This isn't necessarily college work, I just got bored over the holidays.
I didn't have much to do over half term, and I had £10 in the bank so I decided to find a game that looked cool, something I could play over a couple days and analyse for the rest of the week so looking for something fairly unique and amazing, I decided to pick up the game Child of Light. It is an eastern style Role-Playing Game developed and published by Ubisoft games. Based in a multi-layered two dimensional world with a simple linear with freedom narrative structure, and following A Dramatica character structure and classic 'Hero's Journey' story structure. They have expressed story through dialogue, texts and cut scenes, all of which are in rhymes. The art style is very artistic and drawn in water colours, as though the whole world has been painted in real life and scanned into the game. The music is a mix between a more powerful orchestral piece, and Lily Ki's Piano music which I will talk about later. But this is just a brief summary of the game, I hope that during this analysis I will expand on these points and showcase them in greater detail. But for now, what is it really?
Well it's a game, Very pretty with a gorgeous world to look at with really interesting, well thought-out characters. The music is sublimely composed and the Lyric work of the poetry is deep and meaningful, without being too over the top and crazy. I like a lot of things about how this game is executed, because it has this air of artistry about it that encourages a deeper thought amongst the player, it almost forces you to analyse the game and rewards you very well for doing so. On top of that there is an awful lot the game has to offer for me to talk about which I will touch on during this analysis.
I chose to analyse this game for a few reasons, firstly because it is very unique in the way it presents itself, I can't think of another game that uses this art style or the rhyming dialogue, or whatever. It has a lot going for it that separates it from other games, and that fascinates me that there are still game idea's out there that are still unique, that are still original and fresh. Yet it also show's repeated conventions from the genre, very stereotypical elements and aspects which make the game feel reminiscent from games like it that we may have played before. We don't need to learn what does what because most of it is implanted in the average consumers head from when they played other eastern RPG's before it. I've heard this story before and the game mechanics aren't really new to me. Though they will be new to people being introduced to the genre, majority of people will already be able to piece the game together like a scrap book of games they played before. In fact there was a talk a short while back that jumps to my attention when I think of this game called "Originality Complex" by Nika Harper, a favored writer of mine. (Found here: http://youtu.be/a-j4MMPQe_8?t=17s) In it she starts saying that everything has already happened, we have heard every story somewhere, we know of every character somehow. "It's all been done before" however, while this game might have things taken from other mediums and media texts, it is still unique because of the way they have been put together. This can be a very good message to send to young developers in the media industries as I found last year when I was doing games development, coming up with work that hasn't been done before is difficult and in a lot of cases not even possible. Try making a first person shooter game that is completely original and shares nothing with other games, you quickly find making a world and characters in extremely challenging, and designing all new mechanics is damn right impossible. So sending this message that it doesn't need to be 100% original to be a great idea. That "Some stories bear repeating." is a wonderful message to be spreading.
The Eastern Role-Playing genre (or JRPG for short) is a game where you are thrown into a whole new world and given a quest, often with a bunch of side quests on the side to lengthen the game time. The game is also a minor cross with 2D platformers and shares a lot of conventions with both genre's which I will talk about now. In these next few paragraphs I will be mentioning several other JRPG's:
Pokémon, a game where you essentially capture wild animals and make them fight other animals (But it's ok because they seem to enjoy it) to become the ultimate cock-fighting er I mean Pokémon master!
Final Fantasy, a game very similar to this game, it has a turn based combat system and it's you and your party of friends against whoever evil antagonist is at the time.
Castlevania, while not a traditional JRPG like the other games, this 2D platformer shares a lot of mechanics with Child of light outside combat.
