It may be short, but this new mobile game is definitely (bitter) sweet.
Sometimes you stumble across a game that instantly affects you. That’s how I felt when I played Florence at PAX last year. Now, the game is out on iOS and I had the joy of experiencing it in full from the comfort of my own home on Valentine’s Day.
It’s difficult to speak about Florence without spoilers, as all of the best parts of the game are better experienced than read about. It’s filled with nuance and cleverness. It may only take an hour to play, but make sure you schedule a few hours after it for drinking tea and pondering life.
Why are you still here? Just go and play the game, so then you can come back and consider it with me.
Florence is unique. Its small, interactive moments, followed by screens that resemble a slightly animated comic strip, make for a wonderfully story-driven experience. Some chapters require the player to rotate their device, using the screen real-estate rather than being restricted by one orientation.
And it’s all of the little things that cause it to linger. There’s a scene where Florence is reflecting on a childhood of preferring to do art instead of maths equations. You get to act it out, dragging pieces of coloured paper onto a boat and a butterfly, making beautiful patterns, then dragging numbers onto a worksheet to solve equations. Florence’s feelings are perfectly captured by the way the colour shifts to black and white, and the way the player’s creativity is stifled, despite the mechanics being so similar.
And then there’s the dialogue ‘puzzles’. There aren’t any words spoken between Florence and her love interest, Krish, but you can tell what’s happening in their conversations based on the speech bubbles shared between them. The pacing, the size, and mostly the shapes of the individual puzzle pieces that you put together to help Florence speak.
At first those puzzles are complex: many pieces need to be rearranged as you are getting to know Krish for the first time. But then, there are fewer and fewer pieces, and they are closer to being correctly placed already. Soon, you are placing whole, completed speech bubbles.
But, when things start to go wrong, the rounded edges of the puzzle pieces become blunt, and then sharp, and the player can imagine that the words are too. It’s so simple, but unlike anything I’ve seen before in a game like this. It’s so simple that it feels as though it could happen to anyone.
That might be why the game is resonating with so many people: the problems that seem to appear between Florence and Krish are problems that everyone can relate to. It’s fights about grocery shopping, and more fights about washing up. It’s Krish looking angry while Florence looks tired. It’s a familiar tale of love and loss, and the little things that can pave the way from one to the other.
People have called the love story ‘charming’ but it’s not, really. It’s emotional and affecting the same way something like 500 Days of Summer might be; it breaks the mould a little, and raises a mirror to the reality of the world.
One thing that the full game has that the demo was lacking is an exploration of Florence’s life beyond her first love. As well as the ups and downs of her relationship, we get to experience her personal and professional journeys as she realised she is unhappy with where she is. Vignettes depicting her work mostly resemble balancing spreadsheets, but somehow communicate a lot regarding Florence’s state of mind.
This love story isn’t like all of the others. It’s happy and sad, full of beginnings and endings and messy inbetweens. It’s about growing up, and figuring out who you are - both in a relationship and outside of one. It’s honest, and recreates life the way fairy tales don’t.
And I can’t recommend it enough.