htoL#NiQ is Dark Souls for the PS Vita?

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You wake up from your deep slumber, aware of the pain hurting your back. The cold and metal mattress did its job by making your back ache and numb. You smell the air, dusty and filled with the grime from the scattered steel and concrete. As you raise your head, you notice something peculiar: a green light, hovering like wisp. You then thought that it wants you to follow it. Do you:

  1. Eat it and sleep again, hoping that tomorrow would bring another serving of this delicious fly-thing.
  2. Grab and keep it as a pet. The green light provides a good glow during night time
  3. Follow it, knowing that it will lead you to traps, giant incinerator dogs, and man-eating plants.
  4. Smack it, wear an armor, get your guns and swords, then head off to a new world of adventure! YEAAHH!!
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She’s slow, uncertain, and can push dynamites.

 

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If you answered C, then you’ll definitely love the premise of htoL#NiQ, a masochistic Sony PS Vita game that handles well with mobility.  For those curious about the name, it is a stylized English translation of its original title, “hoteru no nikki”, or Firefly’s Diary. I had the opportunity to test it out, primarily curious as to why the game is priced lesser than the average PS Vita game. I did discover why and I probably did get the more out of it.

Because She Can’t Remember

The year is 9999 and the world is in shambles. Mion, a little girl with branches as horns, wakes up in the midst of rubble and broken steel with a very bad hangover. So bad that she forgot who she was and what she’s set to do. With a timing as perfect as fate, a green wisp / firefly whizzes across her face. A firefly aptly named, “THE PLAYER”. With the innate absence of the sense of danger found in amnesiac video game characters, Mion then sets off to follow the green firefly to discover her story and inform you of it in the process.

Aside from being a cute little green wisp, the player also takes on the role of her shadow. A purple orb that can interact with objects as long as they are connected with Mion’s darker half.

Story-wise, htoL#NiQ tries hard to convey a tale that’s unique, dark, interesting, and compelling. And they succeeded in doing three quarters of the job, missing out uniqueness as a quality. It’s not a new take on the genre, and it evokes memories from a similarly styled game, Lone Survivor. It leaves much to the player’s imagination, not giving away facts and figures with texts. The game simply relies on visuals cues letting the player piece together the puzzle. It is a bit short (4-10 hours) the story is compact, decorated with the intent of giving a maximum impact. However, it comes to no surprise that it has the potential to be confusing to some.

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For kids, yeah right.

 

For those thinking that this is a cute little game because of the graphics, shut down that notion. This game features corpses, pixelated blood, and front row seats showing Mion getting crushed by machineries and pummeled by monstrous shadows.

Float Away Little Butterfly, Just Flutter Away…

ion’s green fluttering guardian and her shadow acts as the player’s arms and legs in navigating the world of htoL#NiQ. The firefly acts as Mion’s guide, telling her to move forward, duck, move back, push and pull some boxes, and some more.

Mion is an utter blockhead. If there’s a circular razor approaching and you forgot to order Mion to duck, then it’s your fault that she’s decapitated. Think of it as a game largely developed as a huge escort mission. You flunk your job, you kill your VIP. This kind of treatment makes the game much of a heartache, which I will elaborate on further in the latter parts of this review.

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As a shadow, time stops, making it easier to navigate and solve puzzles.

 

A quick press of a button or tap, depending on your control scheme, alternates between the real world and the shadow world. In the shadow world, Mion’s purple orb can go across obstacles to activate certain switches in order for her to advance. With the elaborate lighting engine employed in htoL#Niq, movements of the green firefly can either extend the shadows at certain directions thereby creating paths for the purple orb. As compared with the firefly, the shadow’s game world is easier as time stops, giving more time for the player to act.

The tandem cooperation between the firefly and the shadow adds to the difficulty in certain areas.

Sights and Sounds

htoL#NiQ obviously does not take advantage of the PS Vita’s high-powered graphics. It is presented with the dull colors of gray and olive green, with some parts sporting the glow of red and orange. I can say that it succeeded in portraying a 2D world bereft of any life and breath, dead and in despair. Simply put, it’s like playing a cartoon and it works.

On the otherhand, as I’ve mentioned before, lighting warrants more attention as it is an integral part of the game. Carefully manipulation this environmental quality is key to succeeding in some puzzles.

For your ears, the music does the job of enticing a thought of barrenness and solitude. It ramps up in boss fights and settles down to a rhythmic melody during traversals.

Heartache and Pain

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In htoL#NiQ’s world, blood sports the color of banana catsup/tomato sauce/ketchup.

 

As I write this review, I recall the frustrations and anguish that I felt during the weekends. HtoL#NiQ is not a game for those with a short fuse. The game may make you throw your PS Vita unit or drive yourself to a corner and cry tears of blood. It is a mobile game that’s freaking harsh and hard. The developers, knowing that their game is a bit on the short stick in terms of plot, decided to elongate the experience with elaborate traps and challenges.

The inconsistency of the difficulty curve is pretty surprising. First, you’re taught of some basic principles in the early parts of each chapter. You’ll then think, “Yeah, this is okay. I can do this.” As you start the next segment, confident of your understanding, you are then surprised with the sheer difficulty and complexity of the challenge. Somewhat similar to our tests in college. With your teeth gritting with extreme anger and anxiety, you exclaim, “I’ll get it this time!” But as this is the real life and not like Rocky Balboa’s spiel, you then proceed to die continuously, with the game encouraging (or mocking) you with a PS trophy or two for your perseverance.

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If it looks simple, it’s hard.

 

I can say that htoL#NiQ’s clunky controls are partly to be blamed for its harshness. A simple tug of the joystick, as it is not built to be as sensitive as its console-counterpart, propels the firefly, thereby endangering both him and Mion. I would’ve given up on the game if it forced the player to use the touch controls. Thankfully, they did not.

Should You Buy It?

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Play htoL#NiQ and get this screen for about a hundred times.

 

This htoL#NiQ review is one filled with anguish and at the same time, satisfaction. Mion’s story is not unique, but it opens itself up to the player as a reward for succeeding the merciless puzzles. Though similar with my experiences with Dark Souls, the satisfaction is not that grand or brag-worthy.

The plot is serious, scrambling to find an identity and linearity while refusing concrete methods of storytelling. It’s good, but don’t expect it to do leaps and bounds.

Punishment and reward go hand in hand in htol#NiQ. It’s definitely not for everyone especially those who are impatient and are more into light games.

Should you buy it? Well, if you’re a glutton for punishment, then yeah.

htoL#NiQ is exclusively available only on the Sony PS Vita.