These games share a lot on common, Pokémon and Final fantasy share almost identical combat mechanics, both utilise a turn-based combat system, both have similar stat pages aging back to games like DnD, both utilise randomness and percentages and 'dice-rolls' to determine outcomes of things happening (30% dodge chance. deals 1D8+whatever of damage, etc.) both have a form of party system where you can decide who you fight with, and quite a lot more similarities that I won't go too far into. It should come to no surprise that Child of Light has taken these mechanics for itself. They are all very traditional, conventional mechanics among JRPG's and this leaves a feeling of reminiscence and familiarity with the player. Fans of the genre will already know what is going on having played games like it in the past, to them this turn based system will feel completely natural to them. This turn based combat system is also commonly praised for being easy to learn but hard to master. Dynamically there isn't much skill involved, as it is a 50-50 split between a Luck base and a knowledge base. This means you don't need to learn all these advanced combat techniques and everything is based on your decisions, however the game also has a Random Number Generator (or RNG for short) to stop the game being boring and bring a sense of replayability to the game. This can also help bring characters to life as you play more and more in a sort of strange way. This is prevalent in a lot of chance based games, Dungeons and Dragons, Fire Emblem, Warhammer, War-Machine, etc. As you play with certaon characters or even dice, you begin getting attached to them. A dice physically is just a shape with numbered faces, but when you play for more and more you begin to pick out dice that always seem to give you lucky rolls, you begin to notice which dice screw you over with bad rolls. There is a video about this connection found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z4ZLqCIG4ZM and the author, Dodger, highlights that it's not just a dice, you develop connections with your dice and then they become much more than that. It's the same case with your party members or characters in other games. I remember back in the day's I played Warhammer there was this one model I called 'Zappitz da mek' who was renowned for his oversized gun being bigger than he was. The rules for him is that this gun had a myriad of settings which were chosen randomly by rolling 2, 6 sided dice. He was renowned for having this gun blow up in his face, except when he really needs it when he would come up big and roll double 6 killing everything. He developed a personality, he developed renown for himself. Going back to my original point, this is the reason adding a luck factor to a game is a great idea, and it is why it is such a staple in JRPG's today.
However these games aren't purely based on luck, there is also a large element of knowledge in them too. Knowledge of matchup's, knowledge of combo's, etc. It is what separates the first time JRPGers from the veterans of the genre. They will be able to see a few turns into the future and adapt his tactics to that. This is also great because it adds a feeling of challenge to the game. If it was as simple as mashing a single action for the entirety of the game, it would get boring quickly. You can make the game harder by increasing how much tactical knowledge is required to beat it, it’s this that separates Pokémon from Final fantasy. Pokémon is much simpler than Final Fantasy, and while it's still a great game, majority of Pokémon players don't necessarily play it for a challenge like they do with some other JRPG's. On top of this, adding mechanics like this also encourages a sense of research and helps increase the length and size of the game. It could just tell you fire attacks are strong against bug Pokémon, or it could let you work it out for yourself. A good example of this is a game called 'Yugioh: Capsule Monsters' where it tells you from the very beginning that standing in certain area is good for some elemental types, and bad for others. It tells you some elemental types are strong against other types and it gives you all the information you need at the very beginning. Needless to say I powered through the game in a couple hours, there was nothing for me to need to research or find out and the experience wasn't that fulfilling for me however I could see how it would be great for beginners and people new to the JRPG scene. On the polar opposite end of the scale there this game called Resonance of Fate which although I enjoyed playing it when I had it all figured out, was so complex and with so little instruction that you often felt cheated. Because of this it is great to find a middle ground where there is still stuff to find out, but it isn’t the entire experience.
Child of Light has also taken mechanics from the Castlevania franchise, mainly in the way we see and experience the world. Castlevania is a 2D platform game with a series of interconnected rooms and levels creating the world in which you play in. Often with secrets and hidden treasure hiding in various areas when you visit an area it will appear on your map showing doors and potential areas you might need to go. This is a great way to experience the world as it subconsciously plants thoughts of exploration and "I wonder what I may have missed over there." In fact quite a lot of the game is often locked to players who don't fully explore and pick up that key item somewhere in an earlier level. In Portrait of Ruin you can't progress unless you go back to one of the first levels when you are have the power to fly and grab a certain item of importance. Dawn of Sorrow, unless you explore the demon guest house and beat the boss there you are missing out on 3-4 areas and don't get the true ending.
Child of Light is a mainly knowledge based game, only delving into the luck mechanics occasionally and usually offering a "safe option" where you can try your luck and hope for that 30% dodge and take a swing, or defend and wait out their attack. The only real RNG we can't back out of is critical hits where both sides have a chance to get lucky and hit twice as hard for a turn. This is good because it almost forces your hand to adapt on the spot, if your guy gets crit down to next to no HP you have got to respect that and heal them back up, or you will probably lose your character next turn. This is good in that it adds another skill that you need to learn and gives you more variety in gameplay, you can't just spam an attack and hope all will be fine because you will probably lose a lot and give up. This game also utilises a 'Party' system that allows different players to have different strategies and provide more re-playability and gameplay variety. On top of that it also gives people something to talk about regarding the game, this is like free advertising because you're helping spread the word about "This awesome new game you're playing". It also helps extend the life of the game because you may want to try this strategy your friend told you about, or vice versa. As I mentioned it also taken a page out of Castlevania's book and have loads of hidden items and chests and stuff. Things for you to find, things for you to do and it greatly encourages you to explore every area in the game. Again this extends playtime and that’s a great thing. I've effectively finished the game at this point, I have beaten the final boss, reached the ending and experienced all the game can offer me, but I am still playing it to find those last few missing chests or to find that last page of lore. In the end however I can't see any messages or signs in the genre, so there isn't much I can talk about semiotically.
