I’m a huge sucker for narrative-driven games. When James and I were driving to Columbus for a showing of The Book of Mormon, he was quiet for a time. I was driving. He had been quietly playing Annapurna Interactive‘s (developed by Mountains) Florence. When he finished, he asked me about the state of about our relationship and my happiness. I was a little confused, because I hadn’t played Florence yet.
When I played it a few days ago, I finally understood his line of questioning (just for reassurance — we cool. Happy marriage).
Florence is, most of all, a story about finding your passion and happiness. Florence is the name of the main character–the events are from her point of view. According to an interview with the game’s designer, Ken Wong, in Games Radar, she’s a 25-year-old Chinese-Australian girl working a desk job. She wakes up every morning, gets on the train, works her job, then comes home and watches TV. She has a very set routine, until she hears cello music coming from an Indian musician named Krish and becomes enamored of him.
If this game sounds appealing to you right now, I would go buy it and experience it for yourself, as I will be discussing some story spoilers from this point forward.
This game masterfully executes visual symbolism throughout every bit of the story. You experience the tedium of Florence’s routine at the beginning of the story: brushing her teeth, going through social media, doing desk work. Sometimes talking with her mother. Then, as I mentioned before, Florence sees Krish. He’s a cellist playing on the streets for tips, and Florence is enchanted by his music. Later, they have a “meet cute” moment where their relationship begins.
There are no words in this game. No conversation, aside from the little bit you see in Florence’s responses to her mother. Instead, you build word bubbles. At the beginning of the Florence and Krish’s relationships, those bubbles are complex and a little hard to put together. As they get more comfortable with each other, the word bubbles become easier to put together. They snap together just right. They’re easy and comfortable.
When they fight, the word bubbles become more fractured. They become pointed and jagged, quite like words would be if you’re arguing with a partner.
Throughout their relationship, Krish pursues his dreams of going to a music academy. They fall into a routine, much like Florence’s at the beginning of the game. They’re comfortable. They’re happy. But Florence’s passions fall to the wayside–she doesn’t pursue her painting while she supports Krish through his music school. Krish and Florence begin to fight more often, and finally they break up. There’s a mini-game that’s especially poignant at this point, where you are trying to keep the pieces of a torn picture of the couple together. It’s a struggle–they drift apart so easily. I cried a little bit while I struggled with the puzzle.
Ultimately, Florence and Krish break up. Krish moves out and fades from her life. Florence mourns her relationship, once again falling into a routine. But she finds her paints at one point, and begins to create art. She starts selling it and makes enough to live off of without her desk job. She finds a thing she’s passionate about in the wake of a failed relationship and becomes someone who isn’t defined by the relationship they’re in.
The best part? This isn’t a marriage plot. Krish and Florence don’t get back together again. This story shows us the danger of burying your passions and prioritizing the happiness of a partner over your own. That’s not to say that the happiness of your partner isn’t important, but as the saying goes – you need to put your oxygen mask on first. When Florence finds a picture of her and Krish when she’s packing up her desk at work, she’s able to look at the picture and smile.
This story is heavy. It will make you think. It may make you reach out to your partner and ask if you guys are dong okay, if the routine you’re in is comfortable or merely drifting along. Ultimately, any amount of words I could use to describe this game is inadequate in comparison to actually playing it.
Florence is currently $2.99 on Google Play.