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htoL#NiQ: The Firefly Diary (PC) artwork

htoL#NiQ: The Firefly Diary (PC) review

"I'm your only friend I'm not your only friend but I'm a little glowing friend but really I'm not actually your friend"

Letís talk about rage. Rage is level 4-2 of htoL#NiQ: The Firefly Diary.

htoL#NiQ is pronounced Hotaru no Nikki, because of course it is, and its direct translation is The Firefly Diary. Which means the gameís given title is The Firefly Diary: The Firefly Diary, no matter how stupidly you try and spell it. Itís the sobering tale of Mion, an adorable prepubescent girl with peculiar antlers sprouting out of her skull that wakes up in a strange room. Thereís no given reason for any of this; youíre simply tasked with getting the girl up and then getting her out.

Though even that on its own is no simple task. htoL#NiQ is a port from the PS Vita, and is a game very clearly designed around that systemís dual touch screens. By interacting with the front screen, youíre free to scroll Luman, a light-based firefly, around the screen which Mion will follow without question. On the other hand, tapping the back screen pauses the game and brings Umbra into play, a dark firefly that lives in Mionís shadow and has free reign to travel through the shade. This means he can traverse interlinked silhouettes to trigger things like levers and buttons that would otherwise be out of reach.

It sounds like a good idea, but in practise it was atrocious. Unless you held your Vita very daintily at the very corners, you risked bringing Umbra to life at inopportune moments, and Mionís adventure was chocked full of pitfalls that required a higher level of precision than touch controls afforded you. There was the option to control the fireflies with the handheldís analogue sticks, but it was buried so deep in the gameís menus that youíd think the developers didnít really want anyone to use it, despite the alternative method making the game significantly more manageable. The PC port does away with all of that and brings direct firefly control to your mouse. Itís a much simpler and more elegant solution, giving you initial control of Luman who can be easily swapped out for Umbra with a just a click.

htoL#NiQ: The Firefly Diary (PC) image

But even with such a mammoth complaint filed away, htoL#NiQ is still a shuffling collection of rage quits and tantrums. Some of this is down to Mionís atrocious speed and the way she shuffles after her firefly helper on her little, unsteadily legs. On one hand, it does promote a huge aura of vulnerability and inspires a certain measure of protectiveness from the gamer. On the other, waiting for her to get from point to point can be excruciating. For the most part, the game itself keeps in sync with the laborious pace; little shadow monsters try to chase down the little heroine at set intervals but never dial their pace up from an uncomfortable creep as Mion casually strolls away. Other pitfalls are less forgiving and demand a series of prompt and precise commands the interface is often not up to. To this end, you will often easily figure out what you need to do to bypass a puzzle or a deathtrap; youíll just find yourself eating countless deaths while you try to unsuccessfully pull it all together.

So, then, level 4-2.

Level 4 is the last chapter of htoL#NiQ, so youíd expect it to be the most challenging. After getting through a nasty puzzle involving touchpads, buzzsaws, falling crates and dynamite, the checkpoint hits and you find yourself at a door that opens to static and acts like a warp point. Entering that door leads to a short scene where the cameras slides away to another location where youíre instantly faced with a seed spitting plant that is looking directly at you. Do nothing, and it lobs a seed at your face and you die. Before it does this, you need to interact with it; guiding Luman to the middle of the plant and clicking lets you alter the plantís bloom. If youíre very quick, you can manipulate the plant so it spits in the opposite direction, saving Mionís life. But youíre not quick; youíre playing htoL#NiQ. Nothing is quick. And so, Mion dies. A lot.

htoL#NiQ: The Firefly Diary (PC) image

In death, she goes back to the door to re-live the warp animation over and over again. Sometimes youíll reach the plant with your firefly in time and youíll manage to turn its deadly head away. Sometimes youíll get there in time and the interface with the plant will ignore your efforts because itís horribly imprecise like that. Youíll be left clicking on the stalk like a fool while it gleefully dispatches you. But sometimes youíll win out. With the life ending seeds no longer a threat, you then need to push the now ďsafeĒ plant towards a touch pad and a conveyor belt. Half the belt is standing vertically, like an erect drawbridge, and you need to press the pad down to lower it. But before that, did you set the plant to spit directly ahead? Oh dear. A seed just shot straight forward, ricocheted off the belt and smacked Mion in the face. Too bad Ė start again.

Somehow, youíve reached the pad unpummeled. The mistake you could make here is seeing the belt go down as you trudge across the pad and continue to push the box onward. Do this, and your progression will be halted when the belt tips back up and dumps the plant directly on Mionís head. Back to the door. No, what you need to do is nudge up to the very edge of the pad, then let go of the box. By the way, did you remember to tilt the plantís head up more so it fires over the raised belt? No? Seed to the face Ė back to the door. Letting go of the plant is another problem entirely; to do this, you need to move the firefly under and away from the box. If youíre not right on the edge of the pressure pad, you chance dragging it back against you. If youíve not managed to disengage the plant interaction, it follows the firefly and ends up aimed at Mionís face. Again. Back to the door.

htoL#NiQ: The Firefly Diary (PC) image

Even if you manage all this, you then find yourself aiming the plant back at the pressure pad while Mionís pressed right up against the raised belt, which could end in disaster in numerous ways. Get your angle wrong, sheís hit with a seed. Dead. Get your angle right but donít snap it in the other direction before she starts innocently rolling towards it. Dead. And itís hard to swallow. Itís difficult to complete this chain because of a million reasons that donít have a lot to do with challenge and instead have a lot to do with dodgy interfaces. Starting again is annoying if youíve messed up and the blood is on your hands, but itís infuriating when itís a mechanical issue you donít feel you have any real power over.

A lot of people will rage quit long before they see everything htoL#NiQ has to offer, and thatís a downright shame. The sad tale played out is completely wordless, communicated by silent scenes, strengthened with interactive flashbacks you can unlock by finding hidden memory fragments scattered throughout the levels that show how Mion came to be and the tragic world in which sheís forced to exist. As standalone fiction, itís powerful and moving; itís easy to want to lose yourself in it, to see what little slice of awfulness Mion will discover next. Then you slip though an innocent looking door and thereís a plant waiting to spit seeds into your face.


EmP's avatar
Staff review by Gary Hartley (June 01, 2016)

Gary Hartley arbitrarily arrives, leaves a review for a game no one has heard of, then retreats to his 17th century castle in rural England to feed whatever lives in the moat and complain about you.

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