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  1. Developer: Nippon Ichi Software Publisher: NIS America Platforms: PS Vita, PS TV Release Date:February 24, 2014 ESRB: T for Teen Lumen and Umbra. Polarities such as these help illuminate the primary themes for Vita's newest puzzle-focused exclusive: htoL#NiQ: The Firefly Diary. It is a creative concept brought to light by a designer behind the popular strategy-RPG series Disgaea and it attempts to make its deceptively dark presence known on the often overlooked Sony handheld hardware. Whether this chronicle actually deserves to be written upon anyone“s Vita system, however, is another story. The adventure has very little in the way of direct exposition. The young girl Mion wakes up in what seems like some sort of dark underground facility and shortly thereafter encounters two fireflies. These two fireflies: a green one referred to as Lumen; and also the purple firefly, Umbra, who presides in Mion's shadow; both attempt to help guide the strangely obedient Mion through these unknown depths. Both fireflies are the crux of its puzzle-focused gameplay with its light platformer elements in-between. Lumen very directly guides Mion where to go and is controlled via touchscreen in the foreground, while Umbra is controlled by the Vita's back touchpad, and moves about from shadow to shadow in the background. You control both separately depending on the circumstance to navigate the terrain in a mostly linear fashion. For example, you may use Lumen to direct Mion to climb ladders or push boxes/switches, while Umbra can trigger normally inaccessible objects from afar when moving between various shadows. Beyond light and dark comparisons, disparities is a recurring theme in almost every facet of the title, even down its aesthetic. The visuals will probably seem cute and innocent despite the bleak setting. Well, until you see Mion mangled by shadow monsters, sliced by saws, accidentally hit by boulders, incinerated by flames, or fall to her death. While the visuals do tend to cut out just before it gets into gory territory, the implied imagery in The Firefly Diary is definitely much more unsettling than it leads on to be from a first glance. Yet, it is for that reason that the presentation manages to be so distinct, because it balances two such different tones with one captivating 2D style. Even if, unfortunately for Mion, it feels like everything in the world is out to kill her, and it frankly shall—many times. If it wasn't obvious already, HtoL#NiQ is a very, very difficult game. No, really, I don“t think you fully understand. I had a PSN trophy congratulating me on dying one hundred times less than halfway through the main campaign. I dare not think about my total death count by the time I finished it. Of course, higher difficulty is not inherently bad, and the Vita is no stranger to challenging titles like Dokuro, or plenty of other ports like with 1001 Spikes. Problem is, HtoL#NiQ is not as good as either of those as a game and it is difficult for all of the wrong reasons, and this is made more obvious in regards to its cheap level-design and disjointed control scheme. Puzzles and platforming situations have brief bits of novelty with their occasional variety in theme but are quite frustrating in execution. It's not even that the puzzles themselves are tricky, they are either completely obvious or feel kind of random. But, what makes the gameplay go from middling to awful at times is the awkward, unwieldy controls and the incredibly strict trial-and-error design that just doesn't work with it. Difficult games tend to work when the controls are spot-on and there is skillful level-design around it, but this title has neither. On the most basic level, there is simply a jarring slowness/lack of responsiveness to moving Lumen around and having Mion (very slowly) follow behind to the gameplay that becomes increasingly more apparent over time, and will be the source of most player deaths. That, and inconsistent boss fights and the generally unfair feeling level design. Some of the most egregious examples of level design are probably two repeating segments that are almost guaranteed leave most players stuck. The first offensive portion is when you control only Lumen after being separated from Mion. However, Lumen cannot touch anything without dying during these segments, including walls. The already questionable responsiveness and the level's obnoxious automatic screen-scrolling is bad enough, but your own hand can easily obscure navigation in these segments as well if playing via touchscreen. The second is that for nearly an entire chapter later of the game, in which there are four of (five if we include "True End" content), the title completely reverses the controls (for no real rhyme or reason behind it) for what is an already difficult part. If it weren't for the somewhat frequent checkpoints these parts would be near unmanageable. Even if you were smart enough to choose one of the different control schemes (one centered around using the analog), and certain portions were less glaring, I don't think htoL#NiQ is compelling enough on its own as a game. As stated before, most puzzles don't feel smart or satisfying, they are just strict trial and error based that love to toss at least one unfair gimmick before reaching the next checkpoint. And, for whatever narrative intrigue that is hidden through out-of-the-way unlocks, or rather "memories", it is not really worth the hassle of repeating certain levels just to see the true ending when playing through them once is already too much. Honestly, there isn't a whole lot that is worthwhile in htoL#NiQ: The Firefly Diary aside from those starving to try something that looks different. Whatever interest it piques through its captivating presentation and dark setting it botches it nearly every step of the way with its incredibly poor control scheme and frustrating, unsatisfying level design. I can respect that Nippon Ichi wanted to try something beyond their over-the-top RPG comfort zone, and it feels like they were on the right track, but perhaps with more controlled guidance lighting htoL#NiQ: The Firefly Diary's way, it would've been much better for it. Pros: + Captivating setting that mixes both cute and disturbing + Light and dark fireflies lend themselves to interesting puzzle mechanics Cons: - Extremely clumsy, unwieldy controls for touchscreen in particular - Infuriating level design/bosses that generally feel cheap - Way too many hurdles required to unlock the "True End" - Mion moves and reacts really slow… Overall Score: 4.5 (out of 10) Below Average Whatever intrigue that is built up from htoL#NiQ: The Firefly Diary's captivating setting and visual style are completely lost due to its frustrating controls, cheap level design/bosses, and generally unsatisfying gameplay. Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable PS Vita code provided by the publisher.