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Review: Florence

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This review is full of spoilers

So this is love. Is it? I’m not sure. I’m not familiar with the sensation. Lust I get. Infatuation, longing, desire; I’m an expert in those. But love? No. I’m a chronically single 32-year-old with no prospects whose only relationship was 14 years ago for a whopping two weeks. And that was mostly just movies and car stuff afterward. Outside of a pet or a family member, I don’t know love and there’s a really good chance I never will. I want to though.

At least I did. I wanted it very much but after seeing the highs and lows of Florence, I’m not so sure anymore.

[Final warning for massive spoilers:]

Florence (iOS [reviewed on an iPad], Android) 
Developer: Mountains 
Publisher: Annapurna Interactive 
Released: February 14, 2018, TBA (Android) 
MSRP: $2.99

I feel there are two things I should make clear from the outset: I can't give my honest opinion about this game without spoiling nearly everything about it -- so you've been warned -- and, despite Destructoid being primarily a video game website, Florence isn't really a game. Developer Mountains even says so when it refers to it as a ‘story’ upon completion. Sure, there are micro- and mini-game-like elements in it I use to advance the narrative, but it’s not a game. It’s an interactive sonnet, a poem, a poesy about people in love, art, artists and the muses that drive us to create.

The titular Florence, full name Florence Yeoh, is as relatable a protagonist as I’ve found in the medium. She’s a 25-year-old worker bee at an unnamed company who spends her morning commutes browsing pictures on her smartphone and her evenings eating in front of the television. I’m there to push her through this routine. Everything from brushing her teeth to punching numbers into spreadsheets are simple, touchscreen tasks. These actions aren’t meant to challenge me, only to add a level of interactivity to her life.

The micro-games, if you’d even call them that, are substitutes for a traditional narrative. Florence has little to no dialog with the only written words found in chapter and location identifiers, as well as in brief conversations with Florence’s doting mother. Instead, the 40-minute-or-so story uses expressions, visual cues, and these touchscreen elements to detail this exquisite slice of Florence's life. Honestly, I can’t recall a more imaginative presentation of pure storytelling than this.

Florence unravels with a mix of comic-book style still imagery and quaint animation. It’s incredibly effective. As I drag my finger across the screen, I see stunning snippets of Florence’s life play out with the occasional bit of input required from me. This is a truly beautiful product, with an amazing score by Kevin Penkin, but the developers don’t want me to dwell on any one moment for too long. No matter how much the ageless art direction captivates me, Florence pushes me onward with subtle cues that beckon me to progress. There’s no way to turn these off and I wish there was because, knowing how things turn out, a part of me wants to live in the more joyful moments of Florence’s life for as long as I can.

But that goes against the point of this story as is made crystal clear in the jaw-droppingly melancholic Chapter 18. Living in the past holds us back. Continually analyzing what could have been means we might miss out on life’s calling and that’s true for Florence. She’s more than just a 9-to-5 pencil pusher. Like me, like all of us, she has dreams. A quick jaunt to the days of her youth reveals a love for art stifled by a mother who’d rather see her daughter study. Like any creator stuck in a career that provides no motivation for weekend explorations of our talent, Florence doesn’t pursue her passion until she meets her muse.

Looking like a character from a Diablo Cody movie by way of Quentin Blake, Krish is a charming cellist whose music literally sweeps Florence off her feet. After a meet-cute, the two begin a relationship and the magic of Florence’s interactivity begins to shine, perhaps no greater than when Flo and Krish have a conversation. The start of a relationship, the first date, is a tricky ordeal as two people struggle to find a comfort level with one another. Florence presents these introductory conversations as puzzles, and as the two grow closer together, the puzzles become easier to piece together until there is no assembly required. It’s a magnificent way to show how familiar the couple becomes with one another and, along with such concepts as the passage of time or making room for someone in your life, how simple mechanics can illustrate thoughts and emotions eloquently without the need for dialog. Emojis also help.

Florence and Krish’s relationship isn’t just young love but young artists in love. Krish’s life, at least the parts of it I’m shown, is wrapped in the pursuit of his art. He dreams of filling auditoriums with his music and worldwide fame, and it’s his expressive detailing of these fantasies that reignites Florence’s interest in her art. As time marches on and they survive their first fight, she finds inspiration in him and he finds support in her. Together, they create wonderful art: him with a cello and her with a sketchpad.

But art is a selfish pursuit. If there is any lesson I learned from the 90,000 allegories shoved into mother! it’s that. Despite the admiration we show our muses, there eventually comes a time when we no longer need them or their inspiration ceases to have an effect on us. As their romance develops, Florence and Krish’s artistic pursuits fail to coexist. Eventually, it is his goals and dreams that become their joint focus. As her passion once again fades into the background of a monotonous life, the demands of his music begin to crack the foundation of their relationship.

For lovers of love, Florence doesn’t have a happy ending. No matter how cute they look together, she and Krish eventually drift apart and go their separate ways. It’s a bit too heavy-handed at first, pulling in some clichés from the genre to present despondent emotions, but it absolutely crushes me when it’s time for her to actually let go. As her story continues through this post-Krish era, I wonder what Florence is trying to tell me about love.


I’ve seen enough romantic comedies and episodes of Sex and the City to know that love is messy. I’ve watched my friends cycle through the emotional merry-go-round in their search for a partner as I spent my prime getting fat and playing video games. Making a relationship work is a struggle, from what I can surmise, and Florence doesn’t hold back. It’s upsetting to watch this bond deteriorate and see her move on afterward, but as Florence finally reaches her full potential, I'm left unsatisfied. 

I understand how life can get in the way and how easy it can be to put your wants aside for the sake of those you love. But as Florence jumps through the relationship and finds an enemy in monotony, I almost feel robbed of her struggles. The game does a great job of showing me how her responsibilities supersede creative pursuits, but when she finally finds the time to engage her talents, it all comes too easy for her. I watched for several chapters as Krish struggled with the demands of his musical education and the effect it had on their relationship. It was something I could relate to outside of the whole having a relationship thing. But seeing Florence sashay into stardom with no setbacks, stop signs, or stumbles takes this honest depiction of artistic struggle and wraps it up a little too nicely. It’s like La La Land in tha—oh God this game is basically just La La Land.

Florence is an imaginative, breathtaking, heartbreaking tale of two artists trying a love they’re not quite ready for. It’s as honest a look at the subject matter as you’ll find in a game -- or so I've been told by others who've been writing about it incessantly since its release. But as much as Florence focuses on love, I’m not quite sure it’s a fan of it. Perhaps it's because it doesn't play out as I'd hope or maybe I'm too broken to appreciate its beauty, but I walk away from the experience with a rather pessimistic opinion. Love may be the catalyst in Florence, but it's the narcissistic pursuit of their real passion, art, that wins out in the end. The result is a relationship that is a means to an end, nothing more. I get that’s quite the bleak take on the tale, but honestly, it’s the only message that resonates with me.

[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]

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Florence reviewed by CJ Andriessen

8

GREAT

Impressive effort with a few noticeable problems holding it back. Won't astound everyone, but is worth your time and cash.
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CJ Andriessen
CJ AndriessenFeatures Editor   gamer profile

Just what the internet needs: yet another white guy writing about video games. Also, I backed that Bloodstained game. more + disclosures


 


 


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