Some games are different. And sometimes, that’s exactly what you need. Sometimes you just want something that will be easy to maneuver, something more thoughtful and engaging than active. Sometimes you want a quick diversion you can play with one hand, one thumb, while taking the bus to work or standing in line at the post office. Sometimes you want something nice.
Florence is that kind of game. And in a way, it’s hardly a game at all.
This twenty-chapter interactive video novel started life as a smartphone game and was just ported to PC and the Nintendo Switch with a pleasant look that would attract even the grumpiest of gamers. It’s sweet, almost watercolor-looking graphics are gentle and appealing. And it’s a game about … first love.
Just how do you play love in a game? And what kind of, uh, love are we talking about? (I mean, should we start covering young eyes here?) Well, let’s take a peek and see.
The story side of things unfolds easily, without a word of dialogue. It focuses on a typical young twentysomething named Florence Yeoh—a smart, pretty, nice, relatively average young person swept up in the eat-sleep-work-call-your-mom-and-repeat mundane routine of life in a big city. She’s not exactly bored, but she’s not all that excited about life either.
Then one day while walking to the park, Florence hears something different, something beautiful, something wonderful. And when her ears joyfully pull her to the source, she realizes that the lovely sounds are emanating from a stubble-cheeked guy playing a cello: a guy named Krish. And before you can say, “Do you play here often?”, the two have gone from an initial clumsy flirt to a conversation.
They’re on their way to something far from routine.
Their relationship is furthered through a series of mini games. As you move from one stage to the next, you perform a number of microtasks to give you the sense of the day to day—brushing your teeth, cleaning your room, snapping Polaroids of visited locations, etc.—and the gist of navigating a relationship.
For instance, during a first date, you must place jigsaw pieces together in a conversational word balloon. You don’t know what the couple is talking about, but you see their reactions to what’s been said after your puzzle is completed. And as you go, the puzzles get easier, signifying that the conversation, and the little shared jokes, are coming easier, too. None of these puzzles are very difficult or challenging, but they help you stay invested in the action on hand. And they help you identify with the emotional transitions taking place.
In another example, as Florence and Krish begin to open up about their dreams and start encouraging each other toward life goals, you play a game that erases an old tired image of how they see themselves and replaces it with something better, something more hopeful and happy. And transversely, when the relationship has difficulties later on, you must find a way to piece back together the torn, drifting fragments of a picture of the pair embracing.
All of the various creative tasks and puzzles weave compellingly into the character interaction. And interestingly, they’re designed in such a way as to convey their own tender, heartstring-plucking impact.
If you’re getting the sense, however, that this love story isn’t necessarily all happy endings, well, that’s true. And from a concerned-mom, kid-friendly perspective, the game isn’t always a perfect godly example of romance, either. There’s nothing graphically sexual in the mix, but the unmarried Florence and Krish do move in together for a while. And we see them sleeping and cuddling in the same bed.
We also see just how painful that kind of emotional and physical investment can be without true, solemn commitment on the couple’s part. Even though the game ultimately ends with an uplifting positive message, Florence and Krish’s relationship definitely becomes something of a cautionary tale. And for some, that will make this love story into a game they’d rather not play.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.