Child of Light had a very unique colourful graphics style everything about the game looks hand painted in water colours. There is a very symbolic use of colours throughout the game, you could often see water based enemies would use blues and bluey greens, fire based enemies would use reds and oranges, ect. Because they have used colour in this iconic way, we can immediately tell what is going on throughout the story. It makes sense that in a dark area where there are lots of blacks and dark greys, the enemies would be weak to light attacks. In a very green/brown area, it makes sense that you will need fire attacks to progress. This is important because it allows you to prepare for the enemies ahead simply by looking at the world around you. and in a game where it doesn't outright tell you what enemies are weak against what, they need to leave some sort of hint or clue that leads you towards the answer.
I am a huge fan of how the game has used a water coloured art style, it isn't often we see hugely artistic games anymore in the age of photo realistic graphics. It is a really nice change and it is what drew me to it in the first place. I am extremely fond of this approach because there is so much more that can be said with a hand crafted art style like this one. By using water colours and paints you add texture and more depth to a 2D world. You can also use a specialised art style to tell a message. I feel like they were trying to say this world was better than our own, a colourful world with much more personality than earth where everything is blacks whites and greys.
They have used a lot of very symbolic art when they made this game, and though I may not agree with the message it portrays, I can definitely see what the developers wanted to say and respect it is their story, not mine. It is a typical story of simple binary opposites. Life and death, good and evil, light and dark. However the design of the characters they have used to represent this is, for lack of a better work, quite racist or discriminatory. The good characters are portrayed as quite innocent and cute characters, looking at the main character we can see this tenfold in that she is a little girl, with long hair and bright colours. Her colour palette suggests innocence, faith and light in the whites and yellows, but with a hint of power and potential from her red hair. I have no problem with this, in fact I love how they have drawn her and she is a very inspiring character. However when we look towards to evil side of things is when I start to get a little concerned. Whether it was intended this way or not the evil characters and areas are shown in a very dark gothic style. And while yes I can see why they have chosen artwork like this, It might be seen as in the wrong light by people like myself who often dress up in gothic attire, and wear a lot of dark clothing and colours. I see the message that "Goth's" are potentially evil, selfish and corrupted, now again I doubt they meant it to be seen this way, fairies are also a large part of gothic folklore so it is possible they just envisioned it this way and the rest of the game was seen wrong, however what you mean to say and what you actually say are often two completely different things.
There have been other really artistic games in the past and will probably be in the future too. One of these games is a game called Limbo, a game which is purely in black, white and grey uses this very symbolical for how life and death can often be one and the same, and there is a fine line between them which is very easy to snap. The grey around us we don't notice, like the grey in real life not many people consider their surroundings. They could walk past a sign 100 times without realising it's there. It is great that games like this because there are much more interesting ways to tell a message than a statement or sign.
Something they actually somewhat broke the 4th wall on is when they actually mentioned some of the art in the game, things like the crown having "FAUX" Written along the inside of it, or the tears on Tristis' make up. They actually mention these in dialogue in game and bring them to your attention. I think this is because they wanted the player to think about it, and start considering the messages they left in the artwork. Things like Gen's face looking like she has marks under her eye's as though she was crying, they have left plenty for the player to find themselves and discover hidden in the background. We are coming to an age now where games are starting to hide these stories more and more, this "Tell them but don't tell them" storytelling technique is becoming drastically more common, with roots in games like this and Dark Souls. This technique relies on not necessarily leaving a note or message in plain sight, like a definite "This person is sleeping with that person" but rather by leaving this person's underwear in that person's house. This gives the game a lot more depth and life than could ever be accomplished by just outright telling them. This is a game after all, we are supposed to play the game not just read it.
