Florence wakes up to the sound of her alarm every day at 7:00 AM. But it takes a few tries before she actually gets up and and gets going. Her life is full of routine: clean up, ride the train, toil through another day at her office job. Until one day, when her phone dies and she’s forced to take out her headphones and be present in the world around her. She follows the sound of a beautiful cello and meets Krish, a young man who changes her world.
The story of Florence, which is out today on iOS, isn’t especially unique. The new game is the debut release from Mountains, a new studio headed by former Monument Valley lead designer Ken Wong, and it tells a familiar tale of young love, and all of the ups and downs that entails. There are already plenty of stories about cute young people who fall in love in cute ways. What makes Florence unique is how it tells its story.
The game divides the relationship between its titular lead and Krish into a series of 20 chapters, each centered around a particular moment and a specific type of interaction. In the opening chapter, “Adult Life,” you follow a typical day in Florence’s mundane life. Everything task you do in the chapter — tapping the screen to snooze her alarm, brush her teeth, or swiping your way through Instagram photos while riding the train — fills up a bar, and once it’s full, you move on to the next part of the day. Soon every part of her routine starts to feel the same — which is exactly how it feels for Florence.
These moments aren’t just a flourish added to the story: they are the story. Florence features almost no dialogue, and nothing in the way of narration. Instead, the story unfolds as you interact with illustrations of Florence in a variety of ways. When she first hears Krish playing his cello on the street, you tap a series of floating music notes that pull her towards the sound. When she crashes her bike, you adjust a pair of dials to bring her vision back into focus.
Though the interactions are all simple to execute, they can be emotionally challenging. When the couple moves in together, there’s only a finite amount of room, so you have to decide what should stay and what should go. It starts out harmless — choosing between a few pairs of shoes — but the stakes quickly get higher. Should Krish sacrifice his vinyl collection so that Florence can keep her family photos? Is an old stuffed teddy bear more important than a religious statue?
Your decisions don’t influence the story directly; there’s no branching narrative with multiple paths and different endings. Instead, these moments are designed to make you empathize with the characters by turning the difficulties and joys of a relationship into surprisingly impactful mini-games that take the idea of “show, don’t tell” very literally.
Perhaps the most affecting part of Florence involves the way the game handles dialogue. When the couple go on their first date, blank speech balloons appear, cut up into a jigsaw puzzle that you need to put back together to keep the conversation going. At first the puzzles involve a large number of pieces, and take some time to complete. As the two become closer, the puzzles simplify and get easier. You barely have to think about them at all. Later on in the game, after the couple have an uncomfortable fight at a grocery store, the jigsaw puzzles become complex again. When things get really heated, it’s like you’re racing to complete puzzles before Krish.
All of these moments are fleeting. Each chapter in Florence lasts only a few minutes, and important scenes are often just seconds long. But the interactivity makes them powerful regardless. The tension of an argument is palpable when you’re rushing to complete puzzles, as is the drudgery of a lonely life when you’re idly tapping through an entire day.
Florence is a bit like a sweet, touching webcomic crossed with WarioWare, and it’s just as strange and wonderful as that sounds. Much like Monument Valley, Florence was “designed for an audience that doesn’t play games a lot,” Wong told me back in October. Every aspect of the game — the art, the story, the mini-games — feels seamlessly intertwined, and I never found myself wondering what to do or why I was doing something. It just worked.
It’s a familiar story told in an unfamiliar way. With just a few taps, it shows you how it feels to fall in love.
Florence is available today on the iPhone and iPad.