(NIS America for PSVita)
By Mike Delano
Despite what many big-budget developers may have you believe, atmosphere and mood are fairly cheap to create. Gamers do most of the heavy lifting with their imaginations, and they’re happy to fill in the blanks when a game comes along that has a modest approach to its presentation. And so, the stage is set for little surprises from developers that might reside a little off the radar, but possess an interesting idea and the talent to bring it to life. Enter the mostly unheralded htoL#NiQ: The Firefly Diary, a touch-based Vita puzzle game that speaks in understatement, but not because it doesn’t have anything to say. Developed by Disgaea-creators Nippon Ichi Software (and localized for the West by NIS America), it features a young girl thrust into a cold, dark underworld with little explanation. You control the girl via her firefly companion and solve puzzles by shifting between your standard 2D plane and a silhouetted shadow world where you can manipulate the environment. In a fascinating twist, you’ll occasionally discover memory fragments and transport to an isometric, pixilated world full of color as you act out a brief scene from your memory. Outside of these memories, the look and tone of the game most closely resembles XBLA hit Limbo, so the juxtaposition is certainly striking, and htoL#NiQ (the name is a stylized version of the Japanese title, Hotaru No Nikki) takes the intensity of that game a step further by removing direct control of your character, forcing you to quickly plan ahead as she walks forward so as to not send her into a spinning saw blade or similar trap. It’s a mysterious and intriguing game, and while the pace drags at times, what it lacks in overall polish it makes up for by creating a world that is constantly tugging at your curiosity.