Yeah, I’m going to refer to this as The Firefly Diary for simplicity’s sake and I can’t even tell you what htoL#NiQ stands for as I have no idea, even with this handy-dandy pronunciation video. However, I’m very clear on my thoughts on the game so let’s get on with it!
The Firefly Diary is a puzzle-platforming action game and the best way to describe it is that it’s deceptively cute. The art style screams adorable and so does Mion but the more you play, the more you’ll realise how twisted the game is with its slight horror elements; if something falls on you blood splashes across the screen, you can be eaten by monsters which is accompanied by a gruesome squishy noise and you’ll come across children’s corpses – all in all I was surprised as I’d researched very little into the game, despite being interested and anticipating its release date.
There’s not much in the way of story and characters as you’re left to join the dots with what little you’re told, which I won’t speak about as much of the story is told via ‘memory fragments’ which you’ll want to find yourself; these can be easily missed – which is frustrating – and are vital as they show Mion as a child interacting with her parents, and it slowly hints as to why now amnesiac Mion is in her current situation. Whilst it’s slow-paced, it’s very interesting to learn more about Mion, her family and the world overall especially as it’s littered with shadow monsters and many other unexplained oddities.
The gameplay is a bit of a mixed bag. You can use the touchscreen or change the controls to analog, which I did so my fingers wouldn’t constantly be in the way although analog didn’t feel entirely accurate either, but I found myself dying needless times to mandatory trial and error and strict timing and placement issues. I’m not the best at puzzle games and I enjoyed the puzzles presented, but the controls do work against you some of the time and it can become frustrating, especially as Mion moves very slowly so replaying sections can be a real slog. Fortunately, it’s satisfying when you get past a tricky section and you see the ‘saving’ icon pop up, knowing you won’t have to re-do it again once you inevitably die later on.
Mion follows two fireflies, a green one and a purple one, which represent light and shadow. You follow the green one in the light but you can activate the shadow world at the press of a button, where you’ll take control of the purple firefly who has access to flip certain switches and the like; you don’t follow this one as everything else comes to a stop. This works well for the most part but positioning the fireflies before switching is vital, as they’re both separate entities and I made the mistake of having my green firefly in a poor place – making Mion follow it there – which lead to her death once I switched back from the shadow world. The gameplay is simple and although a few tricks and twists are thrown in to shake it up a little, this is the bulk of it.
My favourite part of The Firefly Diary are the visuals which remind me of dark takes on childhood stories; they’re cute on the surface but things become twisted extremely quickly, yet those things are heavily implied rather than graphically shown, such as the many dangers that Mion faces would naturally be much more visually gruesome but she only collapses in-game. The environments change with each chapter, of which there are five, and so they don’t become stale due to the brevity of the game, and the muted colours and hopeless backgrounds only add to the overall despairing nature of The Firefly Diary.
There’s no spoken dialogue and very little to read with the story opting to be told visually rather than through words, and due to its oppressive atmosphere, The Firefly Diary has minimal music too. The sounds created by the environment and monsters come together nicely to create an impressive atmospheric experience, one which is entirely unsettling at times, but there’s very little to say about the audio past its ability to successfully immerse you into its grim world. Mion seems to lack a voice, even when she’s running away from monsters with her mouth wide open indicating that she may be trying to scream, yet no noise is produced; again, this is deceptive as Mion is the cutest thing and yet you’ll be forced to watch as horrible things happen to her time and time again.
The Firefly Diary won’t take you longer than a few hours with only five chapters to play through but it’s easy to want to replay it, more so if you didn’t catch all of the memory fragments. It’s art style hugely appeals to me and so did its world and I’d love to see something in the same vain one day, even if it won’t follow Mion. The only thing holding it back are its cumbersome controls that, whilst accurate, require pin-point timing that’s only achievable via trial and error and there’s a lack of notable audio, but the visuals and intriguing plot pushed me through the frustration in an effort to help Mion survive.