Florence - Brutal Backlog
Brutal Backlog is a semi-regular feature where the JDR team play through some of the unplayed games on their shelves (both digital and physical), disregarding their age or the technical limitations of their era. Only the very best titles will stand up to scrutiny today.
I don’t play a huge amount of mobile games. It’s a shame, since when I do they usually tend to be the kind of short, emotionally satisfying bites of narrative goodness which express more in thirty minutes of images than I can do justice to over three pages of writing.
That point makes it all the more staggering that I haven’t yet gotten around to playing Florence. I know it’s about a relationship and there is a lot of yellow. Otherwise, it’s another award-winner sat untouched on my phone. This needed addressing, so as per the title screen instructions I grabbed a decent pair of headphones and set to work.
Three Minutes In
Florence Yeoh is a typical millennial, navigating adult life via a flurry of tweets, monotonous bank work and late night sushi. Her mother wants her to get a boyfriend; she’s happy watching TV on her own. But when a spot of tidying leads to her discovery of some childhood memories in a box, Florence reminisces about her life up to this point.
A short but effective introduction to her past shows me that her upbringing was focused on both exercising her creativity and getting good grades — one task evokes a game from Dr. Kawashima’s Brain Training — but it came at the cost of her friends drifting away as Florence got older and moved on. She’s 25 and lonely.
Seven Minutes In
Florence’s phone battery running out resulted in her being forced to pay attention to her surroundings, and consequently hearing music which wasn’t ported into her earphones. The sound in question came from an attractive cellist in the park. It’s a lovely allegory for the modern world, and a reminder that we spend far too much time locked in a social media bubble, glued to the very device on which this game is delivering its message.
A chance bicycle accident reunites Florence with the cellist, named Krish, leading to dates which are beautifully illustrated by jigsaw puzzles whose difficulty diminishes as the pair learn more about each other. What a fantastically simple, yet powerful depiction of the complexity of human communication. I’m only minutes in but Florence has already won my heart.
Ten Minutes In
The gameplay is simple enough to engage me, but not so intrusive that the real focus — the story and its message — are lost. The act of dragging my finger back and forth to brush Florence’s teeth, scratching off a screen to reveal Krish’s dreams, or shaking Polaroids of the couple’s first experiences together make me feel like I’m sharing part of their lives and watching them grow. Basically, it’s everything I want from a mobile game of this genre.
Fifteen Minutes In
I’ve had to stop at least twice to take a breather and compose myself. I’m always taken by surprise at how much importance the music of the games I play has on my emotions. With games such as Florence, where it feels like the majority of the story is going to be played out via picture rather than word, choosing the right sound to accompany that journey can make or break it.
The piano pieces chosen here are in turn uplifting, whimsical, and sad. The moment where Florence discovers Krish’s discarded application to a music academy and determinedly pushes him towards the entrance to try and fulfil his dream left me physically out of breath, tears streaming, while that goddamn piano music mixed with equally manipulative violins to beat my soul to pulp. Curse you, Kevin Penkin, and your wonderful, evil soundtrack.
Twenty Minutes In
It was always going to go wrong. Of course it was. But how Florence illustrates the rollercoaster ride of a multi-year relationship is realistic and heartfelt. The first fight and reconciliation, the setting aside of dreams and aspirations as the travails of day-to-day life take a toll on the pair’s relationship, the realisation that they can’t provide for each other emotionally — it’s a mature presentation of a flawed first relationship which many people will have experienced at some point.
Watching everything Florence and Krish built crumble was devastating, but seeing the steps she takes to rebuild her life, focus on the things she set aside, and flourish in confidence by doing so is life-affirming. It shows us that everything that breaks can eventually heal, while the final scene proves that those moments of heartbreak are as important in helping us grow as human beings as the moments of joy.
It’s short and bittersweet, but Florence is worth half an hour of anyone’s time. It compacts the difficult beats of a relationship into a perfect mobile package and soundtracks it with the most emotionally impactful piano music I’ve heard since To The Moon. Simply fantastic.
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