Review: htoL#NiQ: The Firefly Diary (PSV)

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Title: htoL#NiQ: The Firefly Diary
Format: PlayStation Network Download (638 MB)
Release Date: February 24, 2015
Publisher: NIS America
Developer: Nippon Ichi
Original MSRP: $19.99
ESRB Rating: T
htoL#NiQ: The Firefly Diary is exclusive to PlayStation Vita.
The PlayStation Vita download version was used for this review.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy

Gameplay:
htoL#NiQ: The Firefly Diary is an atmospheric game set in a bleak and dark world where a little girl named Mion wakes up inside a warehouse or factory of some kind that is filled with many dangerous things. How and why she finds herself in this situation is unknown. The game takes a minimalist approach as it features little to no text and doesn’t give much direction outside of basic controls in the very beginning. Presenting the game like this goes a long way in terms of setting up the dark and lonely world as you traverse through the trial and error puzzles that fill it.

Mion is guided by two fireflies: one that works in the light and one that works in the dark. The one that works in the light is called Lumen and is tasked with helping Mion move through the levels because she only moves where Lumen moves. The other firefly is named Umbra and this one works only in the shadows. Obstacles are overcome by moving Mion strategically through the level while avoiding various monsters and traps that rely on timing or placing objects in specific places.

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Umbra comes into play when something needs to be used but it is unreachable for Mion or Lumen. Umbra is able to move from shadow to shadow to reach it. This element involves manipulating angles and light sources to get shadows to line up perfectly and allow the firefly to travel to its destination. On paper the mechanics are simple, but some issues can get in the way of fully enjoying your time.

htoL#NiQ’s default controls are touch based with Lumen being controlled by the front touchscreen and Umbra the back. Alternatively there is an option to switch to using the analog sticks to control the fireflies. Unfortunately neither control scheme made for an optimal experience. The touch controls just never felt fluid enough, making many timing based actions more challenging than they should have been.

… whichever phrase best fits dying hundreds of times …

While more precise actions made me long for something like a stylus as mashing my fingers on the screen just got in the way of what I was trying to accomplish since my fingers felt too big for subtle movements or covered too much of the screen. The analog stick controls helped some with my issues, but still never felt quite right. That could be because the game was geared towards touch controls but in either case I found myself getting stuck in areas and alternating between the two control schemes to get by, which is not the ideal way of playing any game.

Despite my issues with the controls I absolutely loved the game’s dark and scary world and that is what prompted me to move forward in the game. The challenges that came up were difficult… like really difficult. The game’s approach is trial and error or live and learn or whichever phrase best fits dying hundreds of times. Most screens or levels feature many aspects or pieces to get by before moving on and most of these pieces are best solved by finding out how they will kill you. But each time you die you end up back at the start of that section. So my approach to a section would be to get to point A and die at point A then pass point A only to die at point B then pass point A and B and then die at point C and so on and so forth.

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The large amount of deaths are inevitable and appear to be how the game was built. There is even a trophy for dying a hundred times which I unlocked halfway through the second chapter of the game. This tough as nails approach is both aggravating and exhilarating as it makes getting through a section feel like a mighty accomplishment. With that said, my previous comments on the controls do impact the game as it makes many of the deaths feel cheap with the lack of precise controls interfering enough to hurt the overall experience.

Visuals:
The visual style of htoL#NiQ: The Firefly Diary is the game’s strongest aspect as it is very eye catching with a somewhat minimalist style. The art style pops with its cutesy characters being trapped in a dire environment. The screen relies on a vintage looking filter that flickers and has black borders like one would see in an old-timey film strip and it really adds to tone of the game. The game has a fair share of dark imagery and without going into spoiler territory I’ll just say there are moments where the images on the screen are jaw dropping and help build a dark and mysterious world.

… controls definitely get in the way from time to time …

Audio:
The game’s audio design follows suit with the art style and fits into the minimalist genre. The sound builds the atmosphere with clanks and crashes of machinery in the background, no spoken words included at all, and with very little music. It all works out for the game in the end because it fits so well with the world it’s set in and it’s hard to imagine any other direction for the sound design to take.

Online/Multiplayer:
This game is single player only.

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Conclusion:
Tough. This game is absolutely tough and very unforgiving. But in the end that is what the game’s designers were probably aiming for and if that is the case then they accomplished that. The controls definitely get in the way from time to time and that is unfortunate because if they were tighter this game would have a lot more going for it.

htoL#NiQ is brutal and the game took me to polar opposites of emotions as I went from wanting to spike my Vita out of frustration to spiking my Vita in celebration when the game was at its most challenging. Death will happen many many times in this game (and it is meant to be that way) so this is not for those without patience.

Score:
7.0

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Vita’s built in screen capture feature.

Written by Michael Cwick

Michael Cwick

Just a nerd from the Windy City. I’m actually really bad at describing myself because I get all self-critical and self-conscious. Follow me on Twitter, @The1stMJC, to see my borderline insane rants on tv shows and other non important subjects. If I’m not tweeting I’m probably just watching Buffy or Firefly for the millionth time.

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  • Ramen_4_Life

    Just got my copy in the mail today, and will start on it later on. What you said about the controls is a little worrisome, but everything else seems as good as i expected. Thanks for the review!

    • MJC

      Yeah, the controls can frustrate a little, but once you find the control scheme that fits your play-style the game is more enjoyable. I just ended up using two control schemes though pending on what a level asked of me because they both have their strengths and weaknesses.

  • Sarah

    The animation is beautiful, but it looks just as frustrating as dark souls–dying multiple times before figuring out the puzzle/enemy. In other words–fun!! I might get this one.