htoL#NiQ: The Firefly Diary Review—Burned Out

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htoL#NiQ: The Firefly Diary is a side-scrolling puzzle game, developed and published by NIS America for the Playstation Vita. In it, you play as a young girl named Mion, who wakes up in a strange, desolate world, guided only by a glowing firefly. You shift between the light and dark world, in order to solve different problems the game throws at you. It’s definitely nice to see Nippon Ichi Software striving to put out new, fresh IPs lately, and it appears the company is trying to make this a more common occurrence. Sadly, their risk wasn’t rewarded with this effort—htoL#NiQ is a brilliant concept with incredibly flawed execution.

The story is told completely without words. The occasional flashbacks resulting from finding scattered fragments of Mion’s memory are the only clues that tell you what is happening in the game. This could easily have been handled poorly, but it works incredibly well for htoL#NiQ. The tale spun by the flashbacks and things you encounter in the world as you explore has a wonderful buildup. It’s also a surprisingly dark game, shocking a bit with some of the avenues the story goes down.

Much like the compelling story, the visuals of this title are quite appealing. The whole game has a brilliant art style, which effortlessly creates a dark, moody atmosphere. Environments are lovingly crafted, having an attractive, cross-hatched style to them. During flashbacks, the style shifts considerably, which is jarring, but in a good way. The only complaint to level at the graphics would be that Mion’s animations could have been a bit more fluid, but that’s simply a nitpick.

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The sound design isn’t anything remarkable, and it’s unlikely you’ll remember any of the tracks that play during the game, but they work. Sound effects are nice enough, and audio cues accompany actions in the game as they should. It’s serviceable, but not anything particularly memorable.

That all sounds wonderfully positive thus far, so what’s bad about htoL#NiQ? Well, to be frank, the gameplay is dreadful. The puzzles aren’t particularly difficult, save for a few. What is frustrating about them is the trial-and-error aspect. There are times in the game where you will die for no good reason at all, in ways you couldn’t possibly have foreseen. Other times, there will be a snap decision you have to make, and you’ll have to die repeatedly until you get it right.

The worst part of the quick decisions you’re expected to make is the game’s incredibly wonky control scheme. The best advice I can give is to turn off the touch controls immediately, and switch to using the analog sticks. It’s still bad, but not unplayably so. What makes the controls so frustrating is the firefly that is used to control the protagonist. Mion follows it around, which leads to a few seconds of delay on whatever task you were trying to accomplish. This is infuriating, especially when the game expects you to quickly perform several tasks in rapid succession.

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To make matters worse, Mion walks at an absolute snail’s pace. Her walking speed is one of my biggest complaints about htoL#NiQ;  it may sound like an exaggeration, but it’s not. You’ll enter an area, look around, and see exactly what needs to be done. However, Mion is perfectly content to drag her feet, causing even the most exciting bits of the gameplay to feel tedious and drawn-out. I swear, her sluggish gait adds hours onto this game’s total playtime. It’s that bad.

It is aggravating to be given such an unreliable control scheme, and then be expected to execute precisely timed actions. There’s really nothing to be said of htoL#NiQ‘s gameplay that is positive. Even the light/dark system has been done before in other games. So you have tedious, trial-and-error difficulty, terribly imprecise and unreliable controls, and a main character who walks so slowly, you’d think her legs were made of lead. I tried to suspend my initial displeasure with the controls and attempted to get used to them, but I failed miserably.

I’m upset that I have to hate on this game so much. It had a lot of promise, with a uniquely told story, and great art direction. Sadly, the controls are so mind-bogglingly bad that I can’t recommend htoL#NiQ in good conscience. I think most of its problems could have been remedied simply by making the player assume direct control of the protagonist, instead of having her be lead around by a firefly; make her walk a bit faster, too, and you have yourself a halfway-decent game. Unfortunately, that’s not the way things turned out. htoL#NiQ: The Firefly Diary is a title that’s full of promise, but ultimately destroyed by bad game design.

htoL#NiQ: The Firefly Diary was reviewed using a code provided by NIS America. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here.

The Verdict: 4.5

The Good:

  • Well-crafted visuals, in every sense
  • Great story, told without use of dialogue
  • An honest attempt at trying something new

The Bad:

  • Absolutely awful controls
  • Protagonist walks like a sloth
  • Artificial difficulty via unfair deaths
  • It’s not obvious you can change the control scheme, which might lead to some people thinking they’re stuck with touch controls
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