If you had told me about htoL#NiQ: The Firefly Diary a year ago, I would have been completely onboard. NIS America-published platformer with a cute handdrawn motif to match? I’m in. Now, after getting my hands dirty with quite a few levels, I’ve started to see why this game received a CERO D (17+) rating in Japan. Does htoL#NiQ: The Firefly Diary have the substance to match its style, or is this just another death for Mion?
htoL#NiQ: The Firefly Diary (literally pronounced Hotaru no Nikki, diary of the firefly) is the story of a small antlered-girl by the name of Mion left by her lonesome save for a pair of fireflies, Lumen and Umbra, in a world left behind by time. As a girl that only has just awoken from a lengthy sleep/coma, it’s only natural for her to suffer from a bout of amnesia, right?
The world in htoL#NiQ is rife with the conventions of modern life, if left unattended for years. Machines and assembly lines continue to operate in eternity, trash and junk piles up with no one to attend to the mess, and less sturdy fixtures such as sewer lines rust and break apart all posing their own sort of hazards. Its in these hazards that Mion has to escape from, with both her wits and body parts intact. Scattered throughout most levels are Trace Memories, little sprouting plants that give a little more insight into Mion’s life before she was left by her lonesome. Finding these typically involve out of the way challenges but reward the player with cute little isometric flashbacks about her life with her parents and what lead her to growing those antlers/branches out of her head.
If you stripped htoL#NiQ: The Firefly Diary down to its most basic element of genre, it would be described as a platformer. That’s using the term quite loosely, as the heroine of the story offers no physical prowess of her own, save for overly exaggerated facial expressions. Mion doesn’t jump nor can she even lift. Instead, her abilities are reduced to three basic tenets: jogging at a leisurely pace, adjusting switches, and pushing crates to and fro. Instead, her firefly companions do much of the heavy lifting, so to speak.
Both Lumen and Umbra offer their own abilities to guide Mion out safely. Lumen acts as the primary way to control Mion, as you don’t handle her movement directly. Moving Lumen to a particular side of the screen will in turn make Mion follow. Hover Lumen over a movable object or switch and Mion will act accordingly. Umbra plays a bit differently, instead moving through the shadows of whatever is on screen and interacting with the background. HtoL#NiQ makes creative use of lighting to weave shadows together, giving Umbra a usable space to fly about as she’s confined to only move through the darkness.
Where htoL#NiQ fails to find its footing is with the controls. Traditionally, the method to control the pair of fireflies is purely touch screen driven, each firefly being controlled by either the front or back accordingly. Multiple other control types exist, including one that relegates control to the dual analog sticks (for use on the PlayStation TV) which I found to be more intuitive and easy to use, especially during maze-like segments where touching an obstacle means certain death. However, even with whichever control scheme you’ll find to be comfortable, there’s still a slight disconnect between moving a firefly and Mion reacting to it. Couple that with a slow startup between her seeing a firefly and reacting to it (such as chasing after it) leads to a poor responsiveness that quickly leads to frustration
Many a time, I’ve watched Mion gaze on blankly as I tried to signal her to push a box before some trap from overhead with no response. In fact, just about anything that involves a box seems to be the biggest complaint that I have with trying to control Mion. She seems to have a magnetic attraction to crates, never wanting to let them go after pushing them to their destination or randomly climbing on top even in the face of danger. If you have a high tolerance for repeating the same task only to have the character die in spectacular ways, you’ll find some joy in htoL#NiQ‘s quirks.
As morbid as it sounds, part of what makes htoL#NiQ so unique are the various ways to meet your end. Just about any moving object poses a mortal threat to Mion (and even some stationary platforms, such as ones that give way as soon as pressure is applied). While not truly gruesome, there’s a dark charm to experimenting and seeing what can take her life, as restarting your progress is only a short checkpoint away.
htoL#NiQ: The Firefly Diary truly has some beautiful visuals that help take the edge off how morbid the world is. As a puzzle/platformer without any real jumping, navigation is the biggest challenge. If you can handle a little frustration with getting your character to do the most basic of tasks, such as not die, you’ll find enjoyment in this next pocket release from NIS America.