You may have seen or read the story of Florence before, but you’ve never played it. While games over the past few years have grown in their size, scope, and maturity, they still have yet to touch on some of our favorite genres — romantic comedy, political thriller, historical fiction, etc. With their debut title, Australian studio Mountains, led by Ken Wong, designer of the cerebral and beautiful puzzle adventure Monument Valley, have made the first great slice-of-life romance in video game form. It’s beautiful, charming and fraught with the realities of your first love, and how fragile a relationship can be.
The designers call Florence an ‘interactive storybook,’ as it’s not composed of traditional gameplay — instead, there are dozens of playful interactions acting as metaphors for, and windows into, the life of 25-year-old Florence Yeoh. You’ll swipe wildly to brush her teeth, match numbers to push her through her workday as an accountant, and scroll aimlessly through her social media feed, until one day Florence is walking down the street and hears wonderful cello music, and you’ll tap the music notes to make her float down the street and into the park where she meets Krish, the man who becomes her first serious love.
From there Florence turns a blossoming relationship into many mini-games of finding the right words to say, making room in the apartment for Krish to move in and spinning the hands on a clock to make the seasons fly by. These interactions are always smooth and perfectly designed, illustrated with gorgeous comic-book panels and accompanied by bright and playful orchestral music. Every element leverages the power of playing a game on your phone, acting as a window into Florence and Krish’s relationship. It brings to mind the innocent melancholy of Mamoru Hosada’s The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (2006) or the quirky but stubborn realism of 500 Days of Summer (2009).
In its brief forty-minute runtime the game packs in every emotion you can expect to feel from a story like this, following its traditional arc of breezy romance to hard-hitting realities of young love, and yet those moments hit with such precision and timing that you’ll find yourself thinking about the game for hours afterwards, as if you had just gone through real-life experiences all over again in an evening.
While not perfect — the game does ultimately trade in romance clichés we know by heart, and never truly works to subvert them, so much as explore them through gameplay — Florence is a delightful and refreshing game, and a great break from the usual Clash of Clans and Pokemon GO fare of the iOS store. It’s short and brave and absolutely worth your time.
Florence comes to the Android store March 14.