One has to begin by pondering where this game got its name. htoL#NiQ is not an error in code. In reality the name is Hotaru No Nikki, and this is just strange stylising.
That’s sort of the running theme of this game. htoL#NiQ is a game of style. A dark, brooding experience which still leaves me in a strange place of unsure whether I enjoyed it or not. Regardless the game tells a story in a minimalist fashion whilst also being a surprisingly difficult ordeal to boot.
The year in this game is 9999 on December 31st. You play as two fireflies, Lumen and Umbra, helping the young girl Mion escape the literal pit she is in and see the outside world. This is done through puzzle-platforming, moving the fireflies around to guide Mion across a variety of puzzles and areas.
You’ll notice first that the game is largely empty of traditional elements such as a HUD and a story. Apart from a very basic set of instructions at the beginning of the game there is no guidance. The game is strangely devoid of any location indicators such as signs. This is a mysterious broken world rendered akin to a vintage projector, with the only out of place object being the fireflies. This art style then totally disappears during the memory sequences dotted throughout the game, being shown in a much more colour rich isometric style.
You primary method of moving Mion is through Lumen and Umbra. Mion will move where Lumen moves whenever possible, sometimes straight to her own death, but this holds the basic puzzle work of the game. Umbra assists this by moving between the linked shadows of objects and is capable of starting machinery, cutting wires and even dropping the ceiling down on enemies.
While this all seems simple enough the learning curve is quick and soon htoL#NiQ delights in making you go through some truly sadistic puzzles to reach your goal. Don’t take this as a bad thing. There has been this resurgence of late of games trying to emulate the toughness of Dark Souls, whether by the tactical nature of Dark Souls or simple player crippling to add difficulty. But htoL#NiQ deals in pure trial-and-error. You will fail. A lot of times. This is not a bad thing.
This would be a little more acceptable if the controls felt a little faster. Mion’s top speed is leisurely stroll and moving the firefly’s feels slightly sluggish with the mouse especially as Umbra. With some points in the game where your reactions are key failure is plentiful and personally my patience does not last long enough for these portions.
htoL#NiQ is hard to pin to a specific style of experience. The story is reminiscent of story-thin games such as Journey, giving you story when you want it and seek it. The art style is relatively unique and works well with the old dishevelled look of the world. The gameplay is simple puzzle-platforming though the fireflies add another unique element to this game.
In total this game is a simple pleasurable experience with a tooth-grinding amount of luck involved. That isn’t a bad thing by any means, this simply limits the audience. This game did have a PS VITA release though that seemed to have just passed by without any attention. Don’t let the fact this is a port put you off this game though. I can pen this down as one of the more interesting experiences of my year so far and as a hearty 7/10 game.