch clocks ticking down, showing you precisely when the enemy will attack. If you see that an opponent is about to strike, you can strike first, stopping them in their tracks, setting them back half a turn. It helps remove that rigidity of the turn-based battle.
And you have the ability to manually slow down the speed at which these timers progress, which adds flexibility to proceedings. It gives you options. It gives you a skill to master, the ability to strategise and think through encounters.
Details, details, details. It’s all in the details. When Child of Light focuses on those details, it is remarkable. When it slacks and gets a little lazy -- in the writing and the voice over work -- it shows. Partly because of the close attention being paid in all other aspects of the design.
But when I think of Child of Light I don’t think about the voice over I didn’t like, or the clunky dialogue, I think of that weird fucking hair. The way it just floats and tangles and defies gravity. I think of the games and the stories that I used to love. And the hair. Always the hair.