I like the decision to keep the game in a 3rd person view-point, because it seems that ant other perspective would be unsuitable. Making it 3D would remove the beautiful artistic graphics I have just talked about, and if it was a 1st person game we would have the wrong relationship with the characters. We would be destroying a lot of the gameplay mechanics that makes this game unique and amazing. I think it's very important to take note of what perspective the game is played for the games storytelling too. You need to stick to certain rules when using these perspectives otherwise you risk breaking immersion with the player, and that can really hurt the narrative. For example if we take a game like Call of Duty, a game where the sole purpose of the game is to make you feel really powerful and important, you need to use a 1st person viewpoint at all times otherwise It’s not you being powerful and awesome, it's the protagonist instead. It's great that they used a third person perspective because this gives us a little distance from the character. We aren't playing as Aurora, we are playing with her. It allows is to view her as a character and learn more about the story than if she were an icon who we simply experienced the game from. We see her develop and grow throughout the game and without this perspective we wouldn't see that.
Music is another fairly large important theme throughout the game. The protagonist has this flute, she knows one song on it, and it's used to great effect as a big focal point for the story. We hear her song spreading joy and happiness throughout the game, and this is a great example of how music can be used as a set piece for the narrative. The soundtrack is also really good at messing with your emotions. During some of the calm town areas, the music is very relaxing and soothing. But during combat the music is very heavy and almost epic in a way. This is great because music is well known for its ability to play with emotions and subconsciously play with the listener. For example if you compare Dearly Beloved from http://picosong.com/fDkS/ with Hand of Blood here http://picosong.com/fDkN/ . Dearly Beloved is really calming and relaxing. it brings a smile to your face and everything seems to slow down around you. Yet there is also a hint of sadness in the music, a sense of longing like when you miss someone or something. In a very powerful contrast to this is the other song Hand of Blood which is a metal, screamo song. It's very active and fast with a lot going on at the same time. It brings a distinct energetic feeling, it makes you want to jump to your feet and go a little crazy. There is a distinct power music has over people and it is easily shown in these songs and this is present in Child of Lights soundtrack too. Although it isn't as amazingly powerful and memorable as say Dearly Beloved as I mentioned before, it is still very good music with a lot of control over the players experience.
The most dominant instruments I could hear in the OST were Piano's, Violins, and flute. There were others, but these were the ones I could always hear and made notes of. I like these choices because the instruments personalities tie together very well with the rest of the game. We typically would see these instruments as soft and calm, rather soothing and light. This fits with the theme of light very closely and emphasises the emotions the game is trying to portray. While it is also true that these instruments can be used in different ways such as Lindsey Stirling’s Violin work and a lot of Mozart’s piano work which is very up-beat and lively, it isn't that common to hear them played like this and it's generally best to take the more typical approach when thinking about it this way. This is because majority of people will hear them this way, so it is a safer option. I especially like the use of the flute because it also holds plot significance, It makes so much sense to include this instrument that not doing so would be just wrong, like missing the chocolate out of chocolate-cake.
The plot is pretty simple, and so copied from Wikipedia: Child of Light centers on Aurora, a girl from 1895 Austria who contracts a physical ailment that kills her. A protection spell cast by her mother causes Aurora to wake up on an altar in the mythical land of Lemuria. Lemuria has had its sun, moon and stars stolen by the Dark Queen, Umbra. Aurora is tasked with recovering the celestial bodies and ultimately reuniting with her father, who is a duke. Helped by her playable companion Igniculus the firefly and several unlikely allies, Aurora will face her darkest fears in this modern take on a coming-of-age story.
The story to me follows a Hero's Journey narrative structure, with a slight twist. The Ordinary World is where Aurora is in Austria, living her life as daughter to the duke. The Call to Adventure is when she dies in the human world and wakes up on the alter. The Refusal of the Call is the start to the game where she is scared and just wants to go home. The Meeting with the Mentor is when we free the Queen of Light from her prison in the old church. She Crosses the Threshold is when she flies out the top of the church with her new crown and wings. Test's Allies and Enemies is the story all the way up to the palace of the sun. The approach would be her getting ready to face Umbra and Nox. The Ordeal would be her beating Nox and the Reward, taking the sun from her. however it's here that the heroes journey stops fitting as we back up on ourselves. She gets ready to face umbra, but without the Faux Crown to protect her she gets hurt. This leads to the Resurrection where she is reborn at the alter with a true crown. There we go back to another ordeal as she fights Umbra and frees the land from the darkness. from there we go to the Road Back where she passes back through the magic mirror to the human world. Finally the Return with the Elixir where she saves the humans from her palace in Austria from a flood by pulling them back through with her into the World of Light. This is a good example of how you don't need to follow a narrative structure to the ltter, but it's better to adapt it to your needs. Child of Light also seems to follow the Dramatica Character Model. The Protagonist is obviously Aurora with her binary opposite being Umbra as the Antagonist, a Child of Light vs. a Child of Dark respectively. The Sidekick would be Igniculus the Firefly, constantly cheering Aurora on and giving her encouragement, The Skeptic would probably be Finn the wizard who is quite the opposite and not only doubts Aurora's ability to succeed, but also his own. The Emotional character, I think, would probably be Genovefa (Gen for short) who when we recruit her she is crying over the loss of her parents, and all throughout the game after that we see her showing lots of emotion and character. The reasoner... it's tough to say. I'd probably say Óengus is the reasoner as he can appear to be a rather cold character who is always thinking logically. The guardian was clearly the Queen of Light who was guarding and protecting her since the very beginning. Contagonist was Nox who was only pretending to be her friend but was secretly working for Umbra (Interestingly she doesn't exactly want to hurt Aurora, just convert her to her way of thinking and suck the light out of her). It is good they used this model because it is almost designed to create conflict and story amidst friends and enemies. by having characters Binary Opposites of each other they are almost certain to disagree with each other at times, creating conflict. and conflict = good storytelling.
