htoL#NiQ: The Firefly Diary Review (PS Vita)
htoL#NiQ: The Firefly Diary has a confusing moniker, and its gameplay is just as perplexing. A puzzle platformer at heart, it crafts a compelling mystery amidst a darkened universe. Although saddled with a minor flaw, The Firefly Diary’s eerily seductive nature may win you over.
Mion is a lost girl, an amnesiac who's alone in a suffocating, industrialized land where sunshine is relatively nonexistent. Her only guardian is a green firefly named Lumen, who lights her way out each intricately structured environment. Your goal is to keep Mion alive and keep her moving forward to the next destination. Since Mion only has one life, your puzzle level will restart if she perishes.
The Firefly Diary's creative home run comes with the ability to transport Mion into a shadow world. Certain sections of each stage can only be solved by venturing into this alternate dimension, where she's guided by a reddish firefly named Umbra. Though the intentionally drab aesthetic of Mion's reality is subtly eye catching, its the dark silhouetted, and often times nightmarish journeys into the shadows which held my attention.
Along with the worlds of shadow and reality, Mion is also haunted by her past. Within each stage are white memory sprouts which, when discovered, lead her to a nostalgic interlude. While in these memory fragments, you are transported into a pixelated dream that, considering the visually rich dimensions of Mion's current existence, is absolutely jarring. The incongruous meshing of styles, however, fits into The Firefly Diary's aesthetic. Nothing is ever comfortable within Mion's nightmarish existence, and giving gamers that continual sense of unease is one of this title's most alluring facets.
Though initially nondescript, the game's subtle score is an effective complement to Mion's dreamscape, as its meditative and mesmeric sounds continued to pull me into The Firefly Diary's hypnotic grip.
Although I welcome the game's baroque and complicated visions, The Firefly Diary's controls added an unwelcome level of frustration. Since you can move Mion solely through the PS Vita touchscreen, mix it up using the touchscreen and the console's rear touch pad, or utilize the left stick and right hand buttons, a lack of control options isn't the problem. Employing the touchscreen to move Lumen and rear touchpad for Umbra was an uncomfortable experience, as I never got full command of my PS Vita. While simply using the touchscreen or left stick/button options was an improvement, moving Mion around the environment, especially when she's climbing up and down ladders, still contains its share of problems. I often overshot my intended destination due to the game’s lack of intuitive controls, and although this minor flaw isn’t a deal breaker, it’s still a glaring weakness.
The Firefly Diary's saving grace rests on its loving attention to visual detail and its narrative. A subtle stroke of genius comes from Mion's encounters with monsters from the shadow world, a conflict which adds an extra layer of difficulty to the respectively puzzle. While you're trying to correction synchronize Mion's movements, whether it's pulling levers, moving boxes, or climbing stairs to advance her to the next stage, these monsters throw an extra wrench into the proceedings.
For example, even if you pass a certain section of a given stage, the creatures from the shadow world bleed into Mion's reality, and many of your deaths will come at their hands. The Firefly Diary requires a mastery of both worlds, and don't be surprised if you spend inordinate amounts of time attempting to complete just one stage.
Although htoL#NiQ: The Firefly Diary is cursed with a flawed control scheme, the total package did enough to keep me intrigued throughout. Mion is an imaginative soul who's trapped within two worlds, trying to regain her memory and return to a seemingly primeval place. Whether the universe Mion is searching for still exists is this journey's ultimate question. With a few fireflies and a brave girl as my guides, it's a mystery I'm willing to solve.
This review is based on a download code of htoL#NiQ: The Firefly Diary provided by the publisher for PS Vita.