Graphics have always been a hot topic in gaming, and it becomes more and more debated each time a new generation comes about. Developers are investing huge amounts of money to create engines which are as realistic as it gets, which may result in the elimination of smaller studios from the competition due to their lack of capital to spend on such engines. This handicap is defeated through the use of alternate graphic styles, such as Borderlands’ famed comic book graphics, Telltale’s signature visual novel style or other similar styles, which do not focus on realism as such but still convey beauty in their own way. htoL#NiQ: The Firefly Diary is one of these games which by using its own graphic style manages to create a world of beauty without the need of realism or authenticity,
Hotaru no Nikki, awkwardly renamed htoL#NiQ for the English version of the game, is quite a pretty platformer released on the PlayStation Vita. It is a game which resembles very much Limbo in the way that you guide your character towards his objective, and also in the gruesome deaths which this poor character will inevitably suffer, at the expense of learning the surroundings. The game features a little girl about whom we know nothing before the game starts, apart from her name, Mion, and that she’s followed around by Lumen, a little green firefly, and Umbra, another entity which only appears in the shadow world. The game makes use of the Vita’s two touchscreens for its main gameplay mechanic, using the front screen to move Lumen, which in turn makes Mion move to wherever the firefly is, and the rear screen to control Umbra, after tapping it once to enter the shadow world. When in the shadow world, Mion does not move, and to move Umbra one needs to drag along the rear touchscreen along shadows produced in the real world. This could be a little difficult due to the nature of the rear touchscreen not being as manageable as the front one, and also due to having to move through the shadows, and getting stuck will result in having to redo the line all over again. Umbra is used to activate switches or do actions which cannot be reached by Lumen or Mion, or which only Umbra itself can do such as topple roofs or trigger far away switches.
The Firefly Diary also consists of puzzles which may take quite some time to understand at first, and roaming about with Lumen and Umbra can help a lot in this task. One must ascertain themselves though that they have put Mion in her sitting position by tapping Lumen once while near her, since if not she will move about according to where you are pointing Lumen, which in most cases will result in her death, either by walking into some chainsaw blade or falling off a ledge. What the game does exceptionally right though is the manipulation of shadows, since after all it is one half of the game’s major mechanics. Since Lumen is a firefly, he puts out light towards his surroundings. Moving Lumen about will change the height of these shadows, which in turn will enable Umbra to reach different places.
Timing is also an important element in The Firefly Diary. Some set pieces may require the activation of a switch through Umbra which is situated in an area which appears to be unreachable, but moving about or changing the time of the activation of the shadow world may result in finding the solution to the problem. Generally this would involve activating shadow in a specific moment when something mechanical happens to pass from a certain point, to enable the shadows produced by said object to bridge the gap and get to where one must tap to activate whatever action is needed.
While this is an enjoyable game which presents the player with an interesting set of controls and mechanics, one must note that these mechanics themselves are the most evident flaw of the game. One of the most frequent problems I have had is that generally while holding the Vita one of my fingers slips to the rear touchpad, and thus it will ruin any attempt to activate Umbra until I realize my wrongdoing. Another major problem with the game is that having to control Lumen with the touchscreen will result essentially in having your finger in the way of everything, and not see where the girl is going. Moreover there were many situations where the game got really frustrating mainly because of the errors which are caused due to the nature of touchscreens, and repeating the same bit over and over again becomes quite tiring especially for a trial and error game like this one. Another aspect which makes the game less accessible is the fact that Umbra switches often appear only when you run Umbra near them, and are not revealed while checking the area out, thus it may hinder the progress of players who fail to spot these switches.
Graphically, as previously mentioned, htoL#NiQ embraces its own beautiful graphic style, which looks like a painting in motion. The game uses a lot a sort of beige and brown mixture of colours, which somewhat complements its steady pace and repetition at the same time. In terms of sound, the game features a background music which does not take over the game but accompanies it lightly while setting the tone for the game. it all comes together nicely from the artistic side of things.
htoL#NiQ: The Firefly Diary is definitely a game worth checking out, even though it may turn you off because of its many flaws. It does have its strong points though, and for those willing to persevere through them the game is quite enjoyable as well. Nonetheless, this is another game which the combination of graphics and gameplay raise the story to another level.
Disclaimer:All scores given within our reviews are based on the artist’s personal opinion; this should in no way impede your decision to purchase the game.