‘Florence’ delivers an emotional story that subverts mobile game conventions

Graphic by Jenny Park

Playing video games is an expensive hobby. Not only do you have to drop a couple of hundred bucks for a console, you also have to spend $50 to $60 more each time you want a new game. Playing mobile games, however, is another story. More often than not, smartphone users view free games as the standard, and are unwilling to spend money on mobile games.

But in the midst of my boredom, I broke from this pattern and spent $3 on “Florence,” a popular app that seemed promising for its price. “Florence” won Best Mobile Game at the Game Awards in 2018, and after playing the game, I can sincerely say it deserved the honor.

“Florence” is the first game developed by Mountains, a team of four developers based in Melbourne, Australia. It was released last year on Valentine’s Day, and yes, it has to do with love — the game’s story illustrates the life of 25-year-old Florence Yeoh, as players witness her first love, personal growth and self-discovery throughout 20 chapters.

“Florence” is not your typical mobile game. There’s no shooting or puzzle solving. It truly functions as an interactive storybook: Its gameplay involves casual actions such as dragging numbers for simple math equations, or moving some furniture around a shelf. But these casual actions contribute significantly to the game’s success, as they place us in Florence’s shoes.

The speech bubbles in “Florence” are prime examples of how the game uses unconventional techniques to tell a story. While there are no actual conversations that players can read in “Florence,” speech is represented through dragging puzzle pieces. When Florence struggles to form speech from her thoughts, we see this difficulty manifested through the puzzle pieces.

When Florence meets her boyfriend for the first time, there are initially several pieces for the player to solve, but as she gets to know him, talking becomes easier, reflected in the fewer number of pieces to put together. Similarly, when she gets in an argument, puzzle edges become squarish or jagged, symbolizing her anger and frustration. These subtleties are easily and intuitively understood — a product of clever, empathetic design.

Mobile games are also known for their endless repetition, but “Florence” subverts this in a couple of ways. The game definitively ends, and completing it takes an average of 30 minutes. It recycles some actions and scenes, but keeps the story fresh by consistently incorporating changes such as new colors or twists in gameplay.

These changes are never extravagant, nor do they increase the game’s difficulty. Instead, they represent the shifts in life Florence experiences within her various routines and habits.

The simple realism used in the gameplay and storytelling of “Florence” is exemplified through the charm of its art and graphics. Unlike other games, “Florence” uses 2-D illustrations that balance simplicity and detail, reminiscent of an indie comic book. They are by no means scribbles — instead, they show effective artistry.

The game also makes use of color to establish moods and reflect realistic emotions. Florence is shown in gray colors during her more monotonous and depressed moments, and in vivid, bright hues at her happiest. The level of detail that goes into what colors are chosen for each scene is clear as the game progresses, serving as powerful symbolism of the development she undergoes in her life.

I could continue with my praise of “Florence” for days, but I understand that this game is not for everybody. It’s not for people who like competition, expect incredibly impressive graphics or, if I dare say it, don’t want a little bit of joy in their life. But I recommend this game to anyone who wants to experience an unassuming but sincere story told through artistic gameplay.

Although you might hesitate to spend on mobile games, I promise your money won’t go to waste if you spend it on “Florence.”

Nadya Siringo Ringo SC ’21 is from Jakarta, Indonesia. She is relentless in her pursuit of Epic Gamer Moments.

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