htoL#NiQ: The Firefly Diary
htoL#NiQ: The Firefly Diary is a dark, adventure/puzzle game from Developer Nippon Ichi Software. As the fireflies Lumen and Umbra, you will have to guide your charge, Mion, through a series of obstacle-and-enemy-laden environments in order to reach your goal. You may just discover some truths about Mion's past along the way..
February 24, 2015
Publisher: Nippon Ichi Software
Platform: PlayStation Vita
Price: $14.99 (PSN only)
Release Date: February 24, 2015
htoL#NiQ: The Firefly Diary (henceforth referred to as Firefly Diary) is a dark, adventure/puzzle game from Developer Nippon Ichi Software. As the fireflies, Lumen and Umbra, you must guide your charge, Mion, through a series of obstacle-and-enemy-laden environments in order to reach your goal. You may just discover some truths about Mion’s past along the way…
Firefly Diary is quite mysterious; in fact, if you want any backstory, a trip to the official website is highly recommended.
On December 31, 9999, the firefly Lumen appears to a young girl by the name of Mion. With no memory of who she is or why she is at the bottom of a scrap pit, Mion begins to follow Lumen through the maze. Shortly thereafter, another firefly by the name of Umbra joins the pair. While Lumen guides Mion through the maze, Umbra travels in the shadows, triggering switches and interacting with the environment in general.
Most of the story is told through Memory Fragments—small, pink, glowing plants that, when touched, transport the player into scenes concerning Mion’s past. Much like the main game, there is no dialogue to speak of, so the player must piece together the details of the story based on visual cues alone. While certain details of the story may be up for interpretation, one thing is certain: the story is dark, creepy, and definitely not for children.
The mystery of the story is one of the biggest reasons to keep playing the game. These Memory Fragments, though important, are not typically easy to find. This means that you could play through the whole game and miss the vast majority of them. While the Memory Fragments do shed light on the origins of some of the things you encounter throughout your journey, they offer little explanation as to why the world has become the way it is, or why the strange shadow monsters want to kill Mion; however, the Memory Fragments do offer a glimpse into Mion’s past, and can at least create theories in the players’ minds as to what happened.
While searching out the Memory Fragments may not be necessary for the basic progression of the game, it is necessary in order to access the game’s true ending. Whether or not you track them all down depends on how much of the story you want to know, and, even still, the “true” ending leaves a bit of room for interpretation. One thing is for certain, though: everything you experience seems to tie back to Mion’s past in some way, and it makes for a haunting, creepy tale that is played out without a word ever being spoken.
Spiritual Content: You do “battle” with shadow monsters throughout the game, whose true natures are never exposed. Whether these are meant to be demonic or just simple “monsters” is up to player’s interpretation. There is a strong possibility that you play as a spirit during many of the memory fragments, though, and the “true ending” certainly seems to suggest a struggle between two spirits.
Violence: There are many ways that Mion can die in this game. Being squashed by giant piston-like devices, sliced by blades, murdered by shadow monsters, caught in flames, drowned, and impaled are some of the methods by which Mion can meet her end. Thankfully, none of these are graphic deaths. Whether Mion is killed by something falling on her head or by a sharp root shooting out of the ground, she simply falls to the ground. The player can also dole out some violence as well by crushing enemies, blowing them up, catching them on saws, etc. Later in the game, during the third stage, there are bodies shown hanging from sharp branches; you can then feed these bodies to man-eating plants.
Blood/Gore: While there isn’t gore involved in Mion’s death, the screen will show splatters of blood whenever Mion does die. There are pointy roots with blood on their tips during certain levels, and a lot of the Memory Fragments show blood on the floor (and on the bed in one scene).
Language: None—there is no dialogue whatsoever.
Sexual Content: None
Drug/Alcohol Use: None
Other Negative Content: Based on the Memory Fragments, Mion’s parents seem to get involved in trying to create a clone.
Positive Content: Other than a scene of redemption/reconciliation in the true ending, there isn’t much that could be called “positive” within the game.
Firefly Diary’s gameplay employs both of the PS Vita’s touchscreen. By using the front screen, you use Lumen to guide Mion through obstacles and puzzles. The back touchscreen is used to control Umbra, who travels through the shadows in order to manipulate switches, cut vines and ropes, and interact with other objects in order to travel through the world. At times, the player has to navigate between the normal world and the shadow world in quick succession or else face failure. Unfortunately, the controls serve to bring the game down. While the game makes full use of both the Vita’s touchscreens, the front touchscreen requires much more precision, making it frustrating at times. While basic navigation is not a challenge, areas that require fine-tuned movements can become very frustrating and tricky.
In particular, there are two segments where the controls can really frustrate the player. These are sections 2-3 and 4-3, respectively, which require you to navigate Lumen through very tight mazes–mazes that will kill Lumen instantly if he touches the sides. This is where things get very frustrating, because Lumen is considerably smaller than the tip of the average person’s finger, meaning that the player cannot actually see him while navigating him through these corridors. There is an option to switch the controls to the joystick, but even then it doesn’t make the situation much easier, as the joystick feels too sensitive. Add that to the fact that some spots seem to allow for a larger margin of error, while others will kill you if Lumen barely touches the walls, and you have an extremely frustrating game. It is also worth mentioning that Mion moves extremely slowly. No matter how fast or far you move Lumen, Mion will continue at her same, leisurely pace, which makes for slow level progression.
It’s not just the controls that hurt the game, though. The whole experience becomes frustrating and stressful after awhile. There are many puzzles within the game that you will not solve the first, third, fifth, or even tenth time that you attempt them. Other puzzles require you to switch to shadow mode at just the right time, or else face the music and start that section over again; once you switch out of shadow mode, there is a delay before you can flip back again. In other words, the game feels like it is hard for the sake of being hard. There is little guidance given to the player, outside of the (brief) tutorial at the beginning of the game. The boss fights, for example, require the player to figure out how to do away with each boss, and each boss is unique. Thankfully, it’s fairly easy to figure out what you’re supposed to do—the challenge is in doing it. The exception is the fourth boss battle, which seems to toss out any semblance of skill in favor of luck. At least the game auto-saves after you finish each puzzle within each level, so you don’t have to start at the very beginning of the level each time you die.
If there’s one positive thing that can be said about Firefly Diary’s gameplay, it’s that it challenges the player to come back. As frustrating and angering as the experience can be, it also makes the player want to get through that section (although that may be just so they don’t ever have to see that section of the game again).
This is one of the areas that Firefly Diary shines. The artwork is very beautiful, almost like something out of a storybook. If you’ve ever played Valkyria Chronicles, imagine that style of art and you’ll have a good idea of what Firefly Diary looks like. The music, though not very diverse, also does a good job of setting the creepy atmosphere of the game. In the few areas where the game is not literally being creepy, the music also changes appropriately to match.
Although a beautiful game in terms of its visual and audio presentation, as well as its dark and intriguing story, Firefly Diary suffers from frustrating gameplay and controls that don’t offer the type of versatility needed to navigate the trickier portions of the game in a timely manner. While this game will inevitably find fans among those who prefer an extreme level of difficulty, more casual players will likely be turned off. If you’re up for the challenge—or just looking for a game for your poor, underused Vita—then Firefly Diary is a cheap option, and one worth checking out, if only for its story.
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+ Intriguing story
+ Beautiful artwork
+ Atmospheric music
- Extreme difficulty
- Lack of player guidance