Condemn O.R. Condone – htoL#NiQ: The Firefly Diary (PlayStation Vita)

It’s one of the most punishingly-difficult games on the Vita, but those with a stomach for unforgiving puzzle platformers will find a lot to like in htoL#NiQ: The Firefly Diary.

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Rarely do I happen upon games that truly infuriate me due to their¬†dificulty. It seems like every game these days is designed to ensure that the player’s progressions is silky smooth, rather than presenting obstacles that the player must give their all to in order to overcome. Lately there have been some exceptions to the rule, with big-budget titles like Dark Souls and even last year’s indie-darling Shovel Knight reaffirming what great gaming is at its core.

htoL#NiQ: The Firefly Diary most certainly falls into the bin of most challenging games that I have played in recent memory, though some of it is warranted and some of it isn’t. This is a side-scrolling puzzle-platformer that has us controlling a young girl named Mion, who happens to wake up in an underground labyrinth with no memories of what got her there. Thus, it is our job to guide her to safety, though we soon discover that that is much easier said than done.

The quirk to this game is that we don’t control Mion directly, but we guide her by instead controlling two different firefly guardians named Lumen and Umbra. Also, the game’s default control scheme is entirely touch-based, meaning that you will tap where you want Lumen to go and Mion will follow. With the aid of simple-yet-clever touch controls, we’re able to guide Mion up ladders, over crates and through dozens of treacherous locales that are all vying to spell her demise.¬†

It’s worth noting that the visuals and level design on display here is extremely impressive, as the game’s world radiates a foreboding aura. The filter that we view the game through gives it an almost story book-esque flare, which I think works very well with the game’s theme that I’ll get to shortly. There’s a solid amount of variety on hand, as well, as we are witness to factories, forests and truly twisted areas containing horrifying imagery like dead hanging girls resembling Mion.

While the harrowing levels of razor-sharp saws, viscous shadow monsters and stomping machinery don’t exude any kind of warmth, it’s the scattered memory fragments that are sprinkled throughout the game that provides a much welcome respite from the madness. These memories are displayed in a more pixelated art style and show us Mion’s life before all of this happened, and while there is no dialogue to give context to what is going on it is still easy to comprehend that these were much happier times for her.

While guiding Mion with Lumen through the regular world is challenging all on its own, where the game truly gets interesting is with the use of the shadow world and umbra. As you navigate the game’s various levels you will come across obstacles that simply cannot be surpassed by regular means, which leads you to use the shadows to alter the scenario. When you control Umbra with the Vita’s rear touch pad you are able to traverse through the shadows of any connected objects in the area, which often allows Umbra to reach switches to open new paths or alter an obstacle that would otherwise get in Mion’s way. It’s the combination of both the regular and shadow worlds where the game’s puzzles are the most clever and head-scratching, forcing you to constantly think outside the box to overcome the difficult challenges.

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…And difficult doesn’t even begin describe what this game brings to the table. During my playthough, the routine typically consisted of me reaching an area, dying in it dozens of times, then finally getting through only to reach the next area where the same routine repeated. This game is punishingly-difficult due to the fact that Mion can only be hit once, the touch-controls are pretty slow and sometimes unresponsive and each area is packed to the brim with things trying to kill you. As a result, my experience while playing a lot of this game was stressful, as you have to be so precise in a game where being precise isn’t the easiest thing to do.

There are even a few bosses at the end of some of these incredibly-difficult stages, and they are just as hard as the stages that preceded them. These battles typically consist of Mion dodging the bosses attacks and falling objects, while capitalizing on the very brief windows of opportunity to pull off a move that will hopefully damage it. Much like the regular stages, these battles contain a lot of trial and error as you have to figure out for yourself how to bring the baddies down and execute your plan as perfectly as you can.

There are a couple excursions throughout the course of the game where you are separated from Mion and have to control Lumen through a series of mazes, and they are some of the most aggravating sections I have ever played in a game. This is due to the fact that you can’t touch any walls or your die, and the paths that you traverse through are incredibly narrow. To add on top of that you often have to be moving quickly in order to avoid various harmful objects, making these segments far too excruciating than they need to be. This is made worse by the game’s aforementioned dicey touch controls, which will regularly have you performing actions you didn’t mean to that will inevitably lead to your death.¬†

htoL#NiQ: The Firefly Diary is easily one of the most fascinating games that the Vita has to offer, but it is unfortunately hampered by a punishing difficulty that can feel cheap due to the game’s lacking touch controls. The game’s visuals and level designs are top notch, and the interesting mechanic of switching between regular and shadow worlds leads to some great puzzles. Even though the game has no true dialogue, I nevertheless found myself immersed in Mion’s adventure and truly touched whenever I would stumble upon one of her memories of happier times. It’s often infuriatingly difficult, but I would still recommend those with high toleration and admiration for truly challenging puzzle platformers to give this one a shot.

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Author: Mike Guarino

On the internet I am known as the one who operates everything on Condemn (OR) Condone. Some have questioned whether or not I am a wizard, but trust me, dear reader, I am but a man!

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