htoL#NiQ: The Firefly Diary is the latest puzzle platformer developed by Nippon Ichi Software for the Playstation Vita. Though the name may raise some eyebrows, the game features beautiful artwork with its 2D visuals and post-apocalyptic world. Directed by Masayuki Furuya, The Firefly Diary known otherwise as “Hotaru no Nikki” shows much promise with its shadow and light themes that earned it a CERO D, 17+ rating in Japan for its depiction of suffering and death.
The story tells the tale of Mion, a young girl with amnesia who awakens in a dark and desolate world. Guided by a green firefly named Lumen, she is lead on a distant journey through the underground ruins as she fights to escape her imprisonment. Along the way, she encounters evil creatures, grisly corpses and eccentric machinery as she struggles to survive and regain her memories. She is also assisted by Umbra, a purple firefly travelling in the shadows that provides a different perspective but always returns to Mion’s side. Lumen and Umbra are polar opposites with respect to light and darkness but the two fireflies are essential to solving simple and complex puzzles. While Lumen guides and directs Mion, Umbra stays within her shadow and is confined to the darkness around her. Mion relies on the fireflies for everything as she will not move or act on her own without instruction.
The fireflies, Lumen and Umbra, are moved using the front and rear touchpad of the Vita handheld. As this game was reviewed with the Playstation TV system, the controls are not as smooth or intuitive as you are forced to move the fireflies using the analog sticks on the Dualshock controller. Different perspectives are obtained by freely switching between Lumen and Umbra to solve puzzles and acquire items. When Mion interacts with a select item, the game will revert to a flashback of past events which will further unlock her memories upon successful completion. With Lumen guiding her path, Mion can push boxes, climb ladders and ledges and push switches to overcome obstacles and challenges. The danger lies in perilous situations and enemy encounters that will put your wits and reflexes to the test as Mion will slip and die on numerous occasions. By tapping Mion, you can make her sit or stand in relative safety as you use your logic and intuition to solve complex puzzles. Trial and error is prevalent in this game as Mion will either die or not respond accurately to your commands.
Mion is a cute and naïve girl trapped in a world of dangerous ruins. The game quickly grows eerie and sinister with a variety of monsters, puzzles and death traps awaiting her. Even when she is pursued by monsters, Mion is not able to run forcing you to endure her slow and leisurely pace of movement. This especially gets frustrating in the latter half of the game as puzzles get more difficult with select areas of the game demanding near perfect timing and precision. She also has a tendency to pause between actions as you do everything in your power to protect her from harm. There is no health bar as any slips, falls or contact with monsters results in instant death and an automatic repeat of the puzzle or encounter. The aesthetic of the game is reminiscent of games like Ico with its visual charm and minimalistic design as you seek to find answers to who Mion really is and how she came to be trapped in her predicament. Most of the challenge lies not in solving the in-game puzzles and obstacles but in the execution of getting Mion from Point A to Point B. Regrettably, the touch controls are quirky and awkward to use making it much easier to use the D-pad for those who own a Vita to play the game.
Visually, the game is striking as the dark atmosphere lures you into its world of wonder and intrigue. Despite the company of the two fireflies, you are motivated to persevere through the game’s daunting challenges to lead Mion to safety and to obtain as many memory fragments to piece together her identity as well as her history. The soundtrack is fitting and appropriate for the game as you feel the ambiance of the game with its written text and subtle sound effects. Neither Mion nor the fireflies, Lumen and Umbra, speak audibly at all which is a wise decision made by the developers.
htoL#NiQ: The Firefly Diary is a challenging game that falls short of its potential. With its ethereal world and ominous atmosphere, it’s a game I wanted to enjoy more despite the clumsy controls and punishing difficulty. Although it is short in length, the game requires much patience and persistence that is not for the faint of heart. The urge to replay the game is hindered as the Firefly Diary was truly a bittersweet experience that left you with mixed feelings and a disappointing aftertaste.
PROS – Beautiful Artwork, Engaging Puzzles, Mysterious Plot
CONS – Poor Control Mechanics
SCORE – 70%
This review is based on a digital copy of htoL#NiQ: The Firefly Diary for the Playstation Vita provided by NIS America. The game was reviewed using the Playstation TV unit.