Forty-five minutes is all it takes to form a personal connection with a fictional character on your phone. One short play session is all it takes to smile, cry and cheer with the many successes and downfalls of our titular character Florence. Apparently, forty- five minutes is all it takes to provide the perfect playable experience. “Florence” achieves a level of depth and emotion that hardly any games have tapped into with music and images alone.
As a silent game with no dialogue between the two main characters, each sketch in “Florence” is highly detailed and amazingly crafted in a unique style. Being a silent experience gives room for Kevin Penkin’s astounding soundtrack to take center stage. The soundtrack pushes the story to unimaginable heights of emotion that would have definitely been lost if the game’s developer, Mountains, had made the tiniest of missteps. Each impactful scene will leave your heart thumping a bit faster or create tears streaming down your cheeks as you play minigames that usher you through the story. These minimal yet extremely well-crafted details are what make “Florence” an experience that you simply cannot miss.
Florence Yeoh is a 25-year-old woman whose creative habits have been stifled from a young age by her traditional Chinese mother. As a result, she grows into the typical antisocial, barely functioning adult that most of us are. She hits snooze on her alarm at least three times before making the perilous journey out of bed. She spends her morning commuting to her dead end accounting job staring at her phone and liking people’s pictures of their wild nights. She even regularly talks her mother out of trying to set her up with guys, insisting that work takes up too much of Florence’s time.
Suddenly, Krish changes her life. Hearing his music on a street corner, Florence is immediately entranced by his soul. Both of them begin to discover the confidence they’d both kept buried for years once they meet. Through a series of minigames, you experience the typical day-to-day functions of a new couple. There’s even a level about awkward first dates. As you spend more time with Florence and Krish, you slowly fall just as much in love with them as they are with each other.
“I was always talking to my friends and my family about love and relationships,” Ken Wong, lead designer and one of the heads of Mountains, said in a Rolling Stone article when talking about his inspirations for the game. “We celebrate those stories in books and movies and songs all the time, and games seem to have a bit of a blind spot for this area of the human experience.”
Unlike most visual novels that focus on the frilly, flowery aspects of romance over lengthy periods of time, “Florence” portrays the actual brevity of an intense relationship. Florence and Krish meet in a surprise encounter, and what follows is a series of dates that slowly morph into something expectantly serious.
A whirlwind romance quickly follows and consumes Florence, much like real life relationships. She begins to explore new ideas that she never would have done on her own. Krish takes on new endeavors thanks to Florence’s constant prodding. Nothing is the same. Their lives are forever transformed because of the other’s presence. It’s one of those rare, highly emotional connections which makes it all the more heart wrenching when the couple fights and all you can do is play through the minigames that ironically bolster the couple’s destructive behaviors.
“I think what distinguishes Eternal Sunshine [Wong’s previous project] is that it portrays … love as it really is, which is messy and confused and full of misunderstandings and happenstance and ugly moments,” Wong said. “But I think that’s why it struck a chord with people, is that it felt so honest and raw, and I guess, instinctively, I wanted to tap into that.”
Through the incredibly short minigames, you will find yourself constructing Florence’s wordless responses to Krish with puzzle pieces, which can become increasingly terrifying as they begin to argue. You help Florence go from eating sushi alone to preparing healthy meals with Krish. You even help Florence brush her teeth. Trust me, combined with Penkin’s soundtrack, each game is more relaxing than the last. They feel tangible, as if you’re slowly piecing together the life of a bored, semi- broken woman.
Beyond the gameplay mechanics and the stunning visuals is the game’s phenomenal music, which I cannot tear myself from. As it’s available for separate download from the game, each track is so similar yet so unique that you are able to place each instrumental track with a certain scene just from the first few chords. Tracks like “Florence” and “Music” will make you cry with every attempt to get through them because of their hopeful, whimsical nature, whereas tracks like “Erosion” and “Fight” will make you ugly sob simply because of the impact they hold on the narrative. Much like the art of the game, the music has been painstakingly worked on despite each track being a little more than one- minute long.
“Florence” is a game that I finished in one night in a little over half-an- hour with tears streaming down my face. I felt like I’d gained a new sense of myself and what it truly means to be in a mature, developing relationship. Overall, the moral of the story is relationships aren’t a dead end. In fact, they can offer new beginnings, blissful memories and a tougher exterior.
“Florence” is available through the Apple Store for $2.99, and the “Florence” soundtrack is also available on Spotify and iTunes.