Platforms: iOS, Android, PC, Mac, Nintendo Switch
Emoji summary: 💆🏻♀️🎻🎨
Review by: GDLP
Spoilers: whole story
I am feeling really fatigued in anticipation of lockdown 2… which doesn’t quite make sense because I haven’t left the confines of the first one. I’m still cradled in my beanbag, inside, a bit bored but safe. I didn’t eat out to help out; and I am trying to get a refund on my fixed term contract at the gym, god help me. I’m feeling dread because of this moving finishing line and because as much as I am resigned to my sweet beanbag nest, I’m starting to miss how life used to feel. I don’t even miss specific things - no places, people, or activities - I just miss the way all of that used to roll through my head like fresh air, all of the time. My weeks were like busy landscapes and now they are flat, but I swear we need new things in our lives to keep us from losing the plot. For me, I feel like my lockdown-head has been saved because I have this fortnightly cycle of playing and reviewing different games. I don’t know where I’d be without it, because whatever the scale, it has just really served my mental health well to put something new in front of me - and then again and again, forever. At the moment, I’m playing a vast cinematic adventure, full of horror and social critique, a close dystopia that feels so like 2020 it’s scary. It’s a long one and I’ll write about it when I’m ready but while I’m making my way through the thick pool of its story, dressed and slow, I keep taking breathers with smaller games as well. For my last review, I played ‘Before I Forget’ and this week, my rest was with ‘Florence.’
Made by Australian studio Mountains, it’s a tiny game - 45 minutes or so of play. It’s cheap too: at the time of writing, 3 quid on phone and a fiver on the Switch. ‘Florence’ is a moving, interactive comic book centred around mid-twenties Florence Yeoh who is… sort of… bored, alone, and going through the motions of her default calendar life. She wakes up, brushes her teeth, and rides the train to work while doom scrolling besides other commuters. She pushes numbers, fields calls, gets home, has dinner on the couch, sleeps, rests, restarts. It’s not the 100 emoji get-it lifestyle but a resigned blurry pattern she is trapped in, like a gif on loop. Something (cosmically) has got to give, and it does. Out on a bike ride, Florence gets distracted by the music from a cello player on the street and falls down. The guy comes over to help and they get talking, meet up, meet up again, and soon they’re falling in love. Krish slots into her routine but stretches it too. He has dreams that take him to music school. Florence is still figuring herself out when it comes to that stuff and something about the dissonance there causes a tension that unravels their relationship completely. They break up and Florence is all alone again. But this is where her life seems to begin, as though everything before now was a rehearsal, a gearing up. She starts to create art, something she’s wanted to do for a very long time. She sells things, makes a living off of doing it, and the game ends here when she is finally who she knew, deep down and quietly, she had always wanted to be. All the relationship stuff that happened is a bit of an afterthought now already and we end with a new year, new me beginning.
When I was playing, I felt like the game was very light on the way it delivered the story - moving so fast that nothing quite burned. Everything I’ve outlined is in there but as players we are only given the headlines and not the full gossipy rundown of what has to happen to fall in and out of love with someone so quickly. It’s a little private about its heart, this game, a little careful. Like, we know the two of them are arguing but we can only see the speech bubbles and not the words inside them. We know Florence is eyeing a little paint palette, but don’t know what is or isn’t going through her head to leave it there under a pile of stuff until the very end of the game. She only starts to paint post-relationship, but what was it about Krish (or them being together) that meant she couldn’t glow-up her career and mood in tandem? We can only guess. And it’s not a problem at all, the lightness. I thought that maybe it was there for protection; the whole game feels like an adult colouring book. It’s the sort of thing you’d set aside for an hour of mindfulness, especially in terms of the gameplay aesthetic that guides you through the story. The activities are tiny gestures: moving her toothbrush side to side, or liking posts while she’s on the train to work. Florence has a flashback to childhood art times and while she does some remembering, we can drag and drop coloured paper onto blank boats and butterflies. When Krish moves in, we get to play house and arrange his belongings like a paper doll; and when they chat, we fit bevelled jigsaw colours into those speech bubbles I mentioned to carry on the conversation. The same pieces become spiky when things turn into an argument. We reveal the next image like a scratch card; and we put Krish’s stuff back in boxes when he moves out.
I liked the structure as a contained, tidy thing with the same scale as a zine; the music was great, it’s still doing the rounds in my head; and the art was perfectly attuned to the soft cosmopolitan emotions of the characters. Yeah, I enjoyed playing it but at the same time, I couldn’t help feeling that I wasn’t quite the right player for this one. I almost want to write down all opinions in italics incase I influence anyone else’s decision to play, like: the interactive gameplay moments came off like patronising interruptions, repetitive too, but I think that’s only because I might be too old and over it. For others, these could be a salve for the shithole world we have no choice but to confront; the game, a calm distraction to fiddle with. Too old, too impatient, or honestly too fulfilled? I really don’t mean to sound like a dick when I say that but I’m wondering if all the things Florence goes through are already healed over in my life. And my irks are because I obviously don’t want to go back to how it was before. I remember being a student away from home and sitting alone in all the empty hours outside of university, when my friends had their families for the weekends and I had no one. I remember knowing I wanted to work hard and create something but not having that thing yet so I was just sad and living endlessly. I hoped it would click eventually, but I remember panicking slowly that I might end up being a background person in my own life with nothing interesting to say. My routine back then was the same few meals, gym in silence, buses down empty roads. I wanted a person to grow with but no one felt real. There were entanglements with strangers I didn’t care about when I needed to bump into someone to shrink the void I was stuck in. And it’s hard to look back on all that when now I get to do what I want for a living plus I have a fiancé I am 4 years in love with. I love this website so much I’m up thinking about it at all hours and I love Michael so much that I decided to propose to him in lockdown from 2 metres away because, ironically, I wanted to feel close. I needed ‘Florence’ once upon a time, others will need it still and I’m glad this game will be there waiting for them when they’re ready.