Mion, a young girl with an endearing expression and a pair of antlers sticking out the top of her head, has awakened to find herself in a bit of a pickle. Alone and with no memories of how she got there, Mion finds herself deep inside a dark and ominous industrial ruin. But she’s not alone for long. As luck would inevitably have it, she is suddenly and miraculously joined by two rather helpful fireflies. Together these two glowy little miracles must piece together Mion’s memories and help her find her way out of the sinister labyrinth.
htoL#NiQ: The Firefly Diary is a puzzle platformer with a big difference. You do not control the main character. I know what you’re thinking, that’s wild. Instead of controlling Mion, you are in charge of the fireflies. Where the fireflies go, Mion follows. The Firefly Diary utilises the Vita’s awesome touch controls. Use your finger to guide the little green firefly wherever you want Mion to go. Using little greeny firefly she will also push boxes, climb ladders and throw switches. Obviously it’s not going to be as easy as that. Some switches cannot be reached. Touch the Vita’s backscreen and time will stop and the world will be thrown into shadow. Now it’s the pink firefly’s turn. Pinkie can only move where there is shadow. You’ll need to guide him through the shadow world which will often rely heavily on timing. If there’s no shadow, pinkie cannot cross. You’ll need to wait for Mion or even an enemy to get in just the right position in the normal world before you throw everything into shadow and let pinkie do his thing. It sounds great, right? It sounds like the sort of game the Vita was built for … and it almost is.
While the touch controls do work well, they can feel awkward. Some movements need to be extremely accurate and unfortunately your control of the fireflies isn’t quite precise enough to keep up. The backscreen is also very sensitive. Touching it activates the shadow world and stops time, but doing this unintentionally five times an hour can become a little exasperating. And if you thought Murasaki Baby gave you hand cramp, you know nothing, Jon Snow. The touch controls are hard work and your pesky finger is often in the way of all the action. There is an alternative, however! Three cheers for being able to change the control scheme in the menu. Use the stick to control the fireflies, X to have them interact with an object and, god bless, triangle to switch back and forth to the shadow world. No more accidental touching of the backscreen. Wipe your damn nose with it, for all anyone cares. You’ll never interrupt your game again. The stick controls work well for most of the game. I only switched back to touch a couple of times when I needed more precision.
Mion is a cute little girl. She’s beautifully rendered, reminding me very much of the characters in the Disgaea games. She does, unfortunately, walk incredibly slowly. It can take an age to get from one place to another. Try to remember she’s only a little girl and not a speed demon; her slowness is part of the game’s challenge. Things do get frustrating, though, when she trudges like a tired snail across the same screen and up the same ladder thirty times because … yeah, about that. Take a seat; we need to talk. If you want a challenge, oh you’ve so got one.
htoL#NiQ: The Firefly Diary is a tough nut to crack. The game’s very precise timings and movements are all too easy to muck up. If you have plenty of patience, you’ll be happy enough. The rest of us will be in the corner sulking. While by no means an impossible game, you will need concentration and a steady firefly. Don’t expect a friendly game. Your mistakes are punished with tireless repetition. Mion’s child-like trudge isn’t so charming now.
The levels are varied enough that you should never feel bored, however. In particular I enjoyed encountering the magic mushrooms that mess up Mion’s movements so that instead of leading her with the fireflies, you have to “push” her. Trickier than it perhaps sounds, it certainly adds another level to the challenge. Add to it an umbrella and some industrial fans and you’re in for a flying mushroom high.
Graphically, htoL#NiQ: The Firefly Diary is gorgeous. For such a dark and dingy environment, it’s really quite beautiful. The shadows move as your fireflies and Mion traverse across the screen. It’s a sombre and sorrowful setting that wouldn’t look out of place on a PS4. It’s another example of the graphical power of the Vita and what can be achieved when a developer really knows what they’re doing. It is a pity many of the levels are so difficult because htoL#NiQ: The Firefly Diary has cracking potential.
A dark, wistful and chimerical experience, htoL#NiQ: The Firefly Diary is something a little bit different. While the touch controls can feel awkward at times, you always have the option of changing to stick controls whenever need be. This is a carefully paced game that requires precision and patience. Will Mion find her way and her memories? That’s up to your trusty fireflies and your own sense of endurance.
S J Hollis Rating – 6.5/10