Review: htoL#NiQ: The Firefly Diary – No Light in the Dark
htoL#NiQ (pronounced Hotaru no Nikki) is a unique puzzle game exclusive to the PS Vita. Players guide a confused girl named Mion through a variety of stages using her two fairies of light and darkness.
The concept is certainly fresh and it implants some unique moments into the game, but these were not nearly enough to save The Firefly Diary from being far more irritating than it was enjoyable.
The game’s story is slow starting, threadbare, piecemeal and any other variation of that meaning. As you solve the puzzles and work your way slowly through the stage, you reach small plants which introduce brief scenes lacking dialogue or subtitles.
These honestly never started making since to me, but the pixelated visual style contrasted nicely from the crisp 2D visuals of the main game.
After several hours of playing, if you asked me what The Firefly Diary was about, my best guess would be about a girl who suffered some number of surgeries or was an experiment of sorts. This general lack of clarity permeates the entire game, not just the narrative.
Overall, the visuals are really nothing remarkable or all that interesting. It has a clean 2D look, but also one that could be called plain and unimaginative. The industrial, ruined environments look dingy and depressing, the enemy designs are simplistic and there just doesn’t seem to be much to look at.
It looks almost like some free browser flash game compared to other titles on the same platform, such as Blazblue or Sine Mora. Just look at Mion. Although the art style is nice, her design is ultimately relatively plain or boring. That’s about how the game looks in general.
The cripplingly slow gameplay of htoL#NiQ is done a huge disservice by the controls. The touch controls are not mandatory but are default and changing them doesn’t affect the game-play as much as one would hope. You do not control Mion herself but rather you guide her by directly controlling the fairies.
Wherever you direct the light fairy, Mion will follow. By touching the back screen or hitting the assigned button you enter the world of shadows per se and guide the dark fairy to interact with various objects and mechanisms.
While the concept of the light and dark fairies is neat, the wonky controls mar the execution something fierce. This because it is difficult to navigate the back touch screen and the controls in general can be shockingly unresponsive, even when you change to a control scheme that doesn’t require the touch screens.
Many points in the game require fast, precise movements which feel at times impossible to accomplish thanks to the game flat out ignoring a certain tap, button press or swipe.
When you enter the shadow world and return to the regular world, there is a delay before Mion can act. This too holds the game down because it breaks up the smoothness of play and it guarantees that you won’t be able to quickly make some stunning escape.
The game demands this extremely slow pace of play. Everything Mion does, from walking across a room to interacting with an object, feels like it takes a lifetime. The point here clearly seems to be that the player needs to play in a slow and calculating way but the sloppiness of the controls is what drives this home, not by any purposeful design controls.
In certain light the shadow enemies cannot be seen outside of the shadow world, which creates moments where you’ll have to memorize enemy locations and avoid them thanks to the lack of visibility. That seems pretty cheap to me.
Mion is also quite fragile and will die from touching an enemy, coming into contact with water, falling five feet or more, etc. This leads to hundreds of deaths throughout the course of the game, which I can handle.
What’s unfortunate though is that unlike in the Dark Souls games, each death does not teach you anything more about the task at hand. Dying because my fairy was eclipsed by my finger when it came too close to a wall doesn’t really teach me anything save to avoid touch controls where there are other options available, should I ever find myself in the game developer’s seat.
Also, unlike the Souls series, the difficulty in this game doesn’t feel nuanced or meaningful — just plain cheap. You’re unlikely to fall for the same thing twice if you can just convince the controls of which way you want to go.
On the positive, mechanics are used in some interesting ways and there is a bit of variety thanks to a confusion mushroom and parasol added to mix things up later in the game.
The cheap feeling of having to fight the game to progress keeps any feelings of satisfaction at bay, however. When I cleared a stage, I didn’t feel like I had accomplished much; it simply wasn’t very rewarding. I just wanted to stop playing.
The game lacks the moments of brilliance that make Portal and the Layton titles genre favorites. The music is quiet, ambient and ultimately as mundane as the rest of the game. The lack of voice acting and loud sounds contribute to an eery, ominous vibe in the game, but this failed to make an impression on me. It just really contributed to the boredom I felt as I proceeded ever so slowly.
The trial and error puzzles and bosses are not really difficult to figure out, but getting the painfully slow Mion to do just what you want her to is far more of a challenge.
Not everyone has the patience to try and clear the same 30-second segment of gameplay three dozen times, and I don’t think even anyone who does would refer to such an experience as fun specifically.
PS Vita exclusives are exactly what we need more of but if the best you can do is borderline broken controls, decent at best production and gameplay slow and cheap enough to make a nun shout swears, then maybe you’d better return to the drawing board.
The game is so grating, so irritating, so very far from fun at times that the few moments of genuine enjoyment I elicited from it are difficult to remember.
Get htoL#NiQ only if it screams “must have” to you, otherwise I assure you there are better games in the Vita’s relatively modest library that deserve your attention and money.