When I think back on love — specifically first love — there are a ton of complicated emotions that crop up: happiness, fear, uncertainty, awkwardness, and that old cliche of getting “butterflies in your stomach.” It’s appropriate that love conjures up so many of those feelings (especially when I think back on my own experiences), and yet over the course of 30 or so minutes of playing it, the recently-released mobile game Florence brought all those feelings up once again and then some, but in a way that made me think fondly of how we look at relationships, romance, and the people that we fall in love with and why we fall in love with them.
As the debut title from the Melbourne, Australia-based developer Mountains (which is led by former Monument Valley lead designer Ken Wong), Florence is part interactive graphic novel, and part visual novel-esque romance game. Over the course of the game’s 20 chapters (with the game’s total running time about half an hour), Florence is a brief experience that you can finish over a lunch break, but by the end of the game, its creative storytelling and striking narrative are sure to leave an impression long after its completion.
Florence tells the story of the titular Florence Yeoh, a 25-year-old young woman experiencing a bit of a rut in her first few years of breaking out into adulthood. However, in between her routine of work, home, and dreaming of becoming an artist, she happens to encounter a young cellist named Krish on the streets that draws her in with his music, and their chance meeting ends up in a romance that flourishes through the game’s story.
Over the course of the game’s 20 chapters, players are guided through a romantic scenario that many of us have likely seen before, whether in films, TV, books, or possibly even in our own personal experiences (I know I have). At first, Florence and Krish’s relationship sparks from their passions for art and music, leading them to grow closer, move in together, and, ultimately, make some life decisions that inevitably force them apart physically and emotionally by the game’s end.
Florence and Krish’s story unfolds through a mixture of comic-like panels and illustrations interspersed with short mini-games that should be familiar to mobile game players, such as simple puzzles or context-based touch controls that guide and progress the next events in the story. While the mini-games themselves are pretty simple and basic, what I found most striking about their implementation in Florence was how their inclusion enhances the game from what some may assume is just a familiar love story, to one that feels unique to being told through the form of a video game.
The mini-games are more than just small bits of gameplay to integrate alongside the story, but actually do most of the heavy-lifting when it comes to showing the various stages of Florence and Krish’s relationship throughout the game. Florence is an almost entirely dialogue-free experience for the majority of its half-hour runtime, and what the game doesn’t reveal through written dialogue when it comes to Florence and Krish’s feelings for one another, it instead conveys through its simple (but delightful) puzzles. These can range from simple touch prompts, such as brushing Florence’s teeth in the morning or browsing her friends’ social media posts, to more elaborate and meaningful interactions that unveil the layers (and story) behind Florence and Krish’s chance encounter.
For example, one of the recurring puzzles throughout the game are a series of short jigsaw puzzles that players can move the pieces into place through the touch screen to complete. The first of these puzzles comes during Florence and Krish’s first date, and much like a first date encounter, the jigsaw puzzle has numerous pieces and takes a little longer to piece together the conversations that the two are having. However, the subsequent jigsaw puzzles after that become a bit easier to put together and finish with less pieces to put in place, much like as Florence and Krish are getting to know each other and deepening their relationship.
Likewise, that simplicity of those puzzles later on takes on a deeper meaning as the couple gets into one of their first arguments. During that segment of the story, instead of just trying to put the pieces together, players are trying to complete them as fast as possible against Krish, mirroring the arguments being slung back and forth between the two lovers as they fight.
This simplicity in merging the actions of what you are doing in-game versus what is happening on-screen is easily one of Florence‘s best components, and adds a surprisingly deep level of impact to the situations at hand. One of the most memorable moments I found in the game that relates to this was when Krish is moving into Florence’s apartment, and the player has to choose which items of Krish’s to place in the apartment decor, and which of Florence’s items to either keep or put into storage. Some of these were simple choices — like choosing between a pair of toasters — to more complex or heartfelt decisions, like choosing between Florence’s cherished stuffed animal or a photo of her with Krish’s family.
What’s even better is the fact that those decisions (and that mini-game as a whole) comes back later on once Florence and Krish (inevitably) break up: instead of deciding what items need to go where as Krish is moving in, the player must instead recall which items need to come back with him as he is moving on.
In a time when games are getting more expansive and delivering vast open worlds and epic storylines, Florence‘s brevity and simplicity are a breath of fresh air, but that doesn’t take away from the impact of its story. As the developers themselves cited films like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and (500) Days of Summer as inspirations behind the game, Florence is surely a love story that many will find familiar from so many other times before — two young adults meet, fall in love and, gradually, grow apart — over the course of its running time.
And yet in all the familiarity that some may find from its take on love, Florence feels like not only a genuine and charming romantic tale, but one that is made all the better by being told through the form of a video game. Florence could conceivably have been a graphic novel, a short film, or even a film in its own right, but in taking the romantic experiences of two young people and translating it into gameplay, Florence‘s simplicity is all the stronger in how it shows love and all the complexities that come with it.