htoL#NiQ: The Firefly Diary review for PS Vita

Platform: PS Vita
Publisher: NIS America
Developer: Nippon Ichi Software
Medium: Digital
Players: 1
Online: No

If looks were everything, htoL#NiQ: The Firefly Diary would be a strong contender for Game of the Year. Not just Vita GOTY, but GOTY for everything. I mean, just look at those screenshots. The developers of htoL#NiQ (which is apparently a stylized way of writing out the game’s Japanese name, Hotaru No Nikki) created an absolutely stunning world. It’s dark, it’s mysterious, it’s creepy; if you’re looking for a richly-imagined setting for a game about a girl with no memories and who relies on shadows and light to guide her, it’s pretty much perfect in that respect.

htoL#NiQ 1

Unfortunately, that’s the only way in which htoL#NiQ could be described as perfect. To be blunt, this is a seriously boring game. I wouldn’t say there’s nothing to do, because that would be a bit of a stretch…but really, there’s not a lot going on here. This is a game where you spend the vast majority of the time simply pressing your finger on one side of the screen, guiding the little girl across platforms. There’s the odd moment when you’re running from monsters, or where you have to tap on the rear touchscreen in order to activate the shadow world and trigger some event, but those are rare. For the most part, it’s all just waiting around for the girl to get from Point A to Point B.

I suspect that a big part of the game’s incredible dullness stems from the fact its controls are touchscreen-only. I understand that the developers were trying to take advantage of the Vita’s unique control inputs, and I respect their effort in doing so, but that doesn’t make the final product any less boring. It’s not as if the game would be substantially more interesting or engaging if you were using more traditional control methods, but it would definitely be better than this.

(EDIT: Thanks to a helpful commenter, I realized htoL#NiQ does, in fact, have an analog control option. It’s hidden away by an oddly-designed UI on the Options page, but it is definitely there. That’s the good news.

The bad? Somewhat surprisingly, it actually doesn’t make htoL#NiQ any better. You’re still guiding the little girl across the screen, just with a faster-moving firefly, which means you probably spend more time waiting around for things to happen. Not only that, it makes the puzzles significantly easier — which is no small achievement, considering they were generally pretty easy to begin with. It’s nice, I guess, that the analog controls allow you to see the lovely screens without having your finger in the way, but I’d trade a bit of that loveliness for a more interesting game in a heartbeat.)

It also doesn’t help matters that the accompanying score is so minimalist. Admittedly, this complaint comes down more to aesthetic preferences than something that’s definitely, objectively wrong with the game, but as far as I’m concerned, the decision to accompany long stretches of nothing to do with little-to-no music or sound makes the whole thing even more tedious. (That said, I think my opinion here is coloured by the bland gameplay. If htoL#NiQ were a more engaging game, I could totally see a situation where the minimalist score were a point in its favor.)

htoL#NiQ 2

I really wish I could say something else positive about htoL#NiQ, since the visuals are so pretty that they make me want to like other aspects of the game. But I just can’t do it. It’s a puzzle-platformer where the puzzles are completely forgettable, and to top it all off the game is essentially one overlong escort mission — and it’s hard to think of a gaming trope that needs to die more than escort missions. The visuals by themselves are enough to make htoL#NiQ seem like a game worth investigating, but in the end, that’s really all the game has to offer.

Grade: C+