htoL#NIQ: The Firefly Diaries (PSN) Review
Not so much?
The year is 9999. Mion awakens in a post apocalyptic wasteland filled with machinery and shadowy monsters, with no memory of her past or how she got there. Her only guides are two fireflies – Lumen, who guides her through the World of Light, and Umbra, who lives in the shadows and has the power […]
The year is 9999. Mion awakens in a post apocalyptic wasteland filled with machinery and shadowy monsters, with no memory of her past or how she got there. Her only guides are two fireflies – Lumen, who guides her through the World of Light, and Umbra, who lives in the shadows and has the power to affect the world around them. Can you use Lumen and Umbra to guide Mion to safety and gather her lost memories?
After spending years sticking with the SRPG genre, Nippon Ichi have been branching out with some of their new titles, and htoL#NIQ is a prime example of this. Not an RPG of any description, htoL#NIQ is instead a puzzle platformer. For those who remember Ico, the premise is very similar – just as Ico had to guide the frail Yorda around and make sure the environment was safe for her to traverse, so must you do much the same for Mion, with the help of two fireflies. Mion will follow wherever Lumen, the light firefly, goes, and can be guided to interact with switches and boxes. Umbra, the dark firefly, usually lives in Mion’s shadow, but when you switch the World of Dark, the game pauses and Umbra can move freely through connected shadows to points where he can trigger changes in the environment, such as activating things on distant platforms, or dropping large objects atop enemies.
It’s a clever idea, and one that should be great fun in the execution, but unfortunately, once again Nippon Ichi have put out a game that feels a little unpolished. By default, Lumen is controlled by the front touchscreen and Umbra via the rear, but the lack of precision this provides soon becomes untenable. Very early on, it’s fine, but once you start being asked to do things like guide your firefly through mazes where touching the walls results in death, the game quickly becomes frustrating. Luckily, there is a control mode that lets you use the buttons and analog stick instead of the touchscreen, which does make things marginally less frustrating.
Note, however, that I qualified that last statement with ‘marginally’, because no matter which control scheme you use, you are in for a lot of stupid and annoying games in htoL#NIQ. Mion is so incredibly fragile that the slightest brush against anything dangerous will result in her death. After the initial couple of sentences on how to play, the game basically leaves you to it, meaning that often you’ll die several times just figuring out what you’re supposed to do in order to avoid your demise. Other times, you’ll be doing really well, only to be felled by simple bad luck, such as debris falling from the sky that you couldn’t possibly predict in time to get the slow-moving Mion out of the way. A particularly tricky part may well come some way after your last checkpoint, forcing you to repeat a long and tedious section over and over just to get another shot at the bit you’re having trouble with. All of these factors help to artificially extend the gameplay, taking a game that would have been short but fun to go back to, and making them into something that you’ll be reluctant to repeat.
Although it has basically nothing in the way of dialogue, htoL#NIQ has a story that slowly unfolds as you gather Mion’s memory fragments from the various stages of the game. Collecting the memory fragments is important to learning what’s going on in this strange world, but unfortunately, it requires more than the bare minimum of just clearing each stage – you have to go and seek them out in hard to reach places. Given how frustrating the game is at the best of times, you would be forgiven for not wanting to go back and repeat a level just to collect memory fragments and get a better ending.
Visually, htoL#NIQ presents a steampunk aesthetic, with simple yet charming graphics that bring a world of discarded mecha and deadly stalking shadows to life. There’s no voice-acting or music to speak of, with the only sounds being the whirring and clanging of mechanical objects, perfectly adding to the lonely and foreboding atmosphere.
The idea behind htoL#NIQ is a solid one, and executed properly, it would have made for an excellent and alluring puzzle platformer that would have been fun to pick up, play, replay and share with all your friends. Unfortunately, Nippon Ichi’s perennial inability to perfect the difficulty balance in their games has struck again, rendering what should be a fun and addictive experience into one that is often slow and frustrating. It’s a shame, because whilst the game is still playable, this is definitely a wasted opportunity to have made something truly original and memorable.