Florence Yeoh is a 25-year-old woman stuck in a familiar routine. She hits the snooze button a few too many times each morning. She works a boring desk job, browses social media, and fields calls from her pushy mother. She eats takeout sushi alone in front of the television at night. Then, one day, she encounters a musician named Krish, and everything changes.
Last year, film studio Annapurna launched a new game division, Annapurna Interactive. It published three critically-acclaimed indie titles in 2017, the beautiful puzzler Gorogoa, the iOS port of Thatgamecompany's Flower, and "walking sim" What Remains of Edith Finch. Now there's Florence, a visual novel about love and all its messy ups and downs from Monument Valley lead designer Ken Wong and his new independent studio Mountains. It launched on Valentine's Day (naturally) and it's available now on iOS for $2.99. While it looks and feels quite different from his previous work, Wong told Glixel he wanted to create something just as meaningful as Monument Valley for both his team and the audience.
"I was always talking to my friends and my family about love and relationships," he said. "We celebrate those stories in books and movies and songs all the time, and games seem to have a bit of a blind spot for this area of the human experience."
Told through a series of (very) short chapters, Florence takes players through the major beats of a couple's relationship. They meet in a park, date, move in together, and slowly drift apart. All of this is pretty new to Florence, an introvert and late bloomer who suddenly finds another person has become her whole world. The game draws inspiration from Wong's own past relationships, along with the past experiences of his team, and from movies like (500) Days of Summer and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
"I think what distinguishes Eternal Sunshine is that it portrays ... love as it really is, which is messy and confused and full of misunderstandings and happenstance and ugly moments," Wong said. "But I think that’s why it struck a chord with people, is that it felt so honest and raw, and I guess, instinctively, I wanted to tap into that."
The game has no dialogue or narration. Its story is told visually via its lovely comic book art style and touch-based mini games. It conveys the banality of Florence's pre-Krish life by making the player brush her teeth each day, retweet her friends on social media, and tap on numbers during her dreary accounting job. Once the pair starts to date, puzzles change. One has the player fill in dialogue chat bubbles with jigsaw puzzle pieces. As the couple gets to know each other better, the puzzles get easier until they practically solve themselves. In another chapter, the player helps Krish move into Florence's apartment by deciding what items to display or store. Does Florence put away the bicycle pump to make room for his skateboard? She doesn't need two toasters. Which one should she keep in the kitchen? Displaying a photo of his family along with hers is only fair right? That puzzle makes a bittersweet return in a later chapter, and Wong said it's one of the game's strongest.
"So many of the levels or chapters that we designed just didn’t work out," he said. "We had ideas, and we tried them, and they just weren’t fun or they didn’t connect emotionally, and that level has always worked from the very beginning. It’s always been one of our strongest chapters, and I think it’s because the metaphor is quite clear. Even though you barely see the characters in it, people understand that game of organizing possessions and sharing a space together, and I think the storytelling emerges from those objects."
Wong hopes people who play Florence are moved by its slice-of-life tale. Maybe even see a bit of themselves in it. "I think most people playing this game have been in a relationship of some sort," he said, "and hopefully we’re going to be poking at them and saying, 'Hey, you remember what this is like? Remember how this feels?'"