I was keeping an eye out for the release of htoL#NiQ: The Firefly Diary despite how little I knew about its subject matter. The gameplay footage that existed at the time looked interesting, even if the title tells you nothing about what to expect other than it’s possible to market a game with a name that makes no logical sense. But hey, Square Enix makes a lot of games with even less sensible names and I like a lot of those just fine, so who am I to judge? After some time spent with it though, I found that the naming convention was the least frustrating thing about the game.
The Firefly Diary seems like Nippon Ichi’s attempt at mimicking the success of stylized indie games like Limbo that have an appealing visual presentation and a premise that is whatever you choose to take away from it. This particular title revolves around a young girl named Mion who appears as though she’d just awakened from falling out of a tree on account of what appear to be tree branches (or antlers?) coming out of her head. She is guided forward with the help of two fireflies, Lumen and Umbra, as she makes her way out of the desolate ruins she finds herself in. This is about all you have to work with in the very beginning, though you pick up bits and pieces as you trek on.
As you learn from the game’s early tutorial, the controls are very simple. The touchscreen guides Lumen around the screen which in turn directs Mion where to go. If Lumen is to her right, she’ll move right. If she’s up above, she’ll climb up (assuming there’s something to climb). Using the back touchpad causes the world to go dark which is where Umbra comes into play. Umbra can navigate anywhere there is a shadow in order to trip switches, knock out enemies or capitalize on weaknesses in structures. It’s with these few tools that you must navigate a series of puzzles, each one more dangerous than the last.
If that were all there was to the game, I would declare it an inoffensive romp through a series of challenges that both looks and sounds pretty great and move on with my day. Unfortunately, htoL#NiQ (man that is annoying to type) fails to deliver on the basics, instead becoming an exercise in realizing why we need such a thing as anger management. First and foremost, the digital manual claims that the fireflies can be controlled with the analog sticks and face buttons, but the screen to configure this doesn’t exist in the version of the game I played. I’m not sure if there’s an update forthcoming that adds this or if this was purely by mistake, but it’s a major oversight. Not because I have a problem with touchscreen only games, mind you (I don’t). But if you’re going to do them, they need to function properly.
To put it bluntly, the touchscreen controls in htoL#NiQ are awful. The front screen is fine to an extent, though Lumen is slow and it takes he/she awhile to get to where you’re pressing down. And Mion is constantly moving towards wherever Lumen is, even if it sends her careening off the edge of a cliff. If you want Mion to stop, you have to have Lumen practically on top of her or you can make her sit down. But since her reaction time is so slow, if you’re trying to navigate a puzzle that involves hazards like saw blades, you don’t want her sitting down for long. The biggest problem is getting Umbra to trigger, which involves touching the back touchpad on the Vita. There are instances where you need to make this transition fast because you need shadows to line up perfectly to get him/her to go where you want and if I have to hammer on it multiple times to get it to work, that is a problem. Then, when I do get it to activate, sometimes the system thinks I mean to send Umbra into the far corner of the screen when I haven’t even touched that area yet. This problem doesn’t exist with other Vita games, so I know it’s not just my system at fault.
Even without the control problems, the puzzles weren’t all that enjoyable. Rather, many of the solutions were obtuse, with many found after repeat deaths at the hands of whatever boss or series of obstacles you happen to be facing down. Some of the game’s physics were downright bizarre too, with at least one instance where knocking down boxes would cause them to home in on Mion’s head rather than just fall down like gravity would normally dictate.
At least the presentation has held up from the trailers. I love the simplistic, yet colorful world of The Firefly Diary, right down to its animation frames. The way Lumen could bend the shadows depending on his/her position was also a nice treat for the eyes. Spoken dialogue is non-existent, the sound effects are serviceable and the soundtrack is fitting for such a serene outing. Well, serene when you’re not cursing at it, anyway.
After completing a stage, you can go back to it at any time in order to earn trophies or find Memory Fragments. These fragments are significant in that they shed some light on Mion’s origins and are presented from a pixelated overhead perspective, which is rather neat. Once unlocked, they can be viewed again at any time from the main menu. Short of this, there isn’t much reason to come back to the game after you complete it, assuming you can. While control mishaps make up a huge part of it, the game is still challenging in its own right and you have to rely on split second decision making and a little luck to make even an ounce of progress. At least it autosaves frequently.
I really wanted to like htoL#NiQ: The Firefly Diary. The Vita is home to a great number of niche game titles and this looked as though it would take its place right beside them. Sadly, while the unforgiving difficulty would’ve been enough of a barrier to entry on its own, throw in an atrocious touchscreen only control scheme, and you’ve got a complete mess of a title that only has the novelty of its visual presentation to fall back on. I love Nippon Ichi’s titles, but this is one I’d definitely have to say pass.
Short Attention Span Summary
ntoL#NiQ: The Firefly Diary at first glance seems like Nippon Ichi’s first attempt at a lower budget indie style puzzle platformer with charming visual appeal. Look past the cutesy presentation, however, and you’ll find a rage inducing control scheme that complements puzzles that by themselves are already quite frustrating. You will spend a great deal of time dying to figure out many of the solutions, such that the game rewards you with trophies after a certain number of deaths. There are some novel ideas here, but there is far too much wrong with this package to recommend pursuing them.