by Jed Pressgrove
If you go by many articles written about Florence, you’d think it’s focused on love. These articles merely barf up the game’s marketing line. Yes, the story features a bout of puppy love that anyone who has been fooled by feelings will recognize, but more importantly, developer Mountains illustrates the maturation of its titular protagonist into a person who finds that life is as good as you make it.
Florence is a young woman who is stuck in a repetitive job and who finds talking to her mother an annoyance, given the parent’s unending curiosity about whether her daughter will find a mate. But after a bicycle accident, Florence meets Krish, a cellist. From here on in this mobile-phone game, which uses a comic-book aesthetic and a chapter-by-chapter frame, you see how Florence and Krish get closer, move in together, and, finally, fall apart.
One of the more brilliant chapters of Florence simulates the common experience of growing comfortable with someone you like. In this segment, the game presents an oval-like space where you must fit in puzzle pieces to make Florence “speak” to Krish. At first, this scene feels like an excuse to throw in a mechanical device, as even a dull mind can see how to connect a six-piece jigsaw. Then, as the “conversation” continues, six pieces turn to three, and three pieces turn to one, indicating that Florence’s reservations and nervousness have fallen to the wayside. In any other game, such a scene would be a case of a puzzle becoming inexplicably and pointlessly easy, but in Florence, it’s a deft way to convey how increasingly natural a new connection to a lover can feel.
Of course, this sort of gradual comfort characterizes relationships that may end badly, and Florence is a better game for not forgetting that. The newness of a bond can cause humans to overlook obvious imbalances that are not so obvious at first. In Florence, the lopsidedness of the affair is apparent in how much more Florence pushes Krish to realize his dreams. Another sign of the relationship’s unbalanced nature is revealed in the chapter titled “Exploration,” in which the two explore more things that are specific to Krish’s life (family, music, etc.). The irony of this chapter drips as Florence gazes at Polaroids of the experiences, with nothing but a smile on her face.
Soon the puzzle-piece dialogue dynamic comes back in a negative context. Florence increasingly finds it easy to have a yelling match with Krish. When Krish moves his stuff out of her place shortly after this fight, Florence can’t seem to live without thinking of Krish.
The story moves well beyond Krish when Florence rediscovers her love of painting (ironically, this new life begins with a cheap art set that Krish gave her). Florence finds herself, so to speak, and in doing so, her perspective on life broadens. She no longer hates her job as much, though it remains monotonous. She no longer treats her mother as a nuisance, instead opening up to her. By the end of the game, the only trace of Krish is a photograph Florence puts in a box. While the piano- and cello-based soundtrack might be sappy, the message of growth, perhaps toward actual love, is unquestionably adult.