Despite it’s very weird name, htoL#NiQ: The Firefly Diary is a very quiet and reserved game,Â but this NIS-created puzzle platform builds atmosphere in a great way.
In The Firefly Diary, you play as two firefliesÂ who must guide the amnesia-ridden Mion from the chamber she was found sleeping in to the outside world. During your journey you find out what happened in Mion’s past and how she got to where she was found by Hotaru, the firefly. There is very little text in the game outside of an introduction to the characters. All of the game’s backstory is told through vignettesÂ that are done in a bright pixelated style that clash, in a good way, with the dark, subdued tones of the main game. Â Unfortunately, the vignettes are very short and often require you to activate something by giving something to someone, or selecting an item. They are also hidden as collectibles in each chapter. So to get the full story, you have to spend extra time trying to find each “memory sprout” so there’s more replayability to the game. Â The dark, muted palette of the game’s environment coupled with the minimal sound design make this game brim with atmosphere.
Often times the most audible thing you’ll hear nothing is the hum of Hotaru flying around and Mion’s footsteps as she traverses the maze she must excape.Â The quiet soundtrack will leave its mark on you, not by it’s catchy rhythms, but by the way it frames the sound effects and the levels themselves. The game’s visuals aren’t anything awe-inspiring, but they are fantastic at what they try to accomplish. There isn’t a lot of animation, but the way Mion is animated, there is a certain child-like way she carries herself that often times reminds me of Wayforward’s 2009 game, A Boy and His Blob, another puzzle platformer. Sadly, there is no hug button in htoL#NIQ.
But is the gameplay on par with what the visuals suggest? You, as a player, take control of two fireflies and guide Mion to her destination by way of avoiding deadly obstacles and monsters that are lurking the very shadows that create them. Everything is done with the front and rear touchpad on the Vita, and while you CAN use a Playstation TV, I would highly recommend playing the game on Sony’s portable. With the front touchpad, you control Hotaru, a green firefly and guide Mion. She will move until she’s caught up with the little green firefly. Mion can interact with levers, but Hotaru still needs to select the object to interact with. So you can select something halfway across the screen, and as Mion gets to it, you will have to select the object again to activate it. On the literal flipside,Â the pink firefly’s dominion are the shadows. With her, you can select objects that are beyond the little Mion’s reach. The only limitation to that is it needs to be conencted to her shadow somehow. So while Mion can’t physically reach it, her shadow needs to be able to touch it by proxy.
While simple, the control scheme does have a bit of issues. For example, the pink firefly’s reach is limited by what Mion’s shadow is touching in some capacity. Often times it works fine, but the margin of error to move to a hanging piece of rebar using smoke is very, very high. Often times you’ll have to get out of the “shadow mode” a few times in order to get the environment to do exactly what you need it to do. Luckily time does stop while you are in this mode, so you have time to explore your surroundings. With the green firefly, I had a different set of problems. Hotaru’s controls are on the front of the system, I’ve often found myself unable to see what I’m doing because I’m trying to swipe to the left to get Mion to move and my hand is in the way. So there is a lot of switching hands back and forth. Even between the front and the rear touchpad. You’re handling the system like a hot potato, unable to get a comfortable grip for any length of time. Mion can only take one hit, however, so you need to be careful in what you do. If you mess up, she meets her untimely demise. And to add insult to injury, all of her deaths are gruesome. There won’t be any mangled limbs, but you might get a quick scene of an implied decapitation.
So is the game worth it? It won’t set the world on fire, but the game is a very mellow, subdued adventure that comfortably knowsÂ what it wants to do. It’s a great game to mellow out between intense sessions of other games, and the frequent checkpoints make the game great to play in small bursts.
hotL#NiQ: The Firefly Diary isÂ available on February 24th, 2015 digitally as well as at retail.