Saturday, 7 March 2015

Review: Hotaru no Nikki - The Firefly Diary (PSVita)

Dark souls eat your heart out.

Hotaru no Nikki or htoL#NIQ is a adventure game published and developed by Nippon Ichi Software exclusively for the PS Vita, released in the UK on the 4th of March.

Nothing really prepared me for this it’s beautiful and dark title which is more frustrating than playing dark souls for the first time. Death is going to be a regular occurrence in this game for many many players, in fact I estimate my death count to be a little over 200, many were stupid mistakes on my part but ultimately you will die, its inevitable. However the frustration is worth it as it is set in a beautiful world (when it’s not being uber creepy) that will cause players to have to use their heads and everything they can see and what hides in the shadows to keep this girl alive, all while overcoming a variety of environments, challenges and even a boss fight or two.

Sadly we start with my biggest fault with the game, this is where we cover the story or in this case the lack of! Short of young girl mysteriously waking up in a bunch of ruins and blindly following a firefly into spiky pits , toxic ooze and off ledges to her death as she tries to make her way out of said ruins, all while tackling puzzles, challenges, robots and monstrous plants the story is really vague. Other than small interactive memory sequences it doesn't seem to actually give you much story explanation at all. The only text or instructions are to inform you how to control the young girl leaving most everything else to your own interpretation. In fact I may have already used more text than the first 3 chapters of the game. However if you’re not after a deep story there is still something to be had from this game.

One of the two main things that really kept me going with this side scrolling game is a masterpiece of artwork right up there with child of light for me personally and yet it can become dark so quickly. Much like Child of Light I get the feeling of a world with a deep contrast between good and evil, the sweet young girl against the shadows lurking in the dark. I fell in love with the visual aspect of this game almost instantly, each stage is very well done from the depths of the ruins to the forest. They are very similar to that of children's nursery rhymes only less happy and more prone to killing off the young girl, I was actually horrified how many times and ways I have killed this poor sweet innocent child but not half as much as finding young girls hanging from trees. I also quite liked that the firefly casts the shadow of everything you can see and moving him around alters the shadow it actually does this really well from altering the size to the direction they're cast.

Upon starting the game for the first time your prompted touch the screen and the game starts with little more than saying the girl will follow the firefly, from this point you are basically on your own using the touch screen to move the firefly about and help her transverse this world where almost everything is trying to kill her. To do this you must solve puzzles and kill shadows in one of two ways. Firstly with the green firefly (moved using the front touch screen) to guide the girl, flick switches and climb ladders and secondly with a purple firefly that moves in the shadows of the world (controlled using the rear touch pad) he can be used to activate switches, destroy objects ect however he can only move in the shadows cast from the outside world.

Utilising this knowledge alone you have to survive but ultimately this alone won’t be enough. How you use the two in combination with the environment will determine if you reach your goal, turning plants into cannons to feeding them corpses of children or just crushing the bad guys by dropping the ceiling on them. On top of dodging everything, planning ahead and figuring out what the games latest quirk will be, there are memory fragments you will notice as you journey that you can collect and play through however you have to work even harder to get most of them, these will give you hint to the story but offering little text and being very short they are what you make of them for the most part.

As I stated above the games default is touch screen front and back pads I found this to be a nightmare when everything is out to get you, you end up often obscuring what is going on your hand and even with fingertips bigger than the firefly he’s going to be a bit more than difficult to get through small gaps. I discovered and switched to the control scheme C which allows you to use the analogue stick to move the firefly and X to interact while triangle switches between shadows. I personally found this a lot better for me and would recommend trying it if you’re having any of the issues with the touch controls. I also found it to be a little more responsive to movements and actually survived a little longer.

The other thing that was a huge factor in this game is planning and working out how to tackle each area, without enough planning you will die much more often. It’s can become very frustrating but it can all be done with relative ease once you know how but even if you die several times in the same spot in 10 minutes remember each death is just teaching you what not to do. Anyone buying this title should be prepared for a very difficult yet beautiful game, if a little lacking in the story department.


Who should buy:
  • Someone looking for a challenge 
  • People that enjoy the “illustrated children’s book” art style 
  • Someone after something a little different 
Who should avoid:
  • Anyone who enjoys a game with rich story 
  • People with no patience 
  • If you are looking for a long game

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