htoL#NiQ: The Firefly Diary Review – Pretty, but Pretty Slow (Vita)
Before we get started here, I’m going to briefly point you towards our own Heath Hindman’s review of this game. Heat covered htoL#NiQ: The Firefly Diary as an import review. He snagged the Japanese version of the game (which isn’t text heavy at all) and did up a review.
You can read his, if you like. Since you’re here, I’d love it if you read mine as well. The thing about this game and our reviews? They line up. Why review it twice? Well, we received a copy from the publisher, I was available for work and we figure having two separate opinions on a product is a good thing. Why not?
htoL#NiQ: The Firefly Diary is not a whole lot of fun. In fact, this is one of those games that I had to push myself to revisit again and again until I beat it for this review. That’s not because it’s overly difficult, it’s just that the way it’s designed makes it very, very boring and tough to enjoy.
A Girl and Her Fireflies
htoL#NiQ opens up in a compelling way. You wake up in some obviously deep and dark place. You’re quickly met by a firefly in light and then a firefly that exists in shadow.
The girl, named Mion, must make her way through a maze of puzzles riddled with shadow-based monsters. The monsters might be small and basic, or they’re massive and daunting. They typically can’t be defeated in simple ways, so even they sort of exist as puzzles unto themselves.
You’ll make your way through this world, and occasionally you stumble upon a sapling of sorts. That sapling will flash you back to your own memories. These memories piece together Mion’s backstory and come full circle with the world she’s in in the present time of the game.
All of this sounds and looks really nice. That’s the biggest positive of htoL#NiQ; it looks great and it offers a quality setting. The positives, unfortunately, stop there.
A (Not So) Touching Event
The entirety of htoL#NiQ is controlled with the front touchscreen and the rear touchpad. You put your firefly in the light in certain spots of the screen by moving your finger along the front of the PS Vita, and the girl follows. If you want Mion to, say, pull a lever, you place the firefly over it and tap the lever once she’s there.
The shadow world, thankfully, is a bit more interesting, When you tap the rear touchpad, you enter the world of darkness. You move your finger along the back of the PS Vita in order to move the firefly along shadows. You can interact with glowing objects by tapping on them once the firefly is nearby.
You’ll do most of your puzzle solving by flipping between shadow and light, moving Mion, hitting switches, interacting with the shadow world and scaling ladders.
Now, the touchscreen stuff is generally very slow and very annoying. Take the ladders for instance. Mion moves slowly, so going down a ladder takes a few seconds regardless of its length. Once you reach the bottom, you’ll need to wait for Mion to completely remove herself from the ladder before you re-position the firefly. If you don’t? You’re sent climbing the ladder again and waiting for more slow animations to play out.
I would have loved to see a sprint or, I don’t know, a walk slightly faster function. If you hit a puzzle that requires a lot of trial and error and ladders (like the one in my screenshot above), moving slowly is downright obnoxious. That goes double when you’re trying to figure it out for the first time, moving back and forth over larger areas while dodging puzzles.
Why not let users double-tap the screen to initiate a bit of a run for our heroine? Or, if this was mapped to the analog sticks like it should have been, offer a right trigger squeeze for a boost of speed.
Analog Controls are, Supposedly, Coming
The good news here is that analog controls have been patched into the Japanese version of the game. At the time of drafting this review, however, that update has not been made available. I’ve closed the application and refreshed its page daily in the hopes that I’d see it, but that hasn’t happened yet.
I imagine the analogue controls will help htoL#NiQ a bit, but they won’t solve the inherent problem of the game generally moving so slowly. It sounds like such a small complaint, I know, but suffering through the slow pace of Mion and the world itself as you’ve solved a puzzle and have nothing left to do but wait kills the mood to play consistently. It only gets worse as the game moves along and puzzles get more complex and require more trial before moving on.
I don’t want to blast htoL#NiQ: The Firefly Diary as an out and out bad game. There’s some really good stuff here, especially the art direction. The finale is solid, though I wouldn’t say it’s worth what you have to sit through to get there, and the entire atmosphere really works.
The control, level design, movement speed and general pacing, however, are all pretty bad. It almost feels like the whole reason the game was made with such slow movement is to actually pad out its length. That’s never a good feeling, and grunting “ugh, come on” every few minutes during play as your character walks slowly below a world of spinning saws of death isn’t exactly fun stuff.
I genuinely applaud Nippon Icchi for trying something new and doing up a fresh IP. However, the design of the game is currently flawed. Give users a bit more speed and proper implementation of analogue controls, and this currently boring and frustrating affair might be a whole lot more fun.
For now? htoL#NiQ is rather boring.
A review code for htoL#NiQ: The Firefly Diary was provided by the publisher for the PS Vita. For more information on scoring, please read our Review Policy here.