You live, you die, you rage a bit at how unfair it was and then do it all over again. Even when at its most frustrating and sometimes sadistic, ‘htoL#NiQ – The Firefly Diary -‘ somehow remains an addictive and rewarding puzzle platformer, providing you have the patience to continue after being brutally murdered tor the umpteenth time.
Somewhere deep below the planet’s surface is Mion, along with her companion firefly Lumen and another firefly, Umbra, which lives in the girl’s shadow. Utilizing the touchscreen, you control Lumen to lead Mion through the lonely, dangerous landscape, and the rear touch pad is used to control Umbra, to enter the shadows cast by Lumen’s light and interact with different elements, such as switches and other objects.
At first, this control scheme seems like a novel idea, being able to directly interact with the two sides of the world and the mechanic of utilizing light and shadows reminded me of Contrast, which I liked quite a bit. But, there’s a reason why you don’t see many games fully utilize the vita’s touchscreen and rear touch as their primary control method, outside of a few launch games designed around the specific features of the vita, such as Escape Plan. Probably because after the initial intrigue with these new control schemes, many found that it’s an awkward way to interact with a game that requires frequent input, like action or platforming games.
This is one of the main stumbling blocks for The Firefly Diary, as while it may appear to be primarily a puzzle / adventure game, there are quite a few segments where it turns into more of a platformer, requiring quick movements with little room for error and often a brief window of time to complete a set of actions to survive a string of obstacles. If you dig into the options menu, you can actually change the control scheme to use the vita’s analog stick to move the fireflies, with the triangle button switching between the two, which I’d recommend doing as soon as possible to make things a bit more bearable.
So, with the twin fireflies helping Mion through these debris and monster filled areas, many puzzles will stand in your way, which you need to figure out in order to continue. After the initial intro of the game giving you the basic info on how to use the fireflies and interact with boxes and objects, there’s no further clues and no hand-holding as you set off into the hostile post-apocalyptic world, somewhat reminding me of when older games had you figure things out by yourself. In most cases, actually coming up with the solution for the various puzzles didn’t prove to be too hard, but were still challenging enough to require a bit of thought. Although, there were also quite a few times were it seemed the puzzle would purely be solved by trial and error (mostly error). I also thought the difficulty of the puzzles didn’t increase steadily, but was more of a random arrangement, with a particularly challenging puzzle being followed by a couple more that were easy in comparison.
Even when you have the analog controls enabled, interacting with Mion and navigating her around levels and past obstacles can become really frustrating, especially when trying to get her out of the path of impending doom. Since you can only get her to follow Lumen at her own pace without any direct control, moving her through the levels isn’t particularly quick or precise, which leads to cases where you know what you need to do to complete the area but keep dying because you aren’t quick enough with activating a switch or leading Mion to a specific spot. As you get to the later puzzles, you’ll also need to analyse everything around you to find the solution as this can sometimes be a switch or an object that could be easily missed. When you do finally get past a section that you’ve died on several times, it’s really satisfying to know that you’ve been able to do it despite the less than perfect controls and repeatedly failing in previous attempts. This is one of the main things that makes you want to keep playing and makes the game surprisingly addictive when you’re repeatedly having ‘just one more go’ to try and beat the part you’ve been stuck on for ages.
As for the rest of the game, the presentation and 2d art look fantastic on the Vita’s screen with every moment looking like a scene from a picture book or comic. The backgrounds and scenery in the levels provide a great atmosphere for the game, with ambient music in the background enhancing the sense of isolation. In a surprising contrast to the art style and ‘chibi’ design of Mion, the story can get pretty dark, with some eerie moments popping up throughout, not to mention the enemies, environmental hazards and inexplicable death machines are all out to get you and won’t hesitate to kill Mion in a variety of ways if you aren’t paying attention. Snippets of the story are primarily told through memories you can collect throughout the levels, revealing a bit more of Mion’s past, which isn’t exactly a happy story either.