Looks can be deceiving.
As the game begins, a young girl named Mion awakens from what appears to be a long sleep. She is greeted by a firefly named
Navi Lumen who proceeds to show her the way out of the ruin. As they begin their long trek to the surface world, they find a mysterious glowing plant in their path. When Mion makes contact with it, it shows her a glimpse of a forgotten memory. Now seeking not only a way out, but also other Memory Fragments awaiting to be collected, Lumen continues to show Mion the way.
To say say that the game has no story would be to discredit the simplistic elegance of the game. Yet to truly describe or analyze it would spoil the game for others. The story of the game is in a way simply that, searching for what the game is truly about. What memories were left behind, and what awaits the player when the plot is finally revealed? Learning is half the fun. But be warned, this is by no means kid friendly game. In fact it can, in some ways, be considered the video game equivalent of Puella Magi Madoka Magica.
At first glance, the looks of The Firefly Diary are quite easy to the eye. With her little white dress and dazed yet innocent expression, the young Mion certainly has a running for cutest video game protagonist of the year.
Sorry Noire. Her two firefly companions, Lumen and Umbra, look bright and full of hope. Early in the game, things look nice and peaceful. While in ruin, the old gears and levels with their gentle shadows under bright light look like something out of a picture book.
What makes The Firefly Diary really shine however, no pun intended, is its slow yet skillful escalation. As Lumen leads Mion further and further though the game, things begin to slowly show their true colors. Shadows begin to move on their own, mushrooms act as parasitic hallucinogen, and unless the player survives every puzzle on their first attempt, blood is split. It’s a jungle out there, and any wrong turn can trigger a depressing death scene. That’s not even the worst of it.
The further into the game the player progresses, the darker things become. Creating a seemingly innocent game that reveals to be something of dark fantasy is something even many horror survival games fail to accomplish. Every playthrough the game looks more and more like Danganronpa, but in a good (yet terrifying) way.
At it’s core, The Firefly Diary is a simple game to play. Using the default controls, touching the Vita’s touch screen controls Lumen while tapping the rear touch pad will seemingly pause the game and switching control to Umbra within it’s shadow realm. Based off of Lumen’s movement, Mion will follow as best (and as fast) as she can. Simple, no? Sadly the game proves that touch controls are not quite yet to the level of standard button inputs. Many of the game’s puzzles require perfect timing in order to succeed, and counting on a single tap of the rear touchpad to be read not only correctly will lead to many a death. Luckily the development team too seemed to take notice of this by packaging the game with a total of three different control schemes. Luckily one of which is in infact a control stick/button layout.
Simply put, The Firefly Diary is a challenging game. It demands a good eye, problem solving abilities, quick reflexes, and most of all, patience. When training to become a video game designer, one of the first and most important lessons is that of game balance. There is sometimes a thin line between an uninteresting boring game and a game that nobody beats. It’s all about the difficulty curve. This game’s curve is undeniably sharp. But what needs to be asked is if it remains a balanced game. At the end of the day a single question needs to be asked. Is the game fair?
Yes the game is hard, and at times seems unforgiving, but it never truly expects too much from the player. The game is split between chapters which each are divided between four stages and an event. In addition, even within a single event, the game will frequently autosave between each series of puzzles. While the puzzle themselves are demanding and difficult, the game never truly punishes the player much for failing. It’s a quick death animation then respawn at the last autosaved checkpoint which is generally less than 30 seconds of playtime away. Yes it is hard, but it is by no means unfair or broken.
The Firefly Diary has a very simple soundtrack. Theres peaceful songs and eerie songs that sort of blend into the other sounds of the game. What The Firefly Diary does well is not necessarily the soundtrack, but the overall atmosphere. Even when listening to the gentler tracks, an ominous echo seems to fill each level of the game.
The most tense parts of the game use little to no music and focus rather on the echoing steps of Mion and flights of Lumin. It is during these moments that random rustling of trees or something even worse an completely overtake the player’s sense of sound.
htoL#NiQ: The Firefly Diary is not the game that anybody expected, but in a twisted way it may very well be for the best. Like Atlus’s Catherine before it, The Firefly Diary is something seemingly as simple as a puzzle game that in the end creates something much darker. While it can be frustrating at time, the addicting puzzle solving mechanics of the game as well as it’s constant autosave points make it a game that can be enjoyed a number of times. At the end of the day, the best way for players to decde whether or not they might like the game is to explore the game’s clever official website which features a playable interactive similar to that in the final game. HEY! HEY!! LISTEN!!! gives htoL#NiQ: The Firefly Diary for the PS Vita 8 Mion out of 10.