If you want to play a frustratingly difficult adventure game that hides its story and feels like its controls were shoehorned on. Look no further than htoL#NiQ: The Firefly Diary, a new title for the PlayStation Vita from the developers of Disgaea – Nippon Ichi Software and publisher NIS America.
htoL#NiQ follows the story of Mion after she is awoken by two fireflies, Lumen and Umbra, in the deepest recesses of a long-destroyed civilisation. After a short flashback sequence in which you learn more of how our horn-headed heroine came to be in her perilous situation, you are left in control of Lumen. You control Lumen by dragging the firefly across the screen, Mion will then follow suit (albeit incredibly slowly). This is fine at first, solving simple lever puzzles to advance the stage, but gets more complicated once Umbra is introduced, another firefly that your control with the rear touchpad. Umbra, when activated, will slow down time but with the caveat that you can only control her through objects and shadows, rather than through open air. Using a combination of Mion, Lumen, and Umbra, gameplay consists of several puzzle stages which culminate in a puzzle-boss before you can progress onto the next chapter. The game has less than half a dozen chapters, and I’ve no doubt you could complete the entire game within an evening – but only the second time around.
htoL#NiQ has this incredibly artificial difficulty that’s two-fold. Firstly finding the solution to puzzles, obscure is the theme here with switches hidden in pitch black, and physics and lighting elements that don’t always behave. Secondly even once you know how to execute a solution, the act of doing so can be where you spend most of your time. Thanks to a combination of a lethargic Mion and controls that obscure the screen with fingers – accomplishing anything can be a slow and tedious affair. Timer switches, environment hazards and large puzzle areas are all more frustrating than they need to be. Add in the end of chapter ‘bosses’ that require ultra-precise timing and some very questionable checkpoints and all you end up getting is stressed out.
It’s worth noting that you can change the control input to the Vita’s analogue sticks instead of the front and rear touch screens, but it also doesn’t help very much.
All this could be forgiven if the game kept you motivated with its compelling story, but unfortunately, it’s all locked away behind hidden collectables. Each one you find shows you another flashback, except they are especially well hidden and hard to reach, which is a shame because it’s actually quite a good tale.
htoL#NiQ: The Firefly Diary is a gorgeous game and exudes an indie charm that complements its plot, but the countless brutal deaths and obscure puzzles only serve to frustrate. Even with the option to change the control input to the analogue sticks the gameplay is still very tedious and flawed. On a plus note, the game does suppose the use of PlayStation TV, even if you happen to own one this game will probably not improve in any way over its handheld sibling.