Speaking of storytelling Child of light has used several techniques to tell the story in an interesting way, mainly through dialogue, cut scenes and little poems called "Confessions" Detailing the little stories in the game. I'll start with the dialogue, there is lots and LOTS of it. Dialogue between your friends as they all get to know eachother a little, dialogue between Aurora and some of the key characters driving the narrative forward or telling what you're supposed to do, loads of it and it has been used really well throughout the game. You get a clear sense of character playing the game like the characters are real people and not just a waveform through a speaker. That being said I think more important than when they have used dialogue to good effect, is when they haven't used dialogue, to good effect. Let me elaborate on that, what I mean is when they held the dialogue back and let the scene tell itself. One scene in particular comes to mind, the scene where we recruit Gen to our party. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UQHaM7WWTlw In this scene no dialogue would be able to say what we wanted to say, there isn't a word in English to portray the right emotions during this shot.
Aurora: "Your parents are dead"
Gen : "Oh no, I am so sad. what should I do?"
Aurora: "Come with us, get revenge"
Gen : "ok"
It just doesn't have the same effect as just leaving it wordless and showing us what is happening like this. This is a very powerful use of Dialogue, simply by not being very dialogue heavy. there is a phrase which we are constantly told in games development "Show, don't tell." This is very VERY important in good story writing because there is no immersion, emotion or feeling in "I am sad" There is just nothing there. it is boring writing and if your entire book is written like that you might as well put it through a shredder and sell the scraps. Instead you should write something that helps the reader envision it to make the player experience it. Something along the lines of "I ran. With tears in my eyes, I ran and ran and ran. too heartbroken to look back." Its things like this that separates good writers from bad ones and it's something this game does amazingly.
To me this seems like your average fairy tale, you could probably compare this to stories like Little Red Riding Hood and Snow White and show great comparisons. However with that comes the curse that it shares the same overall message as them too. good versus evil, good always wins. However although this message may have been told a thousand times before, this goes back to the video I linked at the start, Originality Complex by Nika Harper. "Repeat the good lesson's we've learned, because someone hasn't heard them yet." I hadn't really thought about these messages before now but it's completely true. Every time we see this message in real life, good versus evil, it's all just a matter of perspective as to who is who. To the people in Isis, they are the good guys, to the people they are beheading they are evil. To the Germans in WWII Hitler was a great man, to everyone else he was evil. Now if Germany won WWII we would live in a world he ruled. He would be the good guy for beating the world and spreading his vision to everybody else. If ISIS win then we will most likely all be dead, so who would be alive to call them a bad guy? They will be the good guy in everyone’s eyes. Good always wins, even if they aren't the good guy to begin with. Another good historical example of this would be the romans. They invaded Britain and brought their culture with them, we built on that and call the romans hero's for building us to who we are today and providing a base for us to grow. However to the Celts and Scots who died to their invasion the romans were evil, invading the land and eviscerating their culture. It's a very interesting message with a lot more background than I originally thought about.
So is that really what it is? I think so. I really like this game and think it's a really amazing, heavily inspirational game that I am really glad I got the chance to talk about. I know this analysis is a little short, there are plenty more things I would like to talk about after this, but they are all minor details and tiny extra's that make just make the game feel a little more fleshy and less hollow. And with college looming around the corner I feel I should end it here, I've talked about enough. I feel this game is going to have a huge impact on a lot of my work, both personal projects and my professional paid animation work. and here's to more work this cool.