Ken Wong was the lead designer responsible for hit mobile indie game Monument Valley and now that his own studio, Mountains, has just released Florence, its debut offering, we were more than intrigued to find out what it had in store.
Florence Review: Story
In the game‘s opening chapter ‘Adult Life’ you’re introduced to the titular Florence Yeoh; a 25-year-old living and working in Melbourne who’s clearly fallen into the all-too-familiar trap of a monotonous daily routine dominated by an unfulfilling job.
She snoozes her alarm as many times as possible each morning, escapes into her phone on the commute to work and spends most evenings eating dinner, sat in front of the television, with only prying phone calls from her mother for distraction. Things only change when a cellist, whose music she’d be drawn to in the park just days earlier, comes crashing back into her life; although more accurately, she crashes into his.
The nature of the story told within Florence is such that to go into any great detail here would render it less impactful and that would be a real shame. It tackles complex human concepts like the act of falling in love and just as significantly, falling out of love, with a surprising deftness that feels as though it was crafted by experienced hands and hearts.
Florence Review: Gameplay
We’ve been calling Florence a game up until this point but in truth, it’s closer in form to that of an interactive visual novel. Most of the story is presented across series’ of panels that you swipe through, with the whole journey; all six acts and twenty chapters of it, taking around thirty-to-forty minutes to complete.
It surprised us how well gameplay mechanics like fitting puzzle pieces together to form speech bubbles translated to the act of getting to know someone. To begin with, the puzzle pieces are numerous and oddly shaped but as you form more and the conversation flows more freely, it takes fewer pieces to complete a bubble, just as it becomes easier to talk to someone, the more you get to know them.
There are impactful moments that rely on a single tap, whilst other have you frantically trying to piece together scraps of a torn image before they all drift out of reach. The instances of gameplay mechanics that are analogous to real-life situations and actions are numerous and implemented to great effect.
Florence Review: Sound & Visuals
The art style has a hand-drawn charm with a predominantly pastel palette that brings a softness to everything you see and interact with. Indeed, colour is used to great effect throughout both story moments and gameplay elements, tied to each character’s memories, aspirations and emotions.
Music is also a huge part of the narrative of Florence, setting both the pacing and tone of each scene, as well as representing the characters themselves. Conversations and scenes of emotional weight between Florence and her partner, Krish, are always accompanied by a piano and cello respectively. They either harmonise as part of a beautiful duet that mirror’s the synchronicity of these characters’ relationship or can just as easily play in a way that illustrates how at odds with each other the couple are in a particular moment.
The game recommends playing with headphones and we’d heartily concur. You wouldn’t want to miss out on such a fundamental part of Florence’s storytelling.
Florence Review: Verdict
For a game with no dialogue, Florence says a lot. It speaks to the hearts of those who’ve been in the situations presented in the story and offers an emotional depth rarely achieved within the world of mobile gaming.
The notion of gamifying a love story might seem dubious at first, as if it will inherently trivialise the very real and relatable relationship the story’s main characters form, but in truth the tale told here and its the use of gameplay elements to better inform the story draws a surprisingly relatable parallel with the peaks and pitfalls of its real-life counterpart.
You may not get much in the way of replay value out of Florence but for £2.99 you won’t regret embarking on this beautiful bittersweet journey. Mountains states that it “makes games that linger in hearts and minds”, a promise that its first title has galvanised, without question.