While a lot of games released on smartphones focus on repetitive engagement, small gameplay loops and microtransactions, one of the best games I played in 2018 was a beautiful little smartphone game called Florence. Sold for a couple of dollars, and lasting around 30 to 40 minutes in total, Florence tells a beautifully sad linear story, taking advantage of your phone’s touch screen, that stuck with me long after I finished playing it.
Florence tells the story of the titular young woman falling in and out of love for the first time with a young man named Krish. In terms of its storytelling, much of the game’s narrative will feel relatable, particularly to young women who remember restricting parts of themselves to make a partner more comfortable, or who reminisce on ignored early warning signs with partners long gone.
While the story is short, and not necessarily breaking new ground for romance narratives, what makes Florence special is the intuitive, accessible, and beautifully conceptualized ways that gameplay is used to replicate the feel of many moments in Florence’s relationship journey. The plot itself may be simple, but the ways you interact with story beats really help to emotionally draw the player into feeling the emotions on display without requiring characters to outright say how they feel.
A wonderful example of this is the way conversations in the game are often represented by touch screen puzzle speech bubbles, where the player has to take their time slowly putting together the next sentence to be said, awkwardly struggling to make the conversation flow. As the couple gets more comfortable with each other, the puzzles are made of fewer and fewer pieces, flowing more quickly and requiring less thought and care. Arguments are far too easy, with insults thrown out without any assembly required, and apologies are perhaps some of the most difficult to piece together.
As someone who has been in past relationships where I did not feel totally able to be myself around my partner, the scenes where players have to select some of their belongings to box up and put away while filling their home with things they have minimal context for whether they want to or not, is quite an emotional experience, as is remembering which of those objects were whose when it comes time to hand your partner back their belongings.
It’s the capturing of these relationship moments that are small but add up to a larger whole, that really makes Florence feel special. From cleaning up your bedroom in a hurried rush before your new partner comes to visit, to doing menial jobs at work while daydreaming about them, to deciding when to tell your parents about the relationship, Florence captures the mundanity, the beauty, the complications, the joy, and the sadness of a new relationship that feels exciting at its start, but falls apart when the initial rush of chemical attraction starts to fade.
While Florence’s romantic life is at times bittersweet in its presentation, overall the story ends on a very positive note. Much of the game’s initial focus is on romance, but what it does really nicely is present the end of the romance as not being an automatic negative in the main character’s life. Sure, it’s sad when a relationship doesn’t work out, but it does open up room for new experiences, new focuses, and new growth. It presents its female protagonist as having room to dedicate herself to important passions, to learn from her experiences, and to find a happiness that isn’t reliant on staying with or going back to a man who isn’t right for her. It’s a presentation of a head over heels romance where the romance not working out isn’t an entirely unhappy ending. It felt honest and moving in a way very few stories centered on romance are and presents the realities of the positives when someone you thought was perfect has to leave your life.
Florence is a short and simple game, but one full to the brim with heart and charm. It’s only a couple of dollars, but it’s well worth taking half an hour to stick on some headphones, find a quiet space alone, and sitting to play through it in a single sitting.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author's, and do not necessarily reflect those of SYFY WIRE, SYFY, or NBC Universal.