For some it will be a memorable lesson you heard when you were younger from a teacher or parent. For others it might be a Ted Talk or poignant thought from a celebrity. It could even be a motivational poster or video on social media. But at one time or another we’ve all “clicked” with something, felt a deep and meaningful resonance with a message or situation. A connection you had never considered until that moment, an obvious but often subconscious truth about how you feel about various aspects of your life, often tapping into your emotional psyche.
Very rarely does this happen with video games. Sure we’ve all felt a connection with games, that exhilaration of a well executed set-piece, or even empathy with the emotions of a well-told story, but seldom can a game evoke the same kind of connection, and very rarely does it do it consistently throughout. That’s not a criticism of video games, quite often a medium of joyful escapism, the last thing most of us need is to be reminded of how reality is making us feel. But that is what makes Florence, the interactive story game on iOS from new studio Mountains , such a unique and pleasant experience.
The story sees you follow the life of Florence Yeoh, a 25 year-old, currently single, with a secure, but uninspiring job whose mother whilst caring, seems hell-bent on ensuring she find a boyfriend pronto. We follow the story as she meets aspiring cellist Krish, and the development of their relationship and the impact it has on Florence.
The gameplay – for what it is – is a fairly simple and intuitive, consisting of simple touch-screen actions to convey an action on-screen. This could be very direct representations of the action, such as moving a toothbrush in a brushing movement to help Florence clean her teeth (think a less stressful WarioWare type affair and you’re not far wrong). Or alternatively, your actions could be more symbolic of what is happening to Florence, such as revealing thoughts as a scratch-card type reveal or piecing together conversations as though they are jigsaws.
If the above two paragraphs feel short and lacking in detail, there’s two very good reasons for that. Firstly it’s that Florence is a very short and simple game at face value. End to end, it will take you under an hour to finish, so I don’t want to expand it too much for fear of giving it all away. But secondly, and most importantly Florence isn’t simply a game of numbers, it is more than the sum of its parts. Where it excels is how it goes about those 45-odd minutes of game, and ultimately how it makes you feel, and in that is where this review needs to spend its time.
For starters Florence is very selective and clever about how it asks you to complete certain tasks, and more often than not there are deep meanings to them. Take the jigsaw conversation element I mentioned earlier. It is first used during Florence and Krish’s first date. Now, be honest, how many of us have bumbled through a first date, scrambling and over-thinking what to say, in what order, so that what comes out of our mouth not only makes sense, but gives off a positive, genuine impression of ourselves? Sound familiar? Piecing together what to say to get to an appealing outcome is sounding an awful lot like the metaphorical jigsaw you’re piecing together in the game, making it the perfect symbol of what would be going through your brain if you were Florence.
And that is what makes this game so special, the imagery used to display emotion through the game-play is so relatable. I nodded knowingly as the game reminded me how it feels to have an argument, to have dreams and aspirations and ultimately regret, all through simple swipes of the finger on a screen. This is perfectly coupled with gorgeous musical score in the game, that succeeds in encapsulating the variety of moods on display as you journey through Florence’s trials and tribulations. You’ll find yourself appreciating it because it feels “right” rather than truly memorable, achieving perfectly what it needs to by its subtlety and transparency.
True, you do have to go into Florence understanding what you’re getting, and what it’s trying to do. Simply going into it with a closed and critical mind is likely to leave you disappointed and short-changed. Do that and you’ll miss the point of the game, and the experience will feel flat. Go in with receptive mindset and you’re likely to be taken along for the emotional, but ultimately familiar ride.
In a world of huge backlogs and piles of shame it’s easy to dismiss new titles, to justify passing over indie titles for that AAA title winking at you from your shelf. In a world of 100+ hour experiences, be they single player epics or bottomless multiplayer adventures, for £40, it’s equally easy to dismiss a game that’s £3 that lasts less than an hour, feeling like you’re not getting bang for your buck. But in Florence, you’ll get a refreshingly different experience that reminds you how it feels to love, and all that goes with it, and the way the game goes about it makes it a highly recommended purchase.
So, seriously, do yourself a favour, go buy this game, spend 45 minutes wrapped up in its emotional and familiar story. Then, when it’s over, don’t be surprised if you don’t feel compelled to tell that special someone in your life that you love them. It’s what I did, and I meant it.
And a video game did that to me.