Florence (Switch) review
"A game on a portable platform that's ironically about learning to let go"
There's really no way to sugar coat this: Florence is an interactive story with romantic elements. It can be whimsical at times, but you won't encounter anything outright fantastical. If you're not into this sort of thing, then no one would blame you for moving on. It's not as though there aren't boatloads of games out there that don't fall into this category...
If, however, you're at least okay with the occasional story-based piece that sports light interaction, then this one might be your thing. As the title implies, you spend most of your time watching the mundane life of the titular protagonist unfold, while performing cute little tasks every so often. She wakes up to a buzzing alarm, which you promptly tap on the screen to deactivate. After dragging herself out of bed, you brush her teeth, engage in social media liking and "retweeting" while she rides a tram, then number crunch from her computer at work. Right away, you can tell Florence lives a somewhat dull, empty existence with a seemingly endless routine, and she needs something to break the cycle...
The tale does a fantastic job early on with introducing and getting its audience into its lead without blatantly spelling out her life and personality. She's relatable because nearly all of us in the working world face this kind of rigmarole: wake up, get ready, go to work, come home, entertain ourselves, go to sleep, repeat the process. You can't help but want her to break out because you've been there before (or you're still there), and it sucks. You know sometimes it just takes one little change...
That's when Krish comes into her life. He's a cellist that she bumps into, eventually attracting his attention while on a bike ride. Here's the thing: you know pretty much where this game is going the instant Krish shows up. She's going to fall for him, they're going to have some sweet moments, there will eventually be hardship, and then something will split them apart. In most stories, one of the two star-crossed lovers would attempt to win the other back in some melodramatic way. I won't spoil anything, but let's say Florence takes a different approach...
Of course, interactive bits pop up while this romance plays out. You'll do your share of rubbing the screen to reveal pictures and assembling puzzles to complete speech bubbles while the two of them converse. I know that sounds really basic, but the shape and sizes of the puzzles reveal the tones of their conversations and how comfortable Florence has become with Krish, and that alone is a smart little touch. Essentially, each little mini-game does more than keep you engaged, but also sets the pacing and mood of each scene. Quite a few of them are on-the-nose, but this title really isn't about exploring relationships and life through subtlety anyway. It's pretty blatant about its themes and subjects, not even trying to veil them.
Really, art and music are at the core of this title. It shows especially with its two leads: Florence being a painter and Krish a musician. The game's presentation smacks of more dramatic flash titles or indie comic strips, where it's simple, breezy, and appropriately adorable. Meanwhile, the game's soundtrack, courtesy of composer Kevin Penkin, hits just the right playful and somber tones. The two qualities work in concert with one another, effectively playing with your emotions as much as the subject matter does. Even if all you caught were glimpses or heard the score, you'd come away with pretty much the same bittersweet vibe.
Florence eventually hits a predictable low point because that's how effective stories typically roll, formulaically speaking. You also know she's going to find some kind of rebound, you watch this final chapter play out, and then it's done. By the time you reach the finish, though, you feel like there's more that can be established, as if the game just found one nice thought to conclude on rather than providing you with a full-blown ending.
I'm of two minds about how this adventure turns out. One one hand, it's final thought doesn't feel quite, well, final. But really, that's life. It seldom concludes with a sweeping finale where all of the pieces fit back together magically. From this point onward, we know how Florence's life is going to turn out: some things are going to sour and other things are going to improve. She'll face new hardships and exciting fresh phases, as we all do. After she finds her rhythm, showing us any more of her life would be nothing but needless, repetitive details. And honestly, the game wraps up with the message it sought to convey, regardless of its ending's abruptness.
This title shouldn't take you more than an hour. It's won't soak up much of your time and definitely isn't a "project" kind of product. It's basically like watching a short movie with light participation. Again, if you're not into that sort of thing, then move on. Like any good plot- or character-centered affair, this one keeps its material short and to the point, giving you a fair forty-five or so minutes to listen to some music, admire a handful of pictures, and watch the highlight reel of someone's life unfold.
Staff review by Joseph Shaffer (January 21, 2022)
Rumor has it that Joe is not actually a man, but a machine that likes video games, horror movies, and long walks on the beach. His/Its first contribution to HonestGamers was a review of Breath of Fire